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7 innovative ways technology is transforming the patient experience

I recently came back from vacation with an insect bite the size and feel of a strawberry. But I was reluctant to take more time off work for a doctor’s appointment, especially after glancing at my inbox. So, I decided to do something I’ve never tried before: message my doctor directly through my online patient account. I sent her a picture of the bite and received a message the next day letting me know that I was having a minor allergic reaction. No appointment necessary, just over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

This kind of easy, seamless experience is becoming more common, and that’s because meeting patients’ rising expectations is a major focus in healthcare right now. With programs such as Medicare’s Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program (VBP) financially rewarding hospitals that have high patient satisfaction scores, organizations in the healthcare space are starting to place a higher value on the patient experience. Patients are sick of outdated, inconvenient processes and an increasing number of medical companies are leaning on technology as part of the cure. HealthTech services, in particular, are setting the standard for a dynamic healthcare experience⁠—and traditional medical organizations are catching on to the benefits of interacting with patients in new, tech-enabled ways.

Here are seven ways that combining innovation with technology enables patient-centered care that builds loyalty, improves reputation, and creates a better experience for everyone.

1. Building more culturally aware care

According to research by Change Healthcare, a top patient pain point is not feeling respected or cared for by their doctor. Researchers found that patients want to be treated like real people, not a number. That means that healthcare services need to deliver personalization that goes beyond automated visit summaries and provides real value.

Patients are sick of outdated, inconvenient processes and an increasing number of medical companies are leaning on technology as part of the cure.

One way healthcare organizations are providing next-level personal experiences is through virtual medical translators. A nurse can use a tablet to connect with another medical professional who translates the conversation over video chat into a patient’s preferred language. Before virtual translation services were available, the burden of translating fell on the patient’s family member, explained Channin Daugherty, BSN, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, ACHPN, who has been a nurse for 34 years and a nurse practitioner for the last 10 years. Cultural references, language structure, formalities, idioms, and tone already complicate translation. Imagine having to account for medical terms on top of that. “We need a medical translator because correct medical terms are not easy to translate and it can also be too emotional for the family member. A nurse should have the responsibility of communication,” Channin said. Virtual medical translators lessen the friction in translation and help to resolve patients’ questions on the spot.

[Read also: Personalization’s deep data foundations]

2. Enabling hands-free communication

Communication is a challenge in healthcare across the board, and language differences aren’t the only barrier. In fact, one study showed that 80 percent of errors in healthcare involve informational or personal miscommunication, including communication among colleagues or between patients and doctors as well as inaccessible medical records.

Organizations in the healthcare space are improving overall communication with voice assistant technology. In fact, Amazon recently announced a new skill for Alexa that makes the popular voice assistant compliant with HIPAA. One company taking advantage of this is Aiva Health, which enables patients to use Amazon Echo to more efficiently communicate with their care providers as well as to perform simple tasks for them, like turning off the lights. Or, if a patient needs to use the bathroom, they can say, “Alexa, I need help getting up to use the bathroom,” and a request will be sent to the right nurse for that task.

Cultural references, language structure, formalities, idioms, and tone already complicate translation. Imagine having to account for medical terms on top of that.

Other voice tools that are enhancing communication in healthcare are Ava and Sopris Health. Ava creates live subtitles for any conversation to improve accessibility and inclusiveness for people with hearing loss. Sopris Health uses voice recognition and AI-powered text prompts to create provider encounter notes and deliver immediate documentation to the electronic health record (EHR). This allows medical professionals to more accurately complete documentation and focus their full attention on the patient, without the distraction of having to take notes.

[Read also: Be an #A11Y—why inclusive design is good design]

3. Empowering people to digitally manage their health, without losing the human connection

The key to getting patient-centered healthcare right is to leverage advancements in technology without losing the human touch. Two healthtech companies that remind us why we need human connection alongside technology are mySugar and Omada Health.

mySugar is an integrated diabetes solution that makes living with diabetes “suck less.” It does so by pairing a mobile app and connected blood glucose meters with diabetes educators who analyze patient data and provide one-on-one coaching. With the mySugar diabetes app, users can do everything from take pictures of their meals to track carbs, view their estimated HbA1, set tasks to help them focus on specific treatments, and get advice from Certified Diabetes Educators—all from the palm of their hand.

Similarly, Omada Health motivates people across the chronic disease spectrum to take control of their health by combining that essential human support with intuitive mobile interfaces, interactive online lessons, and connected devices ranging from smart scales to blood pressure cuffs. “Centering your strategy around the latest device, or algorithm, without thinking deeply about human emotions and behaviors, repeats the mistakes of traditional in-person healthcare, just in digital form,” said Chris Cestaro, VP of Marketing at Omada Health.

The key to getting patient-centered healthcare right is to leverage advancements in technology without losing the human touch.

Omeda Health users are paired with a professional health coach that they can reach through the web or mobile app and are matched with an online community of people with similar struggles. “Building the confidence to make and sustain healthy choices requires consistent human support from real people with whom an individual has a personal, trusting relationship, and to whom they feel accountable,” explained Cestaro.

[Read also: As technology advances, we question what it means to be human]

4. Adapting to patients’ real and busy lives

Today’s consumers won’t stay loyal for long if they don’t get customer experiences that make their lives better and easier, regardless of industry. In an expectation economy where skipping restaurant wait times with delivery apps and getting cleared through airport security with a finger scan is the norm, the modern consumer has little patience for inefficient experiences. The standard is no different for healthcare—patients similarly expect medical organizations to create experiences that adapt to their real and busy lives. In fact, a study by Vanguard Communications, which analyzed the words in 35,000 Google+ reviews of medical professionals, found that one of the most common patient complaints is long wait times.

"Centering your strategy around the latest device, or algorithm, without thinking deeply about human emotions and behaviors, repeats the mistakes of traditional in-person healthcare, just in digital form."- Chris Cestaro

That’s why One Medical, a membership-based primary care practice, is using new technology to deliver greater value and efficiency for patients. One Medical enables patients to get same- or next-day doctor’s appointments in just a few clicks using the brand’s mobile app or online patient account. With missed appointments costing the U.S. healthcare system more than $150 billion a year, allowing patients to get care when they need it creates a better experience while helping to reduce cancelation and no-show rates. Additionally, One Medical members can go online to get prescription refills within hours of a request, without having to call their pharmacy.

[Read also: How the Design Institute for Health reimagines patient healthcare]

5. Making healthcare more accessible

With more medical professionals participating in telemedicine, the practice of consulting and treating patients virtually, patients can get medical advice on-demand. Telemedicine is still a relatively new concept, but it’s on the rise—so much so that it’s predicted to be valued at more than $66 billion by 2021, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence. In fact, more than 32 states have passed internal laws to improve telemedicine parity in the U.S. alone.

Another key benefit that comes with being a One Medical member is being able to message a provider directly to get medical advice for non-urgent clinical concerns like nausea, allergies, or cold and flu symptoms. Patients can also schedule video visits, enabling them to have real-time, visual conversations with a doctor. Telemedicine isn’t just transforming primary care, it’s disrupting the mental health space, too. For example, TalkSpace, an online and mobile therapy company, allows users to get therapy by text messaging a licensed therapist whenever they need to, from wherever they are and expect a response that same day.

With missed appointments costing the U.S. healthcare system more than $150 billion a year, allowing patients to get care when they need it creates a better experience while helping to reduce cancelation and no-show rates.

The benefits of telemedicine are far-reaching. One study found that telemedicine patients had 31 percent fewer hospital admissions, 48 percent fewer total hospital days, and were overall more engaged in their healthcare. In Channin’s experience, one of the greatest benefits of telemedicine is making healthcare more accessible. She previously worked in a rural area where she could be a four-hour drive away from her patients. “With telemedicine, I could connect with patients over video chat to see what was happening and problem solve, saving me a visit and them a trip to the ER,” said Channin.

Channin also explained that telemedicine made it possible for her to continue to assess and more effectively communicate medical changes with patients over time. “People forget things and communicating face-to-face is often better than text-based communication because things can get lost in translation. For example, it was helpful to go over test results and reports with patients over video chat so I could read their body language.”

6. Putting more control into the hands of the patient

Industries used to be nontransparent and mysterious, designating customer service agents as the gatekeepers. This is especially true in healthcare. For example, medical records were essentially pieces of paper stored in folders that were systematically organized in filing cabinets, making it challenging for patients to get direct access to their medical information.

But the same industries that were opaque ten years ago are being disrupted by a new wave of businesses that are open about how they operate. Healthcare is catching on to this movement of putting more control into the hands of the people they serve. For instance, in Sutter’s patient portal, My Health Online, patients get visibility into their medical records, most lab and test results, and billing history. In gaining more control over their medical and financial information, patients become more informed. After all, knowledge is power. “This is especially beneficial for the elderly population because they can read their test results and take notes, giving them the control to review everything and forward it to other family members,” explained Channin. Channin’s mom likes to print her results and take notes so she can remember what questions to ask her doctor.

[Read also: Collecting customer data without being creepy]

7. Gathering patient-driven data

Going digital also creates more opportunities to collect valuable data for improving the patient experience. For instance, One Medical uses data from its various support channels to identify trends in ticket issues and frequently asked questions to ensure that problems don’t persist. “If there is a user problem that needs cross-functional support, we have the data we need to go to the decision-maker, and say, ‘Hey, this is how many people were affected, and this is why we need to solve this problem immediately,’” said Ian Wolfley, Manager of Product and Technology Support at One Medical.

Healthcare is catching on to this movement of putting more control into the hands of the people they serve.

A more direct way to gather patient-centered data is by sending patients post-visit surveys through the channels that are most convenient for them, such as in a follow-up email or via a pop-up screen. “Ratings and reviews are a huge driver in healthcare right now,” said Channin. “Everyone looks on Yelp when they get a new doctor, and that isn’t even a formal rating process.”

[Read also: The human approach to building better customer satisfaction surveys]

Medical organizations cannot improve their online reputation without knowing why the people they serve are dissatisfied. Using digital channels like email, messaging, or live chat — when they’re all connected on the back end — to make filling out a survey as easy as possible increases response rates, thereby enabling healthcare organizations to better understand what they can do to enhance patient satisfaction.

So, how can your healthcare organization create cohesive patient experiences that provide real value? Of course, increasing your digital medical presence brings new data security challenges. To reduce risk, healthcare organizations should continuously perform HIPAA security checks as well as frequent vulnerability assessments of their digital systems. It’s also imperative to look at each digital interaction point and ensure that the data connects back to the patient, and that human support is within arm’s reach.

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