By Sachin Kalra, vice president of customer success, healthcare, Infostretch.
Are people who use health services patients, or are they health consumers? The reality is that in a world where consumer services can be accessed at the push of a button, our expectations about healthcare have changed. How a healthcare company engages with its patients has increasingly become an indicator of how well they are driving communication, service and value for their consumers.
The “Amazon Prime” mindset might at first seem at odds with traditional health systems, which are often bureaucratic, slow and costly. However, the consumerization trend can be an opportunity for better engagement and competitive differentiation.
If there is one thing health companies have a lot of, it’s data. Learning how to leverage and analyze data better could hold the key to unlocking greater value for consumers in terms of improved outcomes and engagement, but also in terms of operational efficiencies. For many organizations, however, pivoting their systems to deliver patient-centric care means they will need to improve the way they leverage digital technologies.
Prioritizing patient experience (PX)
Great customer experience often involves condensing a hugely complex system into a few simple steps that allow consumers to get where they need to be quickly and intuitively. In healthcare, the array of options is huge, involving a wide range of patient requests, potential ailments and resulting treatments. Getting it wrong can have serious, negative health consequences. On the other hand, getting it right enables patients to access treatment faster, resolve health issues more quickly and be better informed along the way. Intelligent triage and smart scheduling are just two ways that health companies can improve how they engage with their patients.
There’s been a spike in ERs using intelligent triage, accelerated by the pandemic, but this tool does not need to be confined to emergency situations. Intelligent, AI-based triage starts with enabling patients to make contact in a way that best suits them – smartphone, landline, text, desktop or via a virtual assistant. From there, a patient’s identity is verified and the system collects relevant information about their condition before recommending the most appropriate channel to resolve the inquiry.
Smart scheduling completes the initial intelligent triage phase with an appropriate action. This could be booking an appointment, something relating to claims or prescriptions, or recommendations for ongoing self-care. In cases where appointments are required, these can of course be in person, but where appropriate on video, over a chat platform or by phone. Crucially, all the information from this virtual encounter is entered into the patient chart to ensure a complete and up-to-date view of the patient.
Rethinking the patient experience in this way lowers waiting times for patients while ensuring faster, more convenient access to services. Health organizations also reap big benefits, with potential savings of more than 20% on running costs due to the elimination of manual processes and resource allocation.
Going virtual to deliver more patient-centric care
The pandemic proved that healthcare companies can leverage digital technologies to deliver care in ways that are new, more convenient and can result in better outcomes. Virtual and on-demand care can address health consumers’ expectations around convenience and customer service.
Coordinated virtual care consists of much more than just conducting a doctor’s appointment online. It begins pre-visit with smart scheduling and appointment reminders. The patient and clinician receive all the necessary information prior to the visit, which could include labs reports or vitals screening that needs to be performed in advance. The virtual visit itself might be conducted by phone, video call or conversational UI. The physician will have all meeting and health records at their fingertips, be able to perform virtual exams and call on data from wearable and other connected medical devices.
Post-visit, follow-ups are automated and virtual, as well as prescription sharing, billing and claims management and health maintenance planning. Where organizations have implemented centralized virtual care, they have succeeded in minimizing the need for patient visits to the hospital, reduced waiting times for appointments and eliminated human errors in the information gathering process.
Leveraging medtech for remote, round-the-clock care
Healthcare systems are under immense strain to accommodate ever larger populations of older patients with complex needs. Who feels this strain most? The elderly, those with mobility issues and those who live in remote, rural areas. Medtech and the IoMT can make a big difference to precisely these groups, by remotely monitoring patients with chronic diseases like asthma or diabetes. Thanks to the IoMT, healthcare organizations are able to monitor the efficacy of drugs and other therapies and adjust treatment to suit the needs of individual patients.
Making better use of health data to improve outcomes
Medical data is growing at 36% CAGR through 2025, thanks in part to the many connected devices now available to patients, including fitness trackers and smart watches as well as medical-grade tools. While this might initially present as an IT headache for health organizations struggling to get to grips with the volumes of data, when this data is properly collected and engineered, it could lead to major breakthroughs.
From the patient perspective, health data can be harnessed for early disease detection, risk predictions, context-dependent coaching for disease management, behavioural health applications and patient safety monitoring, as well as enabling streamlined, integrated virtual care. From the provider perspective, AI/ML augments providers’ capabilities for clinical decisions in many ways. For example, with patient diagnosis, identification with high risk of readmission, defining thresholds for normal lab results, automation of processes, analysis of radiology images, dictation and clinical note prescriptions and even in identifying cases of insurance fraud.
It is clear that the consumerization trend is not going away, driven by societal and technological changes which have shifted consumer expectations around service and value. How healthcare organizations address the need for a patient-centric care experience now, will ultimately determine their future success. Digital technologies play an important role in supporting healthcare transformation, improving patient engagement, outcomes and operational efficiencies. Arguably, the biggest challenge for health companies is realizing that patients are now health consumers now – and they will go wherever they need to get the best experience.