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.
From robotic surgery to telehealth, digital advances are driving innovation in all areas of healthcare, a trend that can be expected to accelerate during and after this era of pandemic-caused isolation.
We see dramatic changes in these areas: (1) Sensors and wearables; (2) Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality; (3), 3D printing; (4) AI driving analytics, automation, and robotics and; (5) The rise of chatbot. In fact, we are already experiencing the impact of the coronavirus isolation in some areas, such as telehealth and 3D printing.
On the grand scale, robots have been proven to be more precise than surgeons and AI can diagnose cancers with a success rate of 99%. In 2020 cost pressures –compounded by the coronavirus initiative- and regulatory change will act as the major catalysts for digital health treatments, which have a crucial role to play in delivering effective, fast, and cost-efficient patient care.
For instance, the pandemic isolation combined with digital health advances are helping shift care to be based around people’s homes.
Local care is not just more convenient and less stressful for patients, it also makes financial sense, when you consider the average hospital stay in the US is upwards of $10,000, totaling over $1 trillion annually in hospital services, and that 60 percent of all bankruptcies in the US are related to medical expenses.
The transformation of traditional value systems in healthcare will continue to accelerate as patients increasingly become better-informed health “consumers”. Thanks to digital, the “value pool” is shifting in this industry, resulting in cost savings for patients thanks to better system efficiency. 2020 will also see the introduction of standalone 5G, which will enable the adoption of an almost limitless number of applications involving AI, big data and the IoT. Many healthcare-related high-bandwidth projects will be set free by 5G’s connectivity, bringing therapies from within hospitals into the field.
Augmented reality (AR) is one of the hottest trends in technology today. Its popularity is equally reflected in projections, as the market is expected to be worth more than $160 billion by 2020, up from just $4 billion in 2016. But its use is not limited to simply chasing Pokémon and other games. With a growing number of applications across a range of industries, the technology is increasingly being adopted within the healthcare sector, where analysts predict its value will reach around $5 billion by 2025.
A number of healthcare providers and medical device manufacturers have already begun to realize AR’s potential for improving their efficiency and effectiveness. A handheld AR device developed by US-based AccuVein, for example, enables clinicians to quickly and easily locate veins for injections – scanning and projecting a virtual image of a patient’s veins on their skin. And in the UK, surgeons at London’s Imperial College Healthcare Trust use Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset to create an accurate, real-time, virtual 3-D map of a patient’s blood vessels, muscles and bones before making a single incision.
Its impact isn’t only being felt by healthcare providers. In pharmaceuticals, for example, there are AR apps available which can give patients access to information such as dosage instructions and possible side effects. Those patients simply scan a particular prescription and the application recognizes the medication. Furthermore, solutions such as Ghostman are aiding patients with physical rehabilitation therapy following serious injury, and scientists are even exploring how the technology can be used to treat psychiatric and neurological conditions.
Given the benefits it offers both healthcare providers and their patients, AR’s growing popularity within the sector is not surprising. As with any new technology, though, implementing AR is not without its challenges.
Obstacles to overcome
While there may be a great deal of hype around future applications, it’s worth remembering that AR is still a relatively nascent space. There is currently little in the way of an ecosystem around the technology, as well as a lack of interoperability — both obstacles of implementation.
As it stands, developers are required to either build AR applications for one single platform or find ways of creating content for different platforms. Since each of these options has its own specific requirements, most AR apps today tend to be stand-alone projects. This situation is likely to be resolved over time with the implementation of common standards which will enable the creation of common frameworks, speeding up the overall development and deployment process. Once these standards are in place, it’s likely that AR will become more widely adopted within the healthcare sector.
Perception is also crucial — the future of AR depends on how it is perceived by end users. If AR is to be widely adopted, it’s important that developers ensure they put user experience at the heart of every project. As a burgeoning technology, AR is still something of an unknown quantity, so it is vital that sufficient time be given to ensure success. To do this, factors like loading and rendering three-dimensional objects, taking into account the real-world environment and conditions, and to carrying out extensive load testing will be required prior to release. Lag, or a lack of response in an AR application, might be frustrating when you’re trying to catch a Pokémon – but when we talk about care delivery, the consequences will be considerably more dire.