Healthcare technology: A competitive advantage in improving the patient experience

By Chad Johnson
09:16 AM

With Meaningful Use requirements, connecting to Health Information Exchanges, coordinating data flow in Accountable Care Organizations, updating devices to ICD-10 codes and general interoperability projects, there is a tremendous amount of work going on in Health IT. With very significant deadlines to accomplish these vital initiatives, it would be easy for IT managers to develop tunnel vision and become project managers, checking off one task and moving on to the next.

Each of these projects to modernize the health system has tremendous potential to improve patient care, which, in turn, will likely improve patients’ perceptions of the care they receive because the care will be higher quality and better coordinated among providers. Patients, in turn, will be (everyone hopes) happier “customers.”

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jason Wolf and the interesting work he does as executive director of The Beryl Institute, which will host its annual Patient Experience Conference April 25-27 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Jason is a passionate advocate for improving the “patient experience” in healthcare, and he travels the country visiting different hospitals to see successful initiatives firsthand, and shares his findings with the Institute’s member organizations.

With so much of healthcare’s focus on changes on the IT front, I thought it would be good to ask Jason what he thinks about the technology changes and how they influence the patient experience.

Q. What exactly do hospitals mean when they talk about the “patient experience?”

Wolf: At The Beryl Institute, our commitment is to be the global community of practice and the premier thought leader on improving the patient experience. In beginning this journey we discovered that many were focused on two critical healthcare actions – patient centeredness and service excellence.

The reality of these two paths is that they have both made positive contributions to the care setting, but they only represented segments of the larger perspective and effort needed to drive an unparalleled experience for patients and their families. Patient experience encompasses the best of these actions, the important nature of quality and patient safety, and the recognition that experience starts well before a clinical encounter and continues well after the patient leaves the care setting.

To create a more standard perspective on this key component of healthcare success, we brought together healthcare leaders from across the U.S. to contribute to framing a definition for the patient experience. The result, a definition the Institute suggests healthcare organizations either adopt or adapt:

“We define the patient experience as the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.”

The key elements of this definition: that patient experience happens at every interaction, it is grounded in the culture of an organization, it is represented in the perceptions of the patient and their family, and it happens across the entire care curriculum. This also has significant implications for healthcare technology as well.

Q. With increasing emphasis on Electronic Health Records, Meaningful Use, Health Information Exchanges and Accountable Care Organizations, are you worried that the end goal of improving patient care may be lost during the process?

Wolf: I believe that technology and other organizational initiatives, especially related to current healthcare policies, are not an impediment to better patient care or overall experience. I see these as potential tools to support an increased patient experience effort if we are willing to recognize their important role in creating a greater focus on the patient in the care equation.

I have seen some use policy as an excuse for the inability to act on patient experience, but in fact, better record keeping, more efficient systems, expanded access and overall coordinated effort should all be positive contributing factors in our ability to improve patient experience overall. I believe a commitment comes down to leadership choice, clear organizational objectives and unwavering systems of accountability.

It is interesting to see that the introduction of the Healthcare Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) sparked an increase in focus on experience, but it was with the implementation of the Value-based Purchasing program, through which experience (as measured by HCAHPS) is now part of the overall reimbursement equation for healthcare organizations, that created real action. The bottom-line implications of patient experience became clear for most healthcare leaders and drove a new level of effort.

What is missing from this singular focus is that there are many more financial considerations and a significant case to be made for taking action on the patient experience. A focus on patient experience should not be considered only as a result of policy and technology requirements, but rather these should be used as the means by which to make more positive improvements overall.

Q: From your experience, how does technology influence patient care in the exam room? How can caregivers ensure that it is a positive factor?

Wolf: If we approach patient experience from the definition above, technology can definitely serve as a positive contributor to improving patient experience at multiple touch points across the continuum of care. Some standard technological improvements in the care setting that expedite reporting, create the ease of capturing data, or provide more efficient access to information, all create more opportunity for quality time at the bedside.

The implementation of interactive technologies that can be used in the engagement and education of patients directly in the care setting have also brought significant opportunities for impacting patient experience. Beyond the clinical setting, better scheduling technologies at the front end and the use of CRM tools to support post care follow-up can play a role across the patient journey.

The bottom line is focusing on what healthcare organizations are trying to achieve through a clear definition, understanding the implications for action and inaction based on policy, and recognizing the importance of visible leadership commitment and support is essential. These are the building blocks of any effective patient experience effort.

But it may very well be the bold choices of healthcare organizations to implement and apply technology in creative ways with an eye on the patient experience that provide the greatest competitive advantage and most positive impact on the patient experience overall.


Chad Johnson blogs regularly at the Health Standards Blog.

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