Across the United States, persistent and growing gaps in care are driving health disparities and presenting barriers to improving overall health and health outcomes. Many health disparities stem from inherent inequalities in social determinants of health (SDOH), such as where a person lives or works, their education level, and their access to healthcare.
Health equity — defined by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible — is not a new concern. For decades, health equity has been in the spotlight within the public health realm. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought the topic of health equity to the forefront like never before. Something once discussed only among policy experts, advocates, and health communicators is now mainstream news and discussed around the dinner tables of Americans across the nation every single day.
As COVID-19 quickly spread, it became increasingly apparent that minority patients were disproportionately affected compared to other populations. A recent study found that Black people were 3.57 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. The reasons are varied: Multigenerational families and insufficient access to care contributed to higher infection and mortality rates for minority populations. This disparity serves as a reminder that systemic inequalities persist across many facets of American society.
Social determinants of health can be far reaching
SDOH often present barriers to care. Research has shown that when assessing a person’s health, their ZIP code is often more predictive than their genetic code. But despite their prevalence, SDOH should never dictate health outcomes or the quality of care a patient receives.
We’ve come so far in the medical field, from a treatment perspective. Over the past twenty years, major breakthroughs have occurred in all aspects of the healthcare industry, from pharmaceuticals to minimally invasive surgery. Isn’t it time we saw that same type of revolution, when it comes to the patient journey?
The “Patient Room of the Future” sounds futuristic, but many of the technologies needed to create an innovative space for optimal healing already exists. To make this patient-centered environment a reality, hospitals must find new ways to seamlessly integrate technology, like cloud computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and IoT – doing so will facilitate better patient engagement, improve communication, and offer patients more control over their surroundings.
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is one hospital that recently recognized the need to revolutionize their patients’ experience and decided to reimagine a futuristic environment, combining technology with human-centered design principles to give patients choice, control and comfort—key components in the healing process.
Based on MUSC’s experience, here are seven tips for success when it comes to other organizations looking to create the next iteration of the patient room:
Involve patients and families in most, if not all decisions.
Creating the best patient room requires a team of people working collaboratively and bringing different perspectives to the table. While it’s critical to include doctors and nurses on this team, it’s also important to engage patients and families and hear what they’re looking for firsthand. In creating MUSC’s new children’s hospital, the organization formed 26 teams made up of doctors, nurses and family members, and collectively these teams – not architects – designed the new patient rooms. Involving patients and families in this process was invaluable and brought up conversations that the hospital’s team wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Develop a set of guiding principles for what your vision is and then stick with them.
Before getting started, organizations should hone in on their vision for the project and think through how they are going to get there. It may take multiple visioning sessions to come to an agreement on these guiding principles, but it’s important to think deeply about what the ideal experience will look like and how each decision will tie back to the patient. Organizations also must consider which vendors will help them achieve their goals and objectives. When MUSC began the process, they discussed the need to partner with vendors that believed in the hospital’s vision and could help them seamlessly integrate technologies from various vendors to create an enhanced experience for their patients.
Establish strong, trusting relationships with your leadership team and your strategic partners.
Constant communication and transparency are keys to success when undertaking this type of project. The closer that strategic partners work with the leadership team, the more likely the partners will understand the leadership team’s vision and, therefore, more likely to align on recommendations. As part of the technology planning at MUSC, vendors constantly mapped out and presented different use cases to the leadership team, providing opportunities to confirm how the team envisioned the technology functioning or bring up other barriers that the vendors needed to consider.