COMMENTARY

Melding tech, human factors key to improved health care

Today’s consumer is more sophisticated than ever before. Buoyed by the success of companies such as Uber and Airbnb, citizens have been re-conditioned to a new model of customer service. Citizens have much higher expectations for all services in the digital age because they’ve seen how technology can ease their day-to-day burdens. They don’t understand why, for example, accessing the local department of motor vehicles should be any more challenging or different than ordering from Amazon. 

This mindset also carries over into the health care arena. Patients who come to health care facilities both need and deserve to walk away with a positive experience. But improving the patient experience demands a multi-faceted approach. Technology is a significant part of this approach for sure, but we cannot afford to make the mistake that it’s the only solution.

This very topic was the subject of a panel discussion in May at the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s Capital Health Tech Summit, an annual conference that I had the privilege of being a committee chair for this year.

During the panel session, representatives from government and industry gathered together to talk about how they’re melding technology with the human factor to enable a better and more satisfying patient experience. The result showed how experts from all sides of the aisle—business, science and technology—can come together to enhance the patient experience.

A Positive Experience Begins Well Before a Patient Arrives

Before anyone can offer a better patient experience, they need to first understand what constitutes a good patient experience. This initial step occurs well before a patient enters a healthcare facility. For the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), it extends all the way back to the internet.

For example, CMS and its commercial IT partner recently implemented a New Coverage Wizard on Medicare.gov to help new Medicare recipients determine the kind of coverage that best meets their needs. Previously, patients would have to sort through options such as Medicare or Medicare Advantage—with or without prescription drug coverage—by reading articles and determining for themselves what parameters best applied to them. Not anymore. Now, patients simply answer 10 questions about their lives and related circumstances before receiving a personalized coverage recommendation from the New Coverage Wizard.

The best part? CMS was able to provide this service without adding volumes of new content; they merely added an app that created new roads to existing content to enhance the user experience. Plus, the updates—which mirror those that have been ongoing in the private sector—reflect just one of many ways that CMS is modernizing its customer service experience.

Pay Heed to a Patient’s Core Expectations

The core expectations for the ideal patient experience at any health care facility can be summed up thusly:

  1. Don’t hurt me.
  2. Heal me.
  3. Be nice to me.

Making those patient wishes come true takes many shapes, and it’s important to remember that the human touch can go a long way. For instance, at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH), doctors are required to sit with their patients for at least five minutes during daily rounds. Sitting at eye level with the patient gives them a greater sense of ease and deepens the patient-clinician relationship.

But it doesn’t stop there. MGUH, which is undergoing a renovation, has enlisted 200 volunteer “wayfinders” to help patients find the way to their destinations as the layout of the facility changes during its construction. And while many emerging technologies are planned for improving the patient experience as part of the new construction, a big dose of the human touch is what patients need right now.

Moving from Action to Satisfaction

Despite these examples, though, most health care providers, organizations and websites still have a long way to go. As one panelist noted, it seems as if health care providers still put every possible obstacle in front of patients. Technology providers must continually work together to ensure that the technology is made with the patient experience top of mind so every interaction can be made as positive as possible.

Both private and public sectors (think CMS, the Veterans Health Administration or the Military Health System) organizations have made significant strides with real, positive effects on those needing care (for example, it’s safe to say that without CMS programs—which also includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—the number of uninsured Americans would grow by millions). But just having these programs isn’t enough. They also have to be available, accessible and continually transforming. 

As was noted during the discussion, we’ve become prone to calling patients “consumers” within the health care ecosystem—and they are. Accordingly, their expectations for things such as immediate online access to information, self-service portals and mobile apps are increasing. Now it’s up to providers, payers, government and their technology partners to deliver on those expectations.

To learn more about how to positively impact patient experience, click here.

About the Author

John P. George is the director of the health industry community at CGI.

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