How 6 healthcare innovation execs empower patients to feel more autonomous

The care patients receive at hospitals involves many complex facets with which they may not be familiar, sometimes leaving them feeling confused and helpless during their healthcare journeys.

Here, six innovation leaders from healthcare organizations across the country share the strategies they deploy to empower patients to feel a greater sense of autonomy when receiving care.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Heather Cox, chief digital health and analytics officer, Humana (Louisville, Ky.): While Humana has many tools for our members to help improve their health and well-being, such as MyHumana and Go365, our ability to respond to the whole person's health needs is still slow and lacks the personalized experience customers desire because health data is not seamlessly shared across the industry. In order to truly transform healthcare to improve outcomes and reduce costs, data must be democratized. Across health plans, providers, and public and private health agencies, we must establish and expand systems that securely share health records, frequently called interoperability.

Darren Dworkin, chief information officer, Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles): Our encounters with our patients are often at a time when they are most vulnerable and looking for answers. One of the most helpful technologies we have found to engage patients in their journey with us is real-time information — whether it be test results, viewing a doctor's note or even simply seeing the names and faces of their care team. We have continued to focus on every possible way to get our patients and their families access to real-time information via web portals, mobile apps and even tablets when they are at our facility. We follow the mantra that knowledge is power as we continually seek ways to give our patients access to their medical information. 

Lisa Sershen, chief digital officer, Westmed Medical Group (Purchase, N.Y.): All of our technological investments are intended to empower our patients and give them the opportunity to be more active participants in their healthcare journey. For example, our My Westmed Patient Portal was designed to allow patients to communicate directly with their doctors using secure messaging, manage appointments, view lab and diagnostic results, update medications and view health statistics — all in one comprehensive dashboard.  

Additionally, all patients are sent electronic patient satisfaction surveys (via email and SMS) after their appointment where they can provide feedback, and their actionable responses are handled in real time. Our website also hosts an urgent care dashboard where patients can see which location has the quickest wait times and they can book their spot in line before they even leave the house. This reduces wait times in the office and allows patients to take control of their day.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we deployed a mobile text message platform that allows our on-site team to communicate with patients who have upcoming appointments. Through automated messaging, we encourage patients to wait in their cars (versus in a crowded waiting area) — allowing for proper social distancing and limiting exposure to others in our healthcare spaces — and invite them into the office as soon as their provider is ready to see them.

We also expanded our telehealth offerings from urgent care to all of our practice areas in response to the pandemic. Our virtual visit program gives our patients the autonomy to make appointments and have conversations with their doctor from the safety and comfort of their homes. With many people working from home right now, this is sometimes the most convenient and simple option to receive care.

Aaron Martin, executive vice president and chief digital officer, Providence (Renton, Wash.): At Amazon, with any service we delivered, we would make sure we followed the tenet "self-service is the best service." We knew that customers always wanted the ability to manage their relationship with Amazon.com without talking to or emailing a human. Any time you send an email or call a call center to resolve a problem, you are disempowering the consumer.

Healthcare is not the same, but there are parallels. If you look at the work the Providence digital team has been doing (online scheduling, bot navigation, telehealth, online payments, digital Rx, etc.), it has been about empowering patients to engage Providence's healthcare services where, when and how they want. We want digital self-service to remove unnecessary friction so both the patient and clinician can focus on what we at Providence call the "Sacred Encounter" — the special clinical interaction between the patient and clinician. That "Sacred Encounter" is the deeply personal care experience between the patient and the clinician. Removing the friction/distraction empowers the patient and clinician and allows both parties to focus on what matters — the patient's care. 

Eduardo Conrado, executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer, Ascension Health (St. Louis): At Ascension, our technology and marketing teams are working to create a more seamless experience that helps us deliver personalized, compassionate care for those we're privileged to serve, especially those most vulnerable among us. Our digital intake and registration platform enables self-serve, contactless registration with automated appointment reminders and check-in prior to arrival — critically important for our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The online bill payment portal offers a way for patients to view and manage important information in one place as well as access convenient bill pay options, including payment flexibility in times of financial hardship.

Nicole Cable, chief experience officer, InnovaCare Health (White Plains, N.Y.): At InnovaCare Health, we have employed several technologies to empower the member experience. Rick Shinto, MD, our CEO, has championed an application for members that can be used on a smartphone. Members, their families or caregivers can have access to the member’s insurance card, diagnoses and test results. Family members can keep tabs on their loved ones and stay actively involved in their care. 

Members also receive notifications when a milestone has been achieved, such as their A1C being met or completed colon cancer screening. Members then receive a "star" for each milestone and are given rewards to help them stay on the path to better health. The application empowers our members to take control of their healthcare and helps our providers deliver a better patient experience!

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