By Emily Lafeir, Sr. Director of Innovation and Automation, Geisinger
The healthcare industry is at the forefront of digital innovation and evolution. Advancing digital technology adoption has the potential to improve the health care consumer and patient experience and also transform care delivery. While these advancements enable efficiencies that benefit both patient and provider, the methods in which these technologies are utilized can tip the scale on their impact.
Patient care journeys through the healthcare system vary widely. Therefore, there is no single approach in improving experience. Patients access the health system for different types of medical care. They have different communication preferences based on digital literacy and/or access to digital devices. While many patients who live on their computers day to day enjoy the speed and convenience of digital medicine, a large portion of patients find these tech-enabled interactions to be cold and emotionless. Without consideration of each individuals’ exclusive needs, blanket technological solutions are bound to further the digital divide experienced by wide swoth of healthcare consumers.
Despite the inherent challenges associated with infusing digital technology into current care operations, communicating the “why” can help with change management. One “why,” is that digital technology has the ability to improve the patient experience in a seamless, efficient manner. For example, creating an experience that includes robotic process automation and artificial intelligence offers benefits like expedited completion of documentation, simplified coverage validation, streamlining bill payment, as well as automated prescription refills, to name a few. These technologies have a two fold benefit of making the experience more simple for the patient, and more cost-efficient for the health system.
Digital technology can also improve provider experience and patient care. Simplified interactions through recording, automated patient outreach, and using artificial intelligence to detect disease more quickly in diagnostic testing are just a few tools helping to lighten the load and prevent burnout of our healthcare professionals.
COVID-19 created an optimal case study that exemplified the opportunity technology brought to bare. Organizations saw the use of automation, chatbots, conversational AI and application program interfaces (API) leveraged on a coordinated, large scale for testing, vaccination, and communication processes. COVID-19 required massive scalability with limited human resources, which only technology could sustain across the world. Learnings were derived from each organizations’ approach and adaptability was required as demand ebbed and flowed. The ultimate challenge to maintaining a positive technology implementation experience was predicting and creating a sustainable patient journey through a rapidly changing environment. One of the greatest examples of this principle was the finding that virtual visits between patients and providers can be an efficient and effective way to render health care. Needless to say, out of necessity, technology was catalyzed in medicine through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to realize the benefits of digital technology in healthcare the design process is critical. It is necessary to engage patients and providers continually throughout the process. Understanding critical aspects of our patient and provider needs will lead to successful solutions. For patients, it is imperative to understand social health as well as physicial health. Access to devices, broadband and digital literacy will all impact the experience. It will be necessary to design digital strategies with these factors in mind. Not including these factors in the design will lead to a divide among our most vulnerable patients who need help accessing care. For providers, it is important to create solutions that actually improve their workflow and ability to produce better outcomes. Digital solutions that add more work or are difficult to use will ultimatily fail.
The manner in which we deploy digital technology will determine its utility. Technology is a part of a solution to a problem but is not the solution. In order to be successful, it will be necessary to keep the patient in the center of the design. Understanding inherent complexities will allow us to truly transform patient and provider experience and redesign care delivery, all while lowering the total cost of care. All laudible goals that have been elusive, on a larger scale, until now.