Written in collaboration with Jim McDowell, Senior Director - Healthcare Strategy at Oracle Public Sector North America
Like most organizations today—commercial as well as those in government — agencies involved in healthcare delivery are seeking innovative ways to use digital communications and mobile health technologies to drive improvements in patient engagement and overall care outcomes. Whether providing easier access to scheduling and test results, nurse/physician communications, or self-service symptom checkers, digital technologies are proving to be an important ingredient in bending the current cost and quality curves in medicine.
Early adopters have achieved significant improvements in managing key (and costly) chronic patient populations—helping them to stay healthier and avoid costly trips to the emergency room or hospital. The exciting thing about many of these deployments is that they not only drive improved care and lower costs but they're also achieving tremendous gains in patient satisfaction, virtually hitting the trifecta of Berwick's original description of healthcare "Triple-Aim" goals:
In fact, a study (PDF) conducted by the National Health Service Confederation that examined patient experiences at British and U.S. hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt Medical Center and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—found a correlation between hospitals delivering high-quality patient experiences and excellent mortality and safety records. According to a recent HFMA article, "the success of Accountable Care Organizations ultimately depends on the extent to which it intelligently deploys technology solutions for data analytics, care team workflows and patient engagement — to improve population health while reducing costs." The mounting body of evidence points to a few unmistakable truths:
Patient Preferences for "Engagement" have Changed
While millennials are often described as preferring non-verbal communications in many of their daily interactions—social media, chat or text messaging, for example—the trend isn't unique to this demographic. Studies show people want to engage where and when it is most convenient — and healthcare providers need to embrace that reality if they want to improve engagement and satisfaction. Deloitte's 2015 Survey of U.S. Healthcare Consumers provides important insights on what patients are looking for:
Focused Technology Leverage Can Yield Rapid Impact
Implementing the right set of technologies can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of care coordination, patient education and monitoring, as well communications between patients and the care team. This alone cannot only bring improved outcomes but also reduce overall patient care and program administration costs. A recent example earned Kaiser's KP OnCall Telehealth group a prestigious innovation award from Constellation Research last year. In its case, KP OnCall used a combination of cloud-based, web survey and process automation tools to add a self-service channel for reporting symptoms and communicating on care interactions. After a short period, KP OnCall documented not only dramatic satisfaction ratings by patients using the new service, but a significant labor savings among their stretched clinical staff in the Telehealth group. KP OnCall is now in the process of expanding this capability to broader patient groups.
Another great example is Southcoast Health, which is using data to improve patient care and manage costs. Southcoast is employing big data analytics capabilities with a special care-management team that treats the healthcare system's population of high-frequency patients. These are people who have been to the emergency room 10 times or more or have had at least four in-patient stays in the last calendar year. Big data analytics is helping Southcoast Health to better understand what is driving the behavior and take corrective actions to reduce costs.
How to Begin?
There are many ways to apply these new technologies across broad areas of healthcare. These include direct patient engagement and self-monitoring capabilities to improving access to information and communication between patients and their providers or payers. No matter where you begin we believe there are certain steps that can help ensure success based on common factors we've seen among many early-adopters.
Start by identifying patient groups where well-developed patient engagement or self-management programs are already in existence. Most healthcare organizations have Tele-Health or other programs providing extended services to key chronic disease groups, such as chronic heart or lung patients, or diabetics, for example. When choosing your first pilot groups for implementation, err toward groups or programs where any potential adverse consequences would have the least impact. (This was why KP OnCall chose to start with a chronic urinary tract infection group vs. chronic heart failure patients.)
Choose robust and flexible cloud-based platforms to deploy these new technologies — they greatly reduce start-up time and costs. Modern Customer Experience (CX) platforms are the most important technologies you'll need for success. They should have strong, rules-based process automation capabilities, and robust embedded analytics to help drive continuous improvement. Application providers and consultants with direct healthcare implementation experience will greatly reduce initial deployment time as well as risk of failure or cost overruns.
Whatever You Do—Get Started!
In closing, we encourage you to simply take action. Your next step is to identify obvious and low-risk opportunities in patient and citizen groups and begin experimenting — now.