How to use real-time data to keep patients and doctors informed

Communication is an underappreciated skill, particularly in medicine. While our world has become increasingly interconnected thanks to the ever-growing number of new devices, apps and infrastructure, many interactions between doctors and patients are still incredibly dated. A lot of sensitive information is passed along in person, but most other interactions are done via phone, fax and — in rarer cases — email.

Many doctors overestimate their ability to communicate with patients. A study of doctor-patient relationships found that 75 percent of surgeons believed patients were thoroughly satisfied with their communication. By contrast, only 21 percent of patients felt the same. That’s alarming.

Research has found compelling evidence of a connection between doctor-patient communication and patient outcomes. The more effectively doctors can communicate with their patients, the better those patients tend to fare. Learning to gather and use real-time data has proven to be one of the most successful ways to achieve that goal.

Why isn’t technology already improving communication?

Despite the rise of numerous useful technologies, it seems doctor-patient communication is stuck in the Dark Ages. Information technology isn’t much of a focus for most healthcare organizations. Hospitals run on slim profit margins with hefty regulatory requirements, high costs of doing business and fluctuating prices. Any technology designed to reduce patient volume is quickly brushed aside.

Many providers argue that digitization takes away from their ability to look patients in the eyes, which some argue is vital to their communication skills. Organizations recognize the need for new technologies, but leaders aren’t anxious to pay for updated equipment — particularly if it appears to undermine their business model.

Relying on old technologies can cause dangerous miscommunication for several reasons. If a doctor isn’t able to see a patient in person, it’s up to the patient to clearly and accurately explain her symptoms. This creates plenty of room for human error.

Real-time applications can address these concerns and significantly improve communication between patients, doctors and the entire healthcare team. With a solid implementation plan, any organization can reap the benefits of real-time data.

The benefits of real-time apps in healthcare

Real-time applications send and receive data instantaneously without the need to refresh or manually request information. It could be a simple chat application connecting doctors with patients, or it could be a device that monitors vitals and instantly streams those readings to a database or other devices.

The benefits of properly utilized real-time applications are numerous:

  • Access to doctors when patients need it: Instant communication with a doctor helps patients avoid the need to call the office, schedule an appointment and take time off work for a visit. When patients need prescription updates or a quick bit of advice, they can easily communicate with a doctor or nurse from the comfort of their home using programs like Presence.
  • Remote real-time monitoring: Applications can stream real-time data from critical vitals, such as blood sugar levels and heart rate, and monitor readings remotely. If these signals reach a certain threshold, the software can trigger an alert to a physician. This is an essential feature for connected hospital devices both on-site and on the move.
  • Smart notifications and alerts: Real-time applications can deliver important alerts and notifications immediately to any number of relevant users. For instance, a program could alert a doctor that she has a new patient request. Real-time apps can also remind doctors and patients of upcoming appointments, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
    The power of real-time communication between patients and doctors is profound, but organizations can only benefit if they’re willing to adopt new solutions. Fortunately, integrating real-time healthcare apps into existing communication infrastructures isn’t as complicated as it might seem.

How to successfully adopt a real-time approach

For starters, forget the notion that you’ll have to replace your organization’s entire infrastructure to embrace real-time data. In fact, you can ensure the successful launch of new communications tech through three steps:

Listen to your employees and your market. What technology frustrates people who use it on a daily basis? To find out, hold workshops with a variety of staff members to glean their input. You might coordinate a focus group with a few of your patients to learn about their wants and needs.

For example, One Medical took time to learn what frustrated patients most. It now markets its vision of “modern conveniences,” such as booking appointments and making care available 24/7 via phone, the web, or the company’s comprehensive mobile app.

Identify potential use cases. Where do problems lie? Where are you needlessly spending money? Where is data siloed, and how does it affect the organization? Where is technology so outdated that it frustrates employees? Identifying these problems will make it easier to choose real-time solutions that solve your organization’s unique issues.

Athenahealth’s electronic health records system arose from the fact that “more than half of medical practices believe their EHR has a negative impact on costs, efficiency or productivity.” These small inefficiencies might not seem like a big deal, but they quickly reach a critical mass and begin to bog down healthcare workflows. Think of it as death by paper cut.

Start with newer projects or smaller use cases. Building real-time capabilities into an application or infrastructure from the start is much easier than demolishing your existing infrastructure and replacing it wholesale with a real-time network. Start with pilot programs among a small group of employees to troubleshoot issues before rolling anything out to the entire team.

When New York’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center replaced text-based reporting systems with platforms that used icons, hospital officials first tested the system’s functionality among patients. The trial proved the technology helped eliminate language barriers, ensuring fast and accurate input of key patient data. That proof of concept led the organization to invest the resources necessary to adopt the software on a much broader scale.

With technology bridging gaps between people all over the world, it’s time for the healthcare industry to catch up. Real-time apps boost communication and collaboration between patients and doctors, significantly increasing the quality of care doctors and healthcare teams can provide. Spend time thinking through your strategy before you hop aboard the real-time train, and your patients will benefit from a whole new world of communications.

Joe Hanson is a content strategist at PubNub, a groundbreaking data stream network for mobile applications. PubNub enables customers to build, scale and manage real-time functionality for web and mobile applications and IoT devices. Joe has several years of experience in the content world, and he has written for a number of IoT and SaaS blogs including Atmel, Texas Instruments and Microchip.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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