Leveraging technology to enhance the ‘human touch’

Telehealth, including remote patient monitoring, can play a significant role in improving clinician-patient engagement.

Healthcare needs to reintroduce the personal model; all the players need to work together to create a new system that produces higher-quality care.

So often, healthcare is about the personal connection established between a patient and a physician, another clinician or general members of the care team. Given evolving expectations and considerations about how to create that connection, enabling and implementing a strong combination of the “human touch” and the “technology touch” is essential.

The human touch component of healthcare refers to a patient and a clinician being able to spend a meaningful amount of time together discussing issues, identifying means of addressing them and then pursuing a treatment plan without considering time limitations or economic pressures.

But the corporate structure of healthcare has changed over time, prioritizing packing in as many patient visits as possible and keeping them brief. The impact of this change has been the reduction of the human touch. Pressed for time, physicians often cannot fully understand the daily experiences of patients.

Impact of EMRs

The government-driven adoption of electronic medical records and the explosion of digital health solutions have been touted as enabling broader interactions and engagement with physicians. But so far, EMR use has, unfortunately, resulted in an increase in screen time for physicians and perceived interference with doctor/patient interactions. The need to check off so many boxes within the EMR is not driving better engagement or documentation, some critics contend.

Many EMRs were not designed to broaden the relationship between patients and clinicians or drive better clinical insights, the critics say. EMRs are more designed to capture and drive claim submission and billing. And systems designed for that purpose are not necessarily ideal when trying to analyze data or extract new meaning.

The role of telehealth

But telehealth can play a significant role in improving clinician/patient engagement in this new era.

Consider this example: A technology-based remote monitoring system pulls in information daily from patients using connected devices and surveys. The patient-reported data is then filtered and aggregated through analytics built into a digital platform, which can be customized by a clinician to provide alerts if readings go out of range or if data is not recorded. Further, the technology platform can be used to send reminders or information from the clinician to the patient to encourage certain behaviors.

If concerning trends are identified, the clinician can quickly reach out to engage the patient – whether asynchronously, by text, by audio or by video. The quick intervention can have a significant impact and prevent a small concern from growing into a major issue.

Going the next step, the additional, real-time information can provide new insights into what is happening with the patient. Those insights can drive different questions or perceptions when an interaction between the patient and clinician occurs.

For example, the clinician might now know to ask about environmental conditions or living conditions that are impacting the patient. As the clinician learns that information, new avenues for care or support can be identified.

As this scenario demonstrates, technology can enhance interaction between clinicians and patients.

Fee-for-service limitations

One of the biggest hurdles to the described intersection of human touch and tech touch is the limitation of fee-for-service reimbursement models. These models do not pay for more comprehensive clinician-patient interactions. Because fee-for-service models make payments based on delivering specific services, they lack the capability to reimburse for interactions that may go beyond traditional healthcare services.

Newer value-based care models are better suited to drive the complete engagement that is needed to provide better care. Although it’s not clear whether current models fully embrace reimbursement for better patient engagement, value-based care is still in its early stages, so there’s is a lot of room to tinker with the models.

To some degree, we need to reintroduce the much older, very personal model of healthcare. But rather than try to go back to the old days, all the players in the healthcare arena need to work together to create a new system that produces higher-quality care with better outcomes.

Matt Fisher is General Counsel for Carium, a telehealth platform company.