Meeting patient expectations: 6 questions with Intel's Andy Bartley on IT for consumerization in changing times

Patients can't help but compare their experiences in healthcare with those they have in their daily lives. As companies compete for retail and online business, they must offer more personalized, seamless and always-on experiences. Patients simply expect healthcare providers to incorporate these same principles into care delivery.

In fact, patients want to be seen as customers in healthcare. In a recent Black Book survey, 92 percent of consumers said healthcare providers should make improving the customer experience a top strategic priority in the next year.

"Consumerism is an important and growing trend," says Andy Bartley, senior sales solution architect, health and life sciences, at Intel Corp. "It comes up no matter what stakeholder you talk to in a healthcare ecosystem — whether it's hospitals, pharma or life sciences. Health and life sciences organizations are recognizing the value of establishing deeper and more integrated relationships with patients or with customers."

Respondents to the Black Book survey cited services like online scheduling, online payment options and portals or engagement capabilities — like mobile apps or text alerts — as some of the most important tools providers should offer. This means one of healthcare's biggest opportunities to cater to patients' needs as consumers lies in engagement solutions.

Healthcare organizations must evolve how they think about providing services that delight and engage consumers, explains Mr. Bartley. They must learn to anticipate patients' expectations and surpass them. Becker's Hospital Review caught up with Mr. Bartley to discuss how hospitals are preparing for consumerism in healthcare, how they are using patient-facing technology to address this lasting trend, and the value of having clean data and the right infrastructure in place for advanced analytics. 

Editor's Note: Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: As patients are increasingly viewed as consumers, how are hospitals preparing for informed decision-makers in the marketplace? 

Andy Bartley: Hospitals executives are responding to this trend by adding new C-level positions like the chief experience officer to drive cross-functional programs to increase patient centricity. Improving patient experience takes commitment from across the organization, so improving two-way communication and facilitating safe and productive ways to report on patient-related key performance indicators at all levels of the organization is critical.  Hospitals are investing in better customer relationship management and customer service systems that integrate patient data to provide more personalized experiences. Finally, organizations are taking advantage of the industry trend toward vertical integration to provide new services and solutions for patients. These allow patients to access health services in a more coordinated way. 

Q: What are key technologies hospitals use to drive the patient experience? 

AB: Viewing the patient as a consumer involves thinking about the ongoing relationships you build and foster with each patient. As hospitals look to attract and retain patients, new technologies can be a critical component of that overall strategy. One way to segment these strategies is to look at the technology hospitals are deploying to improve the inpatient experience, and those technologies being deployed to engage patients outside of the hospital.

Inside the hospital, we see adoption of digital technologies to streamline and enhance the patient experience. One example, which many healthcare organizations have deployed, is digital way-finding solutions. Hospitals can be very large, and just getting from the parking lot to the right building can be challenging for a patient. In the patient room we see adoption of devices at the bedside for entertainment and communication with loved ones. For some populations, hospitals are even giving away mobile devices to help patients adhere to their care plan.

Just as important is the adoption of new technologies to engage with patients when they are out of the hospital — things like web and mobile applications to share information with patients, more robust patient portals and new types of marketing and outreach. More services are being enabled on mobile or virtual platforms to give patients access to care anytime, anywhere.

Hospitals are being more proactive with outreach and education regarding new information or services that patients can take advantage of. This is enabled by increased data about their patients, which allows for more fine-grained segmentation. These are principles widely deployed by digitally native companies.

Q: How is technology keeping up with changes in the healthcare landscape?

AB: On the IT front, one of the major drivers in the healthcare landscape is digital transformation. This refers to digitizing workflows and being able to generate data from those workflows that can be used for downstream analytics or to optimize operations, financial performance or clinical outcomes. We also see many healthcare organizations moving toward predictive modeling around patients. A common use case is trying to predict sepsis sooner. When you start that process, you look at what data you have about a given patient at a given time to try to predict the onset of sepsis. One of things hospitals are starting to realize is if they want their predictive models to be effective, they need clean data streams in real-time. 

Q: What other trends are emerging from the need for effective, clean data in healthcare?

AB: The value of the data has driven a lot of interest in collecting new data sets and incorporating new technology to analyze data. For data collection, new technologies like smart sensors, which connect to the patient to present a real-time view of respiration, blood pressure and other vitals to help train predictive models. The need for data in real-time also drives new infrastructure requirements. As organizations think about how to build these models and scale them in real-time, they must ask: Is our IT infrastructure prepared to inject large amounts of streaming data, clean that data, analyze that data and then return a result to our provider population? How can we make the insights from that data actionable to the provider?

Q: What are some ways hospitals can use technology to stay proactive in this ever-evolving industry?

AB: A clear, comprehensive data strategy is critical. That includes an understanding of the organization's current data assets as well as the data assets they may not possess today but should think about acquiring in the future, then bringing all of the disparate data assets together into an environment that allows for combination and analysis.

Strategies must then consider the capabilities available for integrating the results of advanced analytics models back into the clinical workflow. A data strategy is a combination of technology, business processes, and change management, and it involves thinking through new business models and new care models that could be unlocked with the power of data.

Q: How should hospitals think about their IT infrastructures to support these changes?

AB: Hospitals should think about using technology to understand how their underlying infrastructure allows them to be more agile, nimble, and responsive to changes in healthcare. This could mean hospitals should consider moving from traditional, monolithic IT systems to more agile, cloud-based, on-demand systems so they can address issues like provider-to-provider care collaboration or disaster response when their EDs see a large influx of patients.

They can also deploy technologies such as virtual desktop infrastructure to support secure real-time care collaboration for clinicians inside the hospital or beyond. We are seeing a rise in the development of care-related apps, so hospitals must ensure their underlying systems are able to respond in real-time to changes that happen both inside and outside the hospital. Consumer preferences can change quickly. To continue to deliver to those expectations, healthcare should look to IT as a strategic partner that enables the organization to incorporate the right technologies at the right time.

To learn more about how healthcare organizations can prepare for the new patient as a consumer, register for Becker's Virtual Health IT Summit Nov. 6-8, 2018 here.

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