A Patient Experience Designed with Empathy
As someone who works in the healthcare IT industry, it can become easy to think of the “patient journey” in an abstract way; but, as a healthcare consumer who recently engaged in that journey in the most basic way, the challenges of the system were brought into sharp focus. I’m sharing my frustration because I think we owe it to patients to remain mindful of how pain points actually feel. Empathy—more than knowledge—for patients struggling with unmet medical needs gives us energy that can be channeled into innovative breakthroughs. It is motivating for me.
Disillusionment among individuals and communities who do not seek preventative care and routine engagement are often by-products of frustration with the system, and I count myself among this group. Often, it feels like too much of a hassle to interact with a complicated system when I’m healthy. Patients like me become distant from providers in the absence of frequent, convenient, and empathetic touchpoints.
Technology and new approaches are hopeful starting points for change. The internet can break down walls to connect with large populations. It’s up to healthcare payers and providers to seize this opportunity to consider the needs of the patient first and make their journey a unified and positive one.
Need for a connected healthcare system
Last year, I moved to Florida with my family. I was due for a physical—it had been a few years since I’d seen a doctor, so I set out to make an appointment. Immediately, I was met with frustration. Locating a doctor was needlessly difficult and time consuming. Like so many of us, balancing the demands of career and family is a full-time job. Simply making an appointment was difficult. Part of this is surely our disjointed system—patients seek doctors who take their insurance, and targeting those patients requires time and resources that providers just don’t have.
I made an appointment for the following month and received the first communication from the provider—40 pages of forms (requiring my name and date of birth on every page), which took me a full hour to complete. As the appointment date approached, printed reminders also started showing up in my mailbox with increasing frequency.
I would say that I’m typical in my attachment to devices, particularly my phone. Virtual calendar reminders regularly get me from points A to B, so a doctor’s office that doesn’t send text reminders is not convenient for me. Even if the doctor is the best in their field, I’m not willing to commit to a practice that doesn’t embrace digital interactions. And, why don’t more doctors offer digital communication options? If we’re going to make communities healthier and see better health outcomes, implementation of new IT solutions can’t happen soon enough.
Too many providers still rely on outdated engagement tools—like paperwork sent by mail—when they could leverage more widely-used options like social media platforms, SMS messaging, and texting apps. Embracing virtual methods can be hampered by HIPAA laws and regulatory red tape, but convenience and data security don’t have to be thought of as mutually exclusive.
Unifying the patient journey
The landscape is steadily changing though. Despite the legal murkiness of HIPAA’s application to online treatment, the pandemic moved many doctors to embrace nontraditional mediums for treatment. Virtual engagement is quick, easy, and reaches many people at one time; and some trailblazing doctors are taking to social media to meet people where they live.
Despite the archaic appointment-scheduling process, I made it to the waiting room on the correct day and time. Here, I was given more forms—asking for information that I’ve already provided—now with a clipboard, penciling in my personal details for a second time. When Electronic Health Records (EHRs) were rolled out, some things got easier and some things got harder. Paperwork had to be input manually or scanned by office administrators to create an electronic record. Yet, there’s no need for an EHR to begin its life on paper. The entire lifecycle could unfold virtually. Each repetitive task we perform during medical visits is not only tedious for the patient, it hinders the formation and maintenance of the patient-doctor alliance.
The final pain point on the path of the patient is billing. We’ve all been there—after a procedure, we receive a bill that is daunting and hard to decipher. For some patients, this leads to delays in payments or even default. It’s no wonder that Americans have $140 billion in unpaid medical debt.
A renewed sense of mission
Those of us who work in healthcare IT are in a position to transform billions of lives by disrupting this broken system for the better.
I’m particularly pleased about our work with Luma Health in developing solutions that meet the demand for health systems’ and patients’ needs for a more streamlined clinical, operational, and financial journey. Our two companies will bring a shared patient-first and interoperability-focused approach to tackling the fragmentation in healthcare.
Luma Health’s leading Healthcare Engagement Engine™ and our revenue cycle management technology will enable the development of a more complete ecosystem in which a patient can thrive and engage easily. Our reach across operational and revenue cycle workflows, combined with Luma Health’s deep integration with the EHR and full suite of patient engagement solutions, will provide the foundation for truly unified journeys in healthcare.
For me, improving the patient experience isn’t just a job, it's a moral imperative; and I’m glad to be a part of it.