The Healthcare Experience Revolution

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Video, social media, and interactive platforms are just some of the technologies revolutionizing healthcare and helping improve the patient experience. In the second of this two-part article, we highlight five ways technology is transforming healthcare.

Healthcare has come a long way in the past decades. Advances in various treatments and breakthrough research make the news every day, spearheaded by an interest in a subject that could impact each and every individual.

Without doubt, a lot of the progress is due to technology and its impact on various facets of healthcare-from targeted treatments to forecasts of disease spread and even individual risks for particular conditions.

To fundamentally transform healthcare, it is critical for payers and healthcare providers to embrace technology and redesign processes. "To succeed and differentiate in the healthcare market of the future, stakeholders must leverage technology," stresses Pat McCaffrey, TeleTech's senior vice president for health care and public sector. This includes using cutting-edge technology to build multichannel communication strategies that are customized to members and patients. "Those stakeholders who are successful in this regard will command mindshare with their member and patient population and build lasting ties with them," McCaffrey says.

In our first part of this article, published last week, 1to1 Media highlighted four technological advances that are revolutionizing healthcare and impacting patient experience, including telemedicine, queue management, tools to educate patients, and precision medicine to personalize care. Today we are looking at five other ways in which technology is changing the face of healthcare, leveraging data to help patients better understand and navigate the landscape, and providing tools for physicians to collaborate across borders.

Data drives guidance and care

Having the right information can help patients make the correct decisions about their healthcare. However, navigating the healthcare landscape is confusing at best, and recent changes have been overwhelming for consumers. Especially in stressful times when they're dealing with health problems, patients and their families often seek guidance to determine the best options and aren't faced with nasty surprises when treatments aren't covered by their health plans.

Data is also being used by progressive health plans to be less transactional and more personal in their interactions, creating an opportunity to build lasting connections, McCaffrey notes. "For instance, by making the on-boarding process more welcoming and engaging, the health plan can often gather information about a member's particular health challenges and in the process tailor the information they receive to enable the member to live a healthier life," he explains. This data-based enhanced engagement will create lasting value for both the member and the health plan.

Some forward-thinking insurance providers are leveraging the data they have about their members to target them with relevant information that would help them take action to avoid disease. "They're trying to impact customer behavior before they're admitted to a hospital," notes Michael Charest, vice president of healthcare, insurance, and financial services for GMC Software Technology. He explains that these plans have recognized that being proactive with communications that resonate with individual members can be extremely beneficial in avoiding expensive treatment later on.

According to Ashley Mahoney, director of data insights at Accolade, technology is helping health organizations have access to customer and healthcare data, allowing them to use the information to assist customers with taking the best decisions. "Patients want someone who can translate information to them," she explains. Mahoney explains that Accolade, whose role is to simplify the healthcare system, provides members with their personal health assistant. Using Nexidia's technology, Accolade taps into data about a patient and his plan, provides information to the health assistant, who can then help the patient make health-related decisions. Mahoney notes that information presented to the assistants goes beyond medical facts. For example, a patient might not have a car and needs to find a clinic that is easily accessible by public transport or a parent will need to visit a doctor during children's school hours.

The biggest benefit, Mahoney notes, is helping patients access the right care at the right time, before a health problem spirals out of control, which leads to cost savings for both the patient and their health insurance provider. Further, patients are provided with different options, for example the opportunity to take advantage of a telecare provider that is often cheaper. "We don't push them in a particular direction but provide them with the information to help them make their decision," Mahoney notes. Further, because the aim is to build a trusting relationship with the health assistant, Accolade is leveraging routing technology to connect known patients automatically with their health assistant.

Carolinas Healthcare Systems is also leveraging data to provide better care and be proactive in preventing future problems. John Carew, assistant vice president for advanced analytics, notes that the hospital network is building a centralized view of its patients, providing a 360-degree profile of each patient, with all their medical conditions and services they use. This model is also helping the organization predict the healthcare needs of each individual patient. For example, each patient discharged from hospitals are scored for risk of readmission within 30 days, and the model outlines the actions needed to proactively avoid this from happening, for example what follow-ups are needed. Carew notes that the network has seen a reduction in readmission rates over the past year and is working on a more comprehensive analysis of the extent of the improvement.

Similarly, Walgreens is leveraging software to create in-depth patient profiles that bring together information about their prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medications they might take. This data allows the system to alert the pharmacist if two different drugs could cause a negative interaction so that the pharmacist can take action to address the issue.

Technology is also providing new mediums of communication that are more effective than the traditional mail. In fact, Charest notes that some insurers are leveraging mobile's capabilities to send interactive content that can engage members and encourage them to take action to ward off health problems as much as possible. Further, there's an opportunity to leverage mobile and the web to follow up with patients who accessed the healthcare system, for example to make sure they're taking their medications.

Data also identifies early risks to save lives

The adage "prevention is better than cure" has a lot of truth to it. Patients and their families benefit greatly when a health issue is preempted and addressed before it becomes a problem. Today, organizations have the data to be able to understand to an extent the likelihood that a particular patient will suffer from a particular disease. For example, there are established links between being overweight and the risk of cardiovascular events.

The predictive element of data is being used by healthcare institutions as another tool to help them save lives. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto is one establishment doing just that to identify the risk of infections in preterm babies before these are visible to clinicians. The hospital collaborated with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology to develop Project Artemis, named after the Greek goddess who's considered the protector of babies. The project is leveraging the huge amounts of data collected by state-of-the-art equipment monitoring babies' vital signs, including their heart rate and respiratory rate, to determine when a child is at risk of infection. In this article, Andrew James, associate clinical director of the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, notes that around one-fifth of babies who have a low birth weight develop an infection, with 18 percent of them dying, making early detection and treatment of paramount importance. The data showed telltale signs of heart rate changes in babies who subsequently developed an infection. Today, doctors have the tools to identify the early warning signs of an infection up to 24 hours before any other symptoms would have raised the alarm, leading to earlier treatment and less suffering for the tiny infants and their parents.

Collaboration tools break down geographical boundaries

With healthcare being such a vast and constantly changing topic, caregivers need to constantly keep in the loop about new advances that can impact the way they treat or take care of a patient. Often, clinicians in a particular geographical region need to know what peers in other countries are working on to deliver the best care possible. This means that collaboration between physicians in different hospitals and easy access to information is a necessity to ensure the best experience for both patients and their families. TeleTech's Aston notes that it is critical for healthcare entities to continue developing and maintaining communication channels and the infrastructure that allows payers, patients, and clinicians to communicate with each other about a patient's care.

But as Jeffrey Burns, chief of critical care medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, noted during January's IBM Connect, geographical barriers are often creating restrictions to the release of information. The hospital needed to address this issue and make sure that physicians had the information they need at their fingertips but also remove any barriers to communication and information sharing, especially when treating patients outside the hospital, something that Burns experienced firsthand.

Boston Children's Hospital partnered with IBM to create OPENPediatrics, a downloadable learning platform to connect healthcare providers around the world, making it easy for them to share information, creating a global community that can leverage each others' expertise. As Burns notes, the platform provides doctors with one place where they can go for the information they need to deliver the best care. Further, it provides a place where they can ask questions and learn from each other's best practices and success stories.

The platform is providing valuable information that can make the difference between life and death for sick children around the world. For example, as this article notes, a doctor in Israel used video demonstrations on OPENPediatrics to help him perform a procedure to insert a feeding tube while doctors in Guatemala are leveraging the platform to learn new ways to avoid infection.

The platform is currently being used by doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists in more than 80 countries around the world.

Video educates caregivers

Video is a great way to pass on information without the need to read long pieces of text. Further, video has the added advantage of providing the visual element that tends to stick longer in people's minds. As mentioned earlier, a number of entities are leveraging video both to pass on information to their patients and share information with caregivers, including step-by-step instructions for certain interventions.

But patients and their families do not depend on physicians and other carriers only for medical expertise. Instead, many times they are seeking advice about ancillary services, for example post-treatment dietary restrictions or options for continuous outside-hospital care.

However, busy physicians don't always have the time to research the best information to deliver to their patients. Further, few have the time to sift through the huge amount of promotional and informative mailings they receive. Video solves the problem by providing information in a concise and easy-to-remember format.

The Hospice of Northwest Ohio is one entity that is leveraging video to educate caregivers about its functions. The end-of-life care facility was well aware that dying patients and their families require as much information as possible to allow them to make the best decisions during an extremely difficult and emotional time. But as Judy Lang, the hospice's director of communications, explains, often patients resort to hospice care late, when there is very little time to provide the care and services that would have positively impacted quality of life. While Lang notes that this sometimes takes place because of patient or family reluctance to seek hospice care, it also happens due to poor physician communication. "Conversations occur too late or not at all," she notes. "Or they are poorly handled due to the physician's lack of time or [their] discomfort with the topic." After all, doctors are trained to do their utmost to heal their patients and tend to feel helpless when this is no longer possible.

The hospice wanted to reiterate the need for physicians to have open end-of-life conversations with patients and family members. Lang notes that there are many didactic presentations to train physicians in this difficult task. "But there seems to be a gap between intellectual understanding and emotional competence when it comes time to actually have difficult discussions," she notes. The hospice wanted to create a medium that fills this gap and collaborated with Root to create a video that brought together physicians and family members speaking openly about the process. The aim, Lang explains, was to "engage viewers on a more intimate, emotional level and more effectively motivate them to engage in these important conversations." The hospice paid attention to include different medical specialties to make sure that physicians could relate to the stories that are being shared, while patient experiences were both positive and negative, allowing viewers to see how their approach could impact patients and families in their care.

The video is being shown at meetings with doctors and Lang notes that comments from physicians have been positive. "We find it to be especially beneficial with medical students and residents who have great difficulty fathoming that any end-of-life conversation could be a positive one," she notes.

But this is not the only way the hospice is working to improve the experience for both patients and their families. Lang notes that volunteers help create Memory Gift Videos that allow patients to record messages or memories for their loved ones. Further, Skype is used to connect patients with friends and relatives who are far away, allowing them to say goodbye.

Social media simplifies interactions

Other institutions are leveraging social methods to improve collaboration and communication, both between doctors and patients as well as among patients themselves. The Mayo Clinic is among the most advanced healthcare institutions when it comes to leveraging social media and in 2010 launched its Center for Social Media. As Lee Aase, the center's director, notes in this article, the center serves as a resource for health-related organizations which are interested in leveraging social tools.

Jeffrey Bauer, PhD., an independent health futurist and medical economist, also notes that social channels are providing wonderful opportunities for patients to talk to others going through similar experiences, acting as both a source for non-medical research as well as support networks. There are dozens of patient networks, including Patients Like Me, which, as Mohammad Al-Ubaydli, founder and CEO of Patients Know Best, notes in this article are allowing patients to share details about their medical conditions with others who have the same or similar problems and provide them with a forum to compare and contrast different diagnoses and treatments. Bauer notes that an added bonus is the ability to identify side effects from particular drugs or other similarities between patients which would otherwise have taken many years to spot.

The bottom line is that technology has completely revolutionized the world we live in, and it is therefore not surprising that it is impacting the healthcare industry, which has always been on the cutting edge of development in order to improve lives. It is heartening to see both clinicians and insurers leverage different technologies to improve their patients' and members' experiences. As Bauer notes, the healthcare industry is being presented with an unprecedented opportunity. It needs to continue making the most out of it.

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EXPERT OPINION