Healthcare organizations are focused on increasing patient engagement and improving patient satisfaction. As consumers, our expectations are high. We are used to doing many tasks online with an end-to-end digital experience in the retail, financial and travel industries. Healthcare is clearly playing catch up.

But can we blame software limitations and hope for technology solutions when talking about what we need to do? I’ll be the first to say there is probably an app for any problem. But, it’s not just about technology.

Healthcare is a high-touch business for clinicians and support staff. The processes and workflows have to work hand in hand with technology. Think about your experience seeing your doctor. Making the appointment, checking in, checking out, handling your co-pay, and getting referrals scheduled should be simple, consistent and, most importantly, patient centered.

Culture is critical. Every person you encounter in your healthcare journey should have your best interest and satisfaction as their priority. After all, we care for people. It’s all about basic customer service, it’s not rocket science.

I recently had my annual physical back at University of Michigan Health System. I had let this important health step lag for more than a year. My PCP was incredibly thorough and provided me with a number of referrals. When she was done with me, I was able to walk down the hall and get my blood work done. And I was able to get squeezed in for a mammogram that day.

The same-day service exceeded my expectations. When I left, I had in hand the other referrals to schedule at my convenience. I don’t often get back to those right away—I doubt that I’m atypical in that. But, I’ve already gotten proactive phone calls from those clinical services to schedule me. That’s the kind of comprehensive, accessible, patient-centered service we all want and should expect of our healthcare providers.

I’m in the “healthy well” category. I take only one prescription pill for a thyroid condition. Although I have an account, I rarely use the patient portal. But for people with chronic conditions, many medications and frequent doctor visits, a robust patient portal and easy-to-use mobile health apps are much more important to supplement direct contact with a clinician.

But a patient portal is only as good as the back end processes in the physician practice. If your online request for a prescription refill goes unanswered for days, the fact that you have used an online service will seem useless and frustrating.

According to an Accenture white paper entitled “Losing Patience: Why Healthcare Providers Need to Up Their Mobile Game”, more than half of health consumers would like to use their smartphones to interact with healthcare providers. Their analysis shows that hospitals are reaching just 2 percent of their patient populations through mobile applications. They go on to say that, based on mobile apps available via Google Play and iTune apps stores, only 11 percent of providers have proprietary apps that satisfy at least one of the three functions consumers want the most—access to medical records, ability to book, change or cancel appointments,, and prescription refill requests.

Yes, we have a long way to go in healthcare. There were plenty of signs at HIMSS16 that vendors and providers are focused on patient engagement with various solutions. As we provide technology solutions, let’s make sure we’re taking a holistic approach and including the operational processes to support the online capability and apps we provide, so that every person consistently delivers the best possible customer service.

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Sue Schade

Sue Schade

Sue Schade is a nationally recognized health IT leader and a founding advisor at Next Wave Health Advisors providing consulting, coaching and interim management services. Schade is currently serving as the interim Chief Information Officer at University Hospitals Health System (UHHS) in Cleveland, Ohio.
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