Power Is In the Hands of the Consumer: Are We Ready?

By Mark Weber, SVP of healthcare development, Infor.

Mark Weber
Mark Weber

With payer models changing, it is time to start thinking of patients as both clients and customers. Are they as satisfied with the cost of service as they are their experience and outcomes? Will they keep coming back?

With high deductible and health savings plans shifting more of the patient cost burden to their own pocketbooks, healthcare consumers are motivated to make more informed care choices. The good news, for them, is that they have a lot more options, as nontraditional players such as retail clinics, online diagnosis sites and others have entered the market. There is more information about those choices available to them, whenever and wherever they need it.

However, all of that creates more competitive pressure among providers. Patients can be an organization’s biggest cheerleaders—or biggest detractors. That means like any brand, healthcare providers must work hard to maintain loyalty to remaining successful—or even sustainable—in the industry. And technology is helping lead the transformation.

The Era of Consumerism Is Here

According to Shafiq Rab, CIO of Rush University Medical Center, “It is all coming together as the ‘day of the patient.’ We call it care where you are. Where you want it. How you want it.”

He then went on to say that while technology continues to support the era of big data, digital innovations and advances also provide healthcare’s biggest opportunity to streamline the care experience across the continuum.

EHR Is Just a Start

One of the biggest evolutions is the implementation and proliferation of the electronic health record (EHR). It has been a catalyst for more efficient, personalized care and is integral to a better patient experience.

However, if the EHR is unable to connect to disparate systems, or across facilities (especially in this era of increasing mergers and acquisitions), or between non-affiliated organizations, its value decreases as the potential for real interoperability is lost.

What healthcare organizations really need is an engine that pulls together the EHR and other systems. To have a single patient data source, organizations need to streamline the exchange and aggregation of clinical data within an organization, and between its facilities and partners. Do not forget that such an engine needs to be built with standards such as FHIR as a top consideration and can create apps that allow patients to schedule appointments via laptop, tablet and phone.

Even efficiencies a patient cannot see are key to patient satisfaction and a positive consumer experience. Such efficiencies include the processes that power everything from claims processing to supply chain to equipment maintenance. If supplies are missing or need to be tracked down, patient care and experience are compromised. Or imagine arriving at your appointment and finding the MRI machine is down. A truly integrated system will provide real-time, role-based insight to minimize risks, issues and service disruption.

As savvy consumers demand more cost transparency, revenue generation must be balanced with the constant need for cost efficiencies. As a healthcare organization, a wise endeavor is to bring accounting and cost analysis to a new level by allocating patient and department expenses, such as procedural and lab test costs. From there, you need to break down expenses by patient cohort, surgeon, procedure or provider. Imagine getting a bill from the hospital that clearly outlines charges in a manner that you, as a consumer, can easily understand. Not only does that help achieve a higher level of consumer satisfaction, but it helps the healthcare organization understand the true cost of patient care.

Staying Focused On People

In the end, healthcare is an industry centered on people helping people. So, we see the increasing value of technology is to help us better operate, but it does not mean we lose the humanity or heart of what healthcare is all about. In fact, we can put better people in place using technology that provides detailed behavioral profiles of employees even before they are hired. Such insights into care staff let us not only hire the best people, but make sure they are a good fit for their role, whether it be in the ICU or the emergency department. Even scheduling can be automated to ensure staff is not overworked, and that their skills are matched to patient acuity. As consumers, we all want to know that the clinical staff caring for us is the right fit for their role, and that they are coming onto their shift ready to work and energized, opposed to worn out from working too many hours.

While the future of healthcare is always somewhat of an unknown, the era of the consumer is here to stay. It is an exciting time for technology innovation, but also imperative that healthcare organizations stay updated, focused and open to the technologies that support all patient touch points. They are, after all, the customer.

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