In-Between Days: The Importance of Improving the Patient Experience

By: Patrick Drewry, vice president, Patient Engagement, Change Healthcare 

Summary

Improving the patient experience is not a zero-sum game. It helps the patient be a more informed consumer and can be a differentiator for providers.

Most of us know that maintaining our health and wellness is ongoing. It’s not episodic — eating healthily once a week or exercising once a month kind of misses the point. And while this is not to say that most of us don’t have some setbacks here and there (my two-year-old daughter is in a cookie phase, therefore I am as well), we know that we’re on a journey in which consistency (not perfection) is paramount.

Which makes it even more puzzling that our healthcare system is still so transactional. We tend to interact with our providers when something is wrong or a procedure needs to be done, and our experience tends to be split up into three distinct phases around the encounter: scheduling, the transaction (procedure) itself, and aftercare.

But what happens the rest of the time, between visits, procedures, events? Because as we know, our healthcare experience is affected by what does, and doesn’t, happen during these times. Providing patients and providers with platforms to address this gap is one of the key challenges we are addressing at Change Healthcare.

The need for data — for the patient and provider

When we shop for any other good or service, we can arm ourselves with comparative data to make the most informed decision. We have access to consumer reviews, expert opinions, and cost comparisons. It would be unthinkable to make a big purchasing decision in this day and age without this visibility. But that’s exactly what most consumers are faced with when it comes to their healthcare.

For providers, there is a corresponding lack of visibility. Generally, the provider’s interaction starts once patients are on the schedule. But how did they get there in the first place? What factors influence patients scheduling with a particular provider?  And what information do they need to understand before coming in for that visit?  

Higher deductibles equal more discerning healthcare consumers

Another factor is the shift to higher deductible health plans, which in turn has patients with more skin in the game when it comes to their healthcare decisions.  With that comes more focus on the choices that they’re making.  For the healthcare provider, as patients are becoming more aware that they have choices, the provider needs to meet  patients where they are and help them through that before and after care experience.

There is a growing realization in our industry that provider–patient healthcare interactions should not merely center around single, one-off encounters. What clinicians have realized is that you need to engage patients to follow through on a care path that is in the best interests of their health. Likewise, on the financial side, providers are finding that a more consistent approach to patient engagement, including providing price transparency, will lead to better overall outcomes.

It’s also true that the fewer administrative tasks there are at the point of care, the more patients can focus on receiving the care, allowing them to make better decisions and improve their ability to digest and understand care instructions. Our encounters with providers are often stressful by nature; adding on the burdens of financial and administrative tasks heightens that stress.

An opportunity for innovation

In my view, improving patient engagement prior to care is one of the biggest areas of opportunity for healthcare companies to innovate. Just like in other industries — say, travel or consumer goods — it’s about helping patients understand their path to care and their care options before engaging with a provider. Our role at Change Healthcare is helping make sense of this very complex system and simplifying it for the patient, while providing actionable insights and adding efficiency for the provider.

This process continues after the healthcare encounter, of course, by making sure patients have visibility into their aftercare instructions and an understanding of the pathway to a next clinical encounter. It also means simplifying the billing and payment process; we can all attest to how difficult understanding medical bills can be.

On the flip side is giving the provider tools — the data and platforms — to engage with patients in more consistent ways between encounters. It also means having the ability to communicate with patients in ways they are comfortable with and are most responsive to. For some patients, that’s an app; for others, it might be a website, text, or even snail mail.

Improving the patient experience is not a zero-sum game. It helps the patient be a more informed consumer and can be a differentiator for providers. At Change Healthcare, we are creating tools that make healthcare transactions more transparent, predictable, and simpler for all. In other words, we help improve the healthcare experience for everyone.

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