Guest post by Barbara Casey, Senior Executive Director for Healthcare Business Transformation at Cisco.
Imagine taking your car in for a routine service, only to be told you’ll need to visit five or six more garages on your own to procure an accurate assessment and treatment of the problem(s). In our current healthcare climate, this disconnected and complicated process is what most patients experience in assessing and treating their health conditions. Many of the most compromised patients, those that are elderly, co-morbid or chronically ill, are alone in their experience, left to connect the dots from cardiologist to radiologist to primary care. Layer in the emotional experience of, for example, being told you have stage four cancer and it’s difficult to focus on, let alone remember, what the oncologist or surgeon says to do next. Yet, the onus falls solely on the patient, family member or caregiver to create continuity in the care experience.
So, as healthcare professionals, how do we help patients navigate the continuum of care when they are seeing an array of physicians and specialists in currently disconnected care settings? We need to treat the patient more like a true customer, which means upgrading the tools and methods we use to interact with them to be more intuitive and user-friendly so we touch base with them on a more regular basis.
Take for example the retail industry—Amazon and Netflix invest in complex algorithms to understand us better as individuals. As online businesses, they have enough information to recommend the next Father’s Day gift or determine if we prefer science fiction to drama. Can we apply that same logic to healthcare? Wouldn’t you want your own doctor and healthcare network to know you as well as Amazon does—for example, the medications you take, what you’re allergic to and the surgeries you’ve had—so they can recommend what you need to do next to advance your health and wellbeing?
It’s our obligation as technology experts and partners to those in the healthcare industry to find the answers and provide patients guidance in what they need before they need it. So in the end, patients can make the choice about how to approach their health can make the choice. After all, where else would you want to be known more intimately as an individual than in your own healthcare network?
mHealth, video and collaboration tools offer an opportunity to create a true continuum of care and a more seamless patient experience. Communication tools which integrate voice, video and data can also help deliver healthcare more effectively and efficiently. If these mechanisms are in place, the patient is more in control of where, when and how to communicate with care providers. She has the choice of how she wants to connect and communicate with her caregiver—the only question is will it be live in a doctor’s office, via video from her home living room, from a desk chair at the office, or from the path where she’s fulfilling a lifelong goal to hike the Appalachian Trail?
In an effort to fulfill this goal for patients, technology companies are beginning to shift their focus to take advantage of network technology to personalize the patient experience. Traditionally, hospitals and clinics have relied on paper brochures and verbal instructions for prevention and pre- and post-procedure care. By transitioning toward digital tools, these instructions and patient collateral become just as accessible from the breakfast table at home as from the road on a business trip. Details aren’t missed and a spilled cup of coffee doesn’t ruin the one-page document outlining an individual’s outpatient care routine.
With online portals and browser-based health and wellness collaboration solutions, patients can easily interact with their care teams from wherever they are. Through new capabilities, such as ad-hoc and scheduled video consults, secure messaging and consultation questionnaires, patients are now able to conveniently communicate with their physician. New solutions like these can also provide open application programming interfaces (APIs) providing hospitals the ability to embed additional capabilities, such as video workflow, into their existing patient portal solution thus protecting existing investments.
We live in a mobile-centric world. With patients and their families increasingly familiar with smartphones and tablets at a consumer level, it’s only logical to find a means to connect this mobility to clinicians, physical therapists, and doctors. In doing so, nurses and physicians now have the ability to digitally record their patient interactions in real time from a tablet device. Similarly, these care specialists can access electronic medical records, lab results, and hospital patient information, tracking each patient’s care carefully. Now, the primary care giver is aware that the cardiologist prescribed an over-the-counter daily dose of aspirin.
The first step for medical providers is to invest in these mHealth, video and collaboration tools, but the second—and perhaps most important step—is to embrace them. In doing so, both the medical providers and the patients are better linked, making information more accessible and reliable, effectively creating the continuum of care and patient deserves. As hospitals across the nation have accepted new mantras around the patient experience, a degree of accountability to the community to provide high quality, compassionate health care services is adopted. Gone are the days of “patient” being synonymous with “medical record.”
We can safely assume that developments in mobile communications, sensor devices and nanotechnology will alter the way that health care is delivered in the future—in fact, we’re already beginning to see it with the rise of wearables, the Fitbits and smartwatches of the world. Collaboration tools are poised to become the focal point in the new standard of care. For all we know, this time next year, your primary care physicians could alert you via email of an upcoming video check-up while you’re tuned into episode four of Netflix’s latest and greatest series.