The patient as a consumer: Incorporating technology to improve the patient experience

Deb Woods, Vice President of Product Strategy, Dude Solutions - Print  | 

The landscape for healthcare in the 21st century is changing as the mindset of patients is shifting at a rapid pace. While the transition to integrate technology into the consumer experience has occurred more quickly in industries such as media or retail, more options are quickly becoming available in healthcare. This is especially evident when it comes to giving patients access to the tools necessary to make informed decisions regarding choosing quality healthcare, from insurance, to specialists, to hospitals.

Today, healthcare patients are also consumers, and in this economy they are worth a great deal. In the past, most of the control was in the hands of healthcare providers and insurers, but power is shifting into the hands of the consumer in a number of different ways.

Comparing the cost of healthcare
Since the advent of the Internet, online shopping has allowed consumers to "shop wisely," to do their research and to compare value across multiple landscapes. And while this is true of many industries, this only recently became a reality in healthcare.

Websites that allow customers to value-shop tend to initially disrupt the status quo for their industry, often forcing businesses to change their strategies, as business-savvy consumers demand instant-access to information regarding their products and/or services. For instance, before travel sites like Travelocity and Priceline, the airline industry had no impetus to publish information such as ticket prices or seating charts, which are now commonplace. Healthcare sites of this type have really only emerged in the last few years. When consumers can see published prices for healthcare procedures online, they are able to search for value across the field and select a provider and a location that suits their budget and expectations. Consumers want transparency.

The convenience of retail medicine
Retail medicine, whether from pharmacies or urgent care centers, is predicted to become a popular source of preventative and regular care in the United States in the next few years. Some practices even offer their own insurance. Consumers enjoy the convenience of walking-in, online booking, and, once again, price transparency. Just as in the online world, the disruptors to the status quo benefit the "patient-turned-consumer".

The "quantified self" and social media
We may know more about ourselves these days than we ever have in the past. There has been a movement in recent years to measure all aspects of our health and daily lives with the use of wearable health monitoring technology such as FitBits, Apple Watches and other devices. There are countless health apps for smartphones and tablets that track food, steps, heart rate, blood pressure and even blood sugar, providing consumers easy access to vast amounts of their own health data. In the very near future, providers will use this data to tailor far more individualized healthcare plans.

In the meantime, these apps serve another purpose—they connect consumers to a community of people with similar healthcare interests through the likes of social media. Social media also provides a unique platform for patients to share their experiences, good or bad, with others. Healthcare organizations must be on their toes and ready to respond to consumer complaints or issues at a moment's notice as a single mishandled incident can turn into a PR disaster.

Technology to improve the patient experience
As the healthcare industry moves toward – and assists – a patient-centered mindset, what creates the best patient experience and outcome? Organizations need to leverage technology tools to ensure that they stay relevant in a rapidly changing landscape. And while hospital executives and professionals work together to ensure medical care accommodates the intersections with technology and the aforementioned shifts, they can use technology to ensure their facilities appeal to patients and consumers and enable the best possible medical care.

For example, hospitals can start leveraging their own facility data to improve the patient experience. Operations management technology allows hospitals to track detailed information about how their buildings and assets perform, aggregating data like meter readings, the results of environment of care (EOC) rounds and capital plans with the day-to-day results of corrective and preventive work orders. Not only does this ensure patients have the best facility experience but it provides maintenance and operations directors, administrators, and others the detailed, quantified information they need to identify recurring problems, allocate resources more effectively and enhance quality of service. This also ensures data is easily accessible for regulatory surveys from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its accrediting agencies.

Apps that provide control at the touch of a fingertip can give staff the ability to submit work orders from any available computer or mobile device – at the very instance at which they discover it. They can also enable quick access to EOC rounding data for infection control or hazardous materials teams at the click of a button. The key words to focus on here are "data" and "tools", both of which, when combined, will benefit a healthcare organization of any size by allowing its employees to report, analyze and share data quickly in a digital world.

As the relationship between patients and providers changes, healthcare organizations must be diligent about investigating the latest technology tools to continue to offer patients the best care possible. This includes providing state of the art facilities and consistently offering a safe and healing environment for patients and their families. Technology advances in facility care will help ensure a secure, reliable environment for medical professionals so that they can focus on providing high quality health care.

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