How IT Can Help Healthcare Be More Patient-Friendly

Christopher Rogers, chief operating officer at Carenet Health
Tech is critical to the future of caregiving, but it’s important to think through the impact on individual patients and staff.

Healthcare systems should not only focus on the patient experience, but also on the experiences of the caregivers they employ—and IT teams can be on the forefront of both of these endeavors, says Christopher Rogers, chief operating officer at Carenet Health.

Rogers spoke with StrategicCIO360 about IT’s role in managing talent challenges, communicating with patients and even helping to forge human connections.

As healthcare continues to evolve, what technological advances should IT leaders consider?

The most important thing that technology leaders should be looking to prioritize and implement in 2023 are decision support systems that lighten the burden on clinical staff. We know that burnout is a huge problem in the industry today, both for nursing and primary care. It’s actually adversely impacting the availability of services for necessary wellness checks, diagnostics and labs. In essence, health systems need to create efficiencies that offload work so more can be done with less people.

In healthcare, a lot of technology is developed and utilized to enhance the patient experience virtually. However, what about the experiences of people employed inside of a health system’s four walls? This needs to be prioritized, especially as healthcare continues to deal with an acute shortage of qualified individuals, which impacts the health of the larger patient population.

Additionally, the abundance of daily administrative work, including responding to patient messages in a health system’s portal, severely impacts a medical professional’s ability to practice medicine. We’re seeing a systemic issue in healthcare today, particularly around nursing shortages and primary care, which has only been exacerbated by the Great Resignation.

How does technology impact the patient journey?

There is a misconception that technology is always inherently good. What we’re finding is a tale of two different worlds. In many ways, technology positively impacts the patient journey. It makes it easier to access healthcare and is creating a more frictionless and convenient experience for a certain segment of the population.

However, technology also deepens existing divides where specific populations already had issues with access or healthcare inequality. Therefore, there is both a net positive impact and, in some cases, a negative impact on the patient journey. It really comes down to socioeconomic status when determining what side of the divide a patient falls on.

It’s important to be careful when implementing technology and to be mindful that our pursuits should expand beyond removing friction or adding convenience throughout the patient journey. Let’s be cognizant of the way we implement and bring certain technologies to a larger patient population to ensure equal access to care. We need to serve the greater good.

What is your advice for other leaders in their mission to utilize data to improve customer/patient experiences?

Many hospitals and health systems use blanket methods to create the patient journey, especially in the way they communicate with patients. Traditionally, communication has predominantly been a one-size-fits-all approach. However, in the healthcare industry, personalization should always be the priority.

It’s important to holistically look at the individual and understand the communication methods that generate patient activation. It’s common to know some rudimentary data points like patient age, patient gender and other demographic information. However, when understanding what induces patient action, we should look at information beyond the surface layer data points via demographics and go a layer deeper, such as the individual’s medical condition and, very importantly, his or her mental health condition, which is a prominent reason patients miss appointments and/or delay care.

Understanding a patient’s preferred method or channel of communication is helpful, but what is even more insightful is determining what generates activation. To enhance patient satisfaction, provider organizations will need to invest in tools that engage patients in a way that will induce action.

On the surface, providers could easily assume that leveraging patients’ preferred communication channels would automatically engage patients and induce action; however, this is not always the case. According to new 2022 annual healthcare consumer survey data trends, more patients selected a phone call as their preferred channel of communication. A phone call also prompted them to reschedule a missed appointment more often than email or text. However, in 2021 more patients selected email as their preferred channel of communication, where a phone call prompted them to reschedule a missed appointment more often than email. Therefore, providers should use A/B testing to detect and analyze behavior to identify the most effective patient communication strategies and ultimately drive patient activation, which can lead to better health outcomes.

Put simply, go beyond patient preference, and use data to inform decisions on how to effectively connect with each patient individually and create action.  

As automation becomes increasingly adopted throughout the healthcare industry, why is it imperative for technology leaders to keep human interaction at the forefront of every engagement strategy?

One of the ways that people become more activated in their healthcare journeys is when they feel a human connection—when it is apparent that someone cares about them. Instead of getting a blanket email from their provider, receiving an email that reads as if it was prepared for the individual and takes their personal challenges, health goals and motivators into account is much more impactful.

Arming patients with ways to stay positively engaged in their healthcare journeys and showing them that their healthcare team is with them every step of the way is important and will help motivate patients to have a vested interest in their own health as well. Because there is only so much hospitals and health systems can do externally to influence healthy behaviors, creating intrinsic or internal motivations for healthy behaviors—including human interaction—is crucial.

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