HIT Think

Why provider success hinges on connecting with the patient

Register now

Gone are the days of doctor house calls, when the family physician knew each patient’s personal medical history by heart. Today, many patients do not have much of a personal connection with their doctor, as shown in the 2016 State of the Connected Patient Report that show the effects of a mostly siloed and resource-constrained healthcare system that has providers spending even less time with each patient.

In a destructive spiral, these patients then gravitate to those providers who can most easily and quickly solve their problems, the kind of disruption we see in almost every other industry.

One of the major contributors to this dynamic has been the increasing reimbursement pressures from a legacy of primary care payment formulae and the Affordable Care Act policies that have forced physicians to treat and quickly discharge patients from clinics and hospitals, often without the necessary post-care support that they need. “Doctors have one eye on the patient, and one eye on the clock,” says David Rothman, who studies the history of medicine at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.

This rapid-fire approach to treatment is quickly becoming an issue for providers and the system as a whole, who face increasing readmissions—not to mention, government penalties—and other cost and quality issues for problems that aren’t fully addressed post-discharge.

Today, nearly 25 percent of patients are readmitted to hospitals within 30 days or less. Rather than assiduously managing an ongoing conversation after healthcare is given, patients are too often pushed along the conveyor belt and out the door with haphazard continuity. That’s why it’s no surprise that 61 percent of patients think there are significant improvements to be made in the post-discharge process, mostly through improved communication. Of course this style of care also has detrimental effects on patient satisfaction and unsurprisingly, physician dissatisfaction and burnout.

Interestingly, technology can alleviate some of the strain on the system by improving communications and generating valuable data that gives providers a more complete picture of patient care, even when patients are distant. For providers, there are three key technology areas to consider:

Mobile apps: Although we claim to live in a mobile-first society, there is still a lack of compelling enterprise mobile solutions in the healthcare industry. Patients expect the same level of service from healthcare providers as they receive from Uber or Amazon. They want applications to be intuitive, responsive, and to offer real-time feedback via texting, live chat and video. And yet, a majority of patients must rely on in-person visits or over-the-phone conversations to solve some of the most basic healthcare services.

When it comes to setting up appointments, receiving test results or filling prescriptions, nearly 80 percent of patients on average depend on these old-school forms of communication. Having quick, available access to physicians is not only a convenience to patients, but also a relief to overcrowded waiting rooms.

Telehealth: Aligned with improved video quality and faster internet connections, the concept of virtual care is gaining significant traction. According to the American Telemedicine Association, more than 15 million Americans received some form of virtual care last year and this is expected to rise by another 30 percent in the coming year. The next phase of medical care will be delivered in the form of an “always-on” provider who has the capabilities to extend care beyond the hospital or clinic and provide care based on the patient’s convenience.

Not only do 62 percent of patients want to text or video chat with their doctors, but also nearly 59 percent would choose a primary care doctor who offers a patient mobile app over one that does not. Whether the interaction is conducted via two-way video chat or through a messaging platform, physicians will be expected to provide these virtual offerings in order to compete with competition and meet patient expectations.

Devices and other patient data: The rise of wearable technologies like Fitbit and QardioCore have brought the topic of data tracking to the forefront of the healthcare industry. Although these consumer devices still only track surface-level data such as steps and heart rate, they have helped open the door for a new wave of clinical wearables such as smart pacemakers and connected stents. These medical devices can provide physicians with valuable, real-time data about the health of their patients.

Research shows that patients are willing to share their wearable and clinical data directly with their provider. In fact, 62 percent of millennials—the next massive wave to impact healthcare—are open to this very practice. And this sharing of data can be extremely helpful in ensuring care is maintained during the outpatient process.

Building a truly connected relationship between the physician and patient can help cut readmission rates, provide a two-way dialogue between patient and doctor and, perhaps most importantly, reduce costs. Indeed, as fee-for-value reimbursement models become the norm, physicians will realize the benefit of addressing poor outcomes and investing in efficient and higher-quality care, as Bessemer Venture Partners outlines.

So, as we turn towards improving patient connectivity, our strategy must be rooted in patient needs. Doctors must use today’s technologies to eliminate costs and unnecessary office visits. We have the tools. Now, we must urge the industry to make the connected patient a priority.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.