The COVID-19 pandemic forced patients and healthcare providers alike to accept new ways to stay in touch, communicate, and to ask and give advice – which, in turn, catalyzed adoption of digital tools.
Although patients might not have thought to request them, the vast majority appreciated the convenience of digital tools, with one survey finding that 90% of people who used digital health tools during the pandemic rated their experience as good. Another poll found that 77% of Americans have been very or completely satisfied with their virtual health visits.
A big part of the shift speaks to the meta-trend of the digitized customer experience. Today’s healthcare patients are used to ordering pizza through a website, checking their bank accounts with a native smartphone app, and interfacing with a touchscreen kiosk to pay for the bus. We receive personalized marketing, customized discounts, and even our massage therapists send us automated texts when it’s been a while since we’ve booked a session.
In this context, having to arrive at a clinic in person to receive blood test results seems ridiculously outdated.
“Consumers expect to engage and transact online,” says Jack Brock, Head of Healthcare Provider Practice at Cognizant. “They are used to frictionless, intelligent, and digitally enabled experiences, such as seeing recommendations based on purchase histories or securely moving funds on a mobile app. That’s the standard healthcare providers must match.”
It’s beyond time for healthcare to join the 21st century. Today, patients say they appreciate digital tools – but it won’t be long before they expect it and get irritated at providers who don’t embrace the tech. Some 60% said that using digital health tools increased their trust in healthcare providers, so those providers who stay ahead of the curve and use tech to maximize engagement will reap the benefits, while those who lag behind will feel the consequences.
If you’re still trying to get with the digital program, here are five ways that tech can help you supercharge your patient engagement.
By Jeremy Dadzie, digital health strategist, Anexinet.
The healthcare industry has one of the worst reputations when it comes to customer experience. A recent Salesforce study revealed that nearly half of consumers are unhappy with their healthcare experience, and a vast majority feel healthcare organizations are more focused on the needs of the industry than on the needs of the patient.
Healthcare providers are beginning to realize just how dramatically a patient-centric approach improves customer loyalty—especially now that COVID has wreaked havoc in almost every industry.
The advent of digital innovations gives the healthcare industry a novel opportunity to enhance customer experience like never before. Customer expectations (especially for millennials) have increased. Meeting these expectations won’t be easy, but by staying patient-centric in the approach, and leveraging innovative technologies. such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and Internet of Health, healthcare providers can create solutions that not only enhance the digital experience but also increase profitability.
Here are a few ways to can improve patient experience:
Since the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth has emerged as an invaluable part of care delivery. And by all indications, virtual care is here to stay even after the threat of COVID-19 passes — in large part because of consumer demand. In a report by Qualtrics commissioned by Zoom, 61% of respondents in the U.S. who have used video for healthcare said they plan to attend healthcare appointments both virtually and in person in the future.
The key elements are choice and competition. Consumers want to be able to choose how and where they receive care — and that may include retail and direct-to-consumer solutions or their primary care provider. Sometimes an in-person appointment may be preferred or required, and other times, patients want to save time and money by using high-quality telehealth options.
As more healthcare organizations look beyond the pandemic to building long-term telehealth and virtual care solutions, reliability, consistency, and quality are key to driving adoption, building trust, and improving the patient experience. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Find a solution that integrates into your workflows
When the right technology meets the right application, it becomes nearly invisible to end users. That’s what providers and patients want: a telehealth solution that “just works” and feels as comfortable and intuitive as something they’ve been using for years. The ability to integrate and customize plays a key role in creating that experience.
During the pandemic, I met with many healthcare organizations who stressed that they need their telehealth solution to live in the workflows they use every day.
If your telehealth solution doesn’t sit comfortably in your workflows, it could lead to a variety of issues. If providers need to switch between multiple platforms in their day-to-day work, it could potentially increase time spent on administrative tasks, limit time with patients, and lead to missed appointments and lost revenue. Administrators may find that a parallel workflow duplicates efforts and costs, while an integrated solution could streamline processes and cut down on inefficient spending.
Look for a telehealth solution that has the ability to integrate with your EHR or HIT system, or allows for integration with open platforms through APIs, the latter of which provides flexibility and customization opportunities. A seamless integration enables providers to focus on practicing medicine without fiddling with controls or toggling between platforms.
In 2021 patients expect a digital health experience that is on par with their favorite consumer brand. While COVID has forced many healthcare services to rapidly adopt digital services, we’re still a long way from giving patients and the organizations managing these new services a good experience.
From a patient’s, perspective being able to text, email, or video chat with their doctor is increasingly becoming a must-have for the “modern patient experiencet”. In 2019 alone, 91% of patients survey by DrFirst wanted the ability to text a care team member. 
While some organizations have either built or bought tools that allow them to meet their patient’s expectations, the result has largely resulted in an inefficient workflow for care team members given the number of tools required to complete the job. In addition to that, it provides care team members with an incomplete view of a patient given that data is often being stored in separate places.
What do patients want?
Patients want care to be convenient and personalized to them. As the common saying goes “no two people are alike”. Whether it’s their preference of how they receive care such as in-person, video, text, etc, or how thorough of an explanation they want about a diagnosis, the saying holds true.
The 2019 NRC Health Healthcare Consumer Trends report found that 51.3% of patients value convenient access to care more than anything when deciding whether or not to stay with a provider.  To meet the demand from their patients, companies have had to scramble to find viable options that make care convenient. However, this additional convenience comes at a cost for care team members managing the process.
COVID-19 has disrupted industries, and nowhere is it more apparent than in healthcare. Given the urgency of addressing the pandemic – from ensuring new protocols are in place amidst the pandemic, prioritizing capacity and delivering healthcare services in new manners – the concept of the “patient experience” may have been put on the backburner for many in the industry. That is a mistake.
Now, moreso than ever, is the time to put the patient experience front and center. People are re-evaluating how they consume healthcare: asking themselves – is this the safest way for me to handle my medical care? Is it the best way? Can we leverage more virtual and digital solutions for care?
Indeed, a new report found those health systems that evolve to meet patient needs, amidst the pandemic, are best poised to not only retain their current patient base but also increase it. Healthcare providers could potentially increase their revenues by 5% to 10% of their pre-COVID levels within 12 months. For a $5 billion health system, this equals between $250 million and $500 million in additional annual revenues. Think about it – people have put off many non-urgent medical issues that they will eventually need to address. But it doesn’t mean that they will naturally return to their previous healthcare provider.
According to this report, two out of three patients are likely to switch to a new provider if their expectations for how the healthcare provider manages COVID-19 are not met. To avoid losses and position for growth, providers should take the following approach to improve patient experience.
Providers should listen to a patient’s unique concerns to better understand their communities. This allows real-time response to fears and confusion or reinforcement of actionable information. For example, if there is a need for additional counsel—such as symptoms of COVID-19 compared to symptoms of other illnesses—listening will present an opportunity to quickly provide necessary information. Alternatively, if something is not going as planned, community feedback gives healthcare providers an advantage to get ahead of potential problems (and their solutions). Leveraging digital tools to stay connected will not only help healthcare providers during this pandemic crisis, but could be used in a post-COVID world as a way to stay connected.
My name is Heather Wood, and I am a CPXP (certified patient experience professional) and vice president of clinical innovation at eVideon. Over the last three plus decades I have worked in a variety of spaces within healthcare including public and community health where I got my start, as well as corporate wellness, hospital patient education, and healthcare technology. I have specifically worked in healthcare technology and patient experience for more than 20 years which has been a perfect fit blending my range of experience.
Patient engagement and improving the patient experience can mean many different things. What does it mean to you?
To me, because of my focus, it means using smart technology to provide personalized information along with very well-developed education, delivered to patients and their loved ones in order to improve their self-health efficacy, as well as their ability to have more meaningful discussions with their healthcare providers, and ultimately their ability to care for themselves as best as possible.
For the best possible outcomes, technology driven patient education and information should:
Be delivered to the device the patient feels most comfortable using
Share targeted information and education specific to the patient’s current stage of care, the information and education should include the ability to be repeated and shared. The information should be short, specific, digestible, and written at/about a 5th grade reading level and is available in the patients preferred language.
Deliver education and information in real-time to maintain consistency and minimize the nurse’s burden. In doing so, nurses will have more time to provide quality bedside care – which will result in greatly improved patient experiences and when possible, better health outcomes.
Offer easy access to relaxation and entertainment content in order to ease patient stress levels which allows for better rest and sleep, and overall facilitate a more positive experience.
Be interoperable. All shared information must be a consistent and accurate across all technologies and come from the source of truth.
Provide the ability for patients and loved ones to easily connect with technology so they can see and hear each other when they cannot be together. Given the pandemic, patient engagement should also prioritize patient interactions with their support systems. Video visits created just for healthcare are critical to care – especially for end-of-life and isolation.
The ability to use technology to provide real time service recovery and offering service requests that go directly to the service line being requested, without adding to the nurse’s steps.
As you see it, what are the gaps or missed opportunities in patient engagement?
Patient engagement technology has become a “have to have” instead of what used to be a nice to have. The most significant gap is not all healthcare organizations, across the continuum of care, have invested in a technology platform that offers their patients, loved ones and their staff easy access to consistent, efficient and effective education, information, communication and entertainment/relaxation. Starting small is completely okay, having a solid technology platform to build on, with a partner who is willing to create with the healthcare team, is critical to easing clinical burden, improving patient experience, and health outcomes. Using a patient experience platform also improves the confidence patients, and the community have in the healthcare organization by demonstrating that they are using the most innovative ways to care for their patients.
For the first time in our lives, we have been able to see how artificial intelligence would influence a pandemic from identification and tracking to treatment and vaccination. Two things had to perfectly align to make this happen.
Technology had to advance to a place where it could analyze, predict, and engage with extreme accuracy and a virus had to be dangerous enough to spur massive funding and demand for action. We reached that tipping point in 2020. As the year comes to a close it is time to consider all that AI has done and where it is likely to continue to impact epidemiology and disaster response moving forward.
HealthMap, an AI application run by Boston Children’s Hospital, was launched in 2006 and was one of the first tools used to detect and track the COVID-19 outbreak in China. The algorithm uses online data about infectious disease events from news outlets and social media in more than a dozen languages. It then applied machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to track outbreaks.
Tracking or predicting where cases might show up is just one step in a long journey to stopping the spread of the virus. An article published in May 2020 by researchers in the U.S. and China would reveal that Artificial Intelligence was accurately diagnosing COVID-19 in 68% of patients who had previously been thought to be negative and had normal results on chest imaging. The AI algorithm used to compare imaging, symptoms, medical history, and exposure was said to have “equal sensitivity as compared to a senior thoracic radiologist.” I have also had the pleasure of reading some yet-to-be-published articles about how AI is helping in the ICU to predictively determine ventilator utilization but it’s not just ventilators.
When it came time to harness AI in the diagnosis of COVID-19, even the CDC jumped on board. In partnership with Microsoft’s Azure platform, they embedded a symptom checker chatbot on their website. Likely out of an abundance of caution, their bot uses what I term “light-AI” to guide patients through a very basic decision tree. Answering simple yes-no questions to determine their likelihood of needing a test.
As long as we continue to prioritize data, AI will have the information needed to analyze and predict, it’s a very logical application of the technology — but what about using it to engage patients and address widespread misinformation and fear?
Sometimes, big changes in how we work and live are driven by technology. Think smartphones, for example. At other times, social change and technological innovation dovetail perfectly to help us reimagine what we do.
In healthcare, over the last decade, the focus on outcomes-based care has coincided perfectly with advances in network-based communication to open a new world of patient experience solutions that produce results for hospitals and the public. And with the coronavirus pandemic upending various aspects of healthcare delivery, this new breed of solutions, built on a foundation of secure, integrated networks and smart digital devices, can help healthcare providers meet the challenge.
“This idea of better providing services to patients, helping them stay informed and engaged during the course of their stay — educated about why they’re there, how they can get services and, ultimately, empowering them to be active participants in their care — has become the foundation of our software development,” explains Robin Cavanaugh, chief technology officer at GetWellNetwork, a Bethesda, Maryland-based company that offers a family of solutions, including GetWell Inpatient, which creates personalized, digital workflows to engage patients in their care. “We’ve found innovative ways to deliver that experience on devices in the hospital environment.”
Chief among those devices is the in-room television. Along with the ubiquitous pillow speaker, the hospital TV tends to become the center of a patient’s world during a hospital stay. Until recently, the TV was a one-way entertainment medium. Today, it’s a smart, networked internet display capable of much more: entertainment, for sure, but also personalized education, information, interaction, and — increasingly — face-to-face communication.
“For so long, you’ve had this old TV mounted in the corner, offering little information and keeping patients somewhat disconnected from everything around them,” Cavanaugh says. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve that experience, first by deploying capabilities in set-top boxes and now by aggressively integrating networked patient solutions into a new breed of smart TVs.”
Smart TVs Support a Variety of Healthcare Solutions
Smart TVs combine a traditional TV display with a built-in computing device and network connection. This all-in-one design makes them more reliable and manageable. “They eliminate external TV components, so they’re easy to install in rooms,” says Dennis Mathur, senior vice president of technology at Boston-based Aceso, developer of digital solutions for delivering personalized content and services to patients. “For installation, all that smart TVs need is a network connection. At the same time, they integrate with important in-room devices, such as pillow speakers.”
Companies like Aceso, GetWellNetwork, MDM Healthcare, Sonifi Health, TeleHealth Services and TVR pCare have reinvented patient experience using the tried-and-true television system as a healthcare portal. Their comprehensive offerings vary, but when a healthcare provider has the right information technology infrastructure in place and a network of smart TVs — securely integrated with electronic medical records (EMR) and other systems — each solution can deliver a variety of patient amenities in support of outcomes-based care, including:
I promised myself that I wouldn’t start this post by talking about the “unprecedented times” brought on by COVID-19, and I wanted to avoid using the words “new normal.” Both phrases are such a common part of my life these days that they almost seem trite.
Alas, I’ve clearly broken my promise. Why did I give in so easily? Because these “unprecedented times,” challenging and sad though they’ve been, are the impetus for a lot of promising change in the world of healthcare, and I’m optimistic that the “new normal” is going to be a friendlier, more convenient, and more modern experience for patients, thanks to the effective deployment of patient engagement technology. It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the pandemic by any means, but this is a positive development that — if properly nurtured — will pay dividends long into the future.
So what’s the real story? Has COVID-19 ushered in permanent changes to the care delivery process, or has 2020 been a year of temporary workarounds that will largely disappear once the pandemic has been contained?
While many people will continue to prefer in-person visits when possible, I think one of the biggest wins to come from the glut of COVID-induced changes over the last six-plus months is that providers — and the technology vendors they depend on — were forced to “meet patients where they are” to maintain continuity of care.
This radical patient-centric focus caused many in healthcare to ask some provocative questions. Does every visit need to be in person? Can we facilitate provider-to-patient communication from a distance without asking patients to download yet another patient portal app? How can these more convenient workflows be incorporated into a post-COVID environment?
By Dr. Deborah Vinton, medical director, emergency department, UVA Health and Inlightened Expert.
The way we talk, think about, plan, and innovate for healthcare delivery has fundamentally changed as a result of COVID-19. For those of us in healthcare, top priorities today are different than they were just a few months ago. Like in so many areas of life, coronavirus is rewriting the status quo.
As a physician on the frontlines, it has become painfully apparent that, as an industry, we have failed to design and develop tools and systems – for us – with us in mind. When it comes to innovating for those delivering the care, empathy is often times out of the process. From PPE (personal protective equipment) to telemedicine and everything in between, the lack of input and understanding may be furthering burnout, negatively impacting patient care, and fueling inefficiencies.
Empathy in innovation: We’ve made progress for patients
In healthcare, we’ve done a better (although not remotely perfect) job of integrating empathy into the design and innovation process for the patient to optimize patient experience. From lobbies to hospital rooms, we’ve seen patient-centric design aimed at delivering more comfortable, less stressful, and seamless experiences.
Patients today enter buildings that are light and airy, no longer have the traditional “sterile” feeling, boast extensive entertainment options, and prioritize patient needs, like access to Wi-Fi and charging stations. Protocols are designed by considering various risks, and prioritizing policies and workflows that will most positively impact the patient. All of these efforts demonstrate a much-needed understanding of – and commitment to – the patient and their experience.
Physicians are left behind and burned out
Like other industries, the evolution of healthcare has been aided by fast-paced innovation and technology. While conversations pre-COVID might have been around electronic health records (EHRs), real-time communication tools, and even innovating the scrubs we wear, COVID-19 has shed light on new priorities and the dramatic gaps that exist in the process for designing provider-centric tools.
According to McKinsey: From 2014 to 2018, there have been more than 580 healthcare technology deals in the United States, each more than $10 million, for a total of more than $83 billion in value. They have been disproportionately focused on three main categories: patient engagement, data and analytics, and new care models.
Consider the quick adoption of telehealth. While the ability to deliver care virtually to the patient was – and still is – unquestionably critical as the country sheltered in place, it has led to a lot of frustration and overwhelm for physicians who are trained to deliver patient care in-person. In medical school, we learn how to read what’s behind the presentation of symptoms and how to ask questions and listen to what’s behind the answer.
But we haven’t yet integrated into the curriculum how to implement technology to feel consistent with the way we’ve been trained to deliver care. We are being asked to understand – and flawlessly use – solutions that can be glitchy, disjointed, and impersonal, while simultaneously delivering care to patients that might be nervous, frustrated, ill, scared, or all of the above.