Healthcare Technology Offers Opportunities to Improve the Patient Journey
Patients supported with the right technology are more engaged in their healthcare and more satisfied with the results.
When hospitals and providers enhance their patients’ journeys with support from technology, they see results. Most patients report improved satisfaction and become more engaged when they’re provided the means to do so through online portals, mobile applications, online chat or even email.
Beyond communication tools, many healthcare organizations are adopting a range of technologies, from comprehensive data centers to mobile devices, to connect with patients in other ways and improve standards of care.
The right mix of technologies, backed by a strong infrastructure, can improve clinical workflow, increase staff productivity, enhance patient experience and ultimately prove profitable for hospitals and providers.
Measuring the Quality of Care
Patient engagement improves patient compliance, which in turn greatly improves patient outcomes. As the industry moves toward a values-based environment, patient satisfaction makes good financial sense.
In October 2012, the Affordable Care Act implemented a policy withholding 1 percent of total Medicare reimbursements — about $850 million — from hospitals. The withholding increased to 2 percent for 2017. Hospitals and providers earn that money back each year through a measure of basic care standards and high patient satisfaction scores. Top performers receive bonus money from the pool.
Performance is measured by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, required of all U.S. hospitals by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Most of the 32-question survey addresses nursing care. However, the remaining questions focus on patient experience and satisfaction in other areas.
Now that patient experience directly affects revenue, the impact of these patient satisfaction scores cannot be overstated. Massachusetts General Hospital Nursing and Patient Care Services advises its employees: “The survey results are publicly reported on the internet for all to see — so results impact our reputation. The government will reimburse us on results — so, excellent survey performance keeps the hospital financially strong.” That is true for all healthcare organizations today.
Patient-Centric Technology in Action
When Sauk Prairie Healthcare built a new state-of-the-art facility, it sought to create a patient-centric environment that promoted healing, safety and quality care. The new infrastructure required a variety of technologies, including collaboration tools, wireless networking, server virtualization, storage, security and a new data center robust enough to support current use and future growth.
For help with this ambitious project, the healthcare provider turned to CDW. Over the next 16 months, CDW Healthcare and Sauk Prairie built and transitioned to the new data center with little or no interruption to patient care services. Patients benefited from the upgrade immediately. For example, the new nurse call station improved communication between patients, nurses and clinicians, and helped staff track patient needs.
Pleased with the new infrastructure, Sauk Prairie Healthcare decided to connect a satellite medical office building and clinic with the new hospital.
Patient Versus Provider Perception
CDW Healthcare conducted its own Patient Engagement Perspectives survey to gauge how patients and providers interact and identify which technologies may offer healthcare organizations greater return on their investment. Of those surveyed, 57 percent of patients said they became more engaged with their healthcare during the past two years by speaking to providers more frequently (63 percent) or accessing their healthcare information more often (59 percent).
Meanwhile, 70 percent of providers report that they have seen a change in their patients’ level of engagement. A majority (64 percent) of providers attribute the rise in patient engagement to technology advancements.
However, the survey revealed disagreement on how well providers are connecting with patients. Only 35 percent of patients believe their provider has improved engagement with them, while 60 percent of providers say improving patient engagement has been a top priority.
Engaging with healthcare providers continues to be a challenge for 65 percent of patients, but don’t assume it’s older patients expressing dissatisfaction. Patients in the 18- to 49-year-old age group are 19 percent more likely to say they face challenges when trying to engage with their healthcare provider than those 50 years or older.
The top challenges that patients report when trying to engage with providers include limited office hours (40 percent), slow response times (33 percent) and repetitive data entry requirements (23 percent). Dissatisfaction among younger patients may also be due to greater expectations in provider response times, 24/7 availability, user interface design or even data integration.
There is also some disagreement between patients and providers on the best way to communicate. Providers see more value in mobile applications, whereas most patients rate online chat applications higher. However, both groups see equal value in web-based access to general healthcare information and online patient portals.
The survey found that 78 percent of patients want easier access to their personal health records. The greatest benefits patients saw to this access include being better informed about their medical information (48 percent), saving time (45 percent) and improving participation in their own healthcare management (41 percent). In fact, a majority of surveyed patients prefer access to more information than their providers typically give them, in order to take a more active role in their own healthcare. In response to that demand, 67 percent of providers are working on making personal healthcare records more informative and easier to access.
Despite efforts by many providers to improve communication, patients still see room for improvement. When communication with providers is strong and consistent, patients are more likely to comply with physician instructions, take an active role in their own healthcare and be happier with the results.
Enhancing Patient Satisfaction Through Technology
Many healthcare leaders have been pleasantly surprised to find that the same investments and process efficiencies that improve patient satisfaction also tend to improve hospital and provider profitability. This win-win scenario is spurring the search for more ways to use technology to everyone’s benefit.
One familiar area of innovation is patient check-ins, which are now done faster, more conveniently and more securely thanks to technology. Digital signage helps patients and families better navigate unfamiliar hospital hallways. Electronic check-ins via mobile apps or kiosks reduce office supply costs and data errors associated with handwritten forms. Similarly, paper insurance forms have been replaced by electronic data entry and verification via portable workstations. Barcoded identification bracelets for patients improve accuracy over their older typed counterparts and can also speed treatment processes.
Overall, patients are less frustrated thanks to faster and more streamlined intake processes. Investments like these demonstrate how technology and process efficiencies can improve patient care and better meet patient needs. But opportunities still exist to adopt technology throughout the entire patient journey.