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Improving the patient experience is a two-way street

Photo: Curtis Sherbo

While healthcare needs technology to drive heightened patient experiences, technology can be a hinderance to the clinician experience.

This is because of increased administrative burden and a lack of interoperability between electronic health records themselves and with other forms of health IT. In fact, more than half of clinicians feel overwhelmed by administrative burden and frustrated by the challenges of accessing a patient’s clinical information.

Curtis Sherbo is vice president of product management at EHR maker athenahealth. He believes that by understanding the patient/provider relationship in more depth, technology can be engineered in a way that helps alleviate problems on both sides while not adding to existing problems.

For example, technologies that provide more self-service automation for patients can help reduce a clinician’s administrative burden, he said.

We interviewed Sherbo to get his expert opinions on improving the patient experience while not upsetting the clinician experience.

Q. Improving the patient experience is a major priority for healthcare provider organizations today. What is technology’s role in this effort?

A. Today’s patients are increasingly looking for convenient, consumer-centric healthcare experiences, especially after the past few years. In fact, they expect to be able to manage appointments, view test results and renew medications online.

So, technology needs to modernize the healthcare experience, similar to how technology has made the retail and financial services industries more consumer-centric, to bring more convenience, ease and immediacy to the patient experience.

Health IT innovation can bring scale and efficiency to provider organizations looking to amplify the patient experience. However, it’s important the technology is built and implemented in a way that not only improves the patient experience, but also lessens the administrative burden for the clinicians who are delivering care, which ultimately improves the clinician experience and their ability to improve health outcomes.

There’s still a great deal of room for the health IT industry to meet this need. At athenahealth, we recently conducted our annual Physician Sentiment Survey and found that a large majority of physicians (73%) say their organization does not have the processes in place to minimize their time spent on administrative tasks, which sacrifices their time on patient care.

When patient experience technology marries both provider and patient needs, patients will feel as though their providers are much more accessible while providers will have more time and resources to give more individualized care to their patients.

Health tech can achieve this by empowering patients to accomplish some of the administrative tasks – whether it’s appointment scheduling, pre-appointment paperwork or follow-up information – and integrating that information into the provider workflow so providers can consume that information at the right place and time.

Q. How can efforts to enhance the patient experience hamper the clinician experience?

A. Patient experience technology innovation can impede the clinical experience if the level of information available to each audience is imbalanced. One pitfall to be cautious of when enhancing the patient experience is providing more information and transparency to the patient than to the provider.

For example, if a patient can share all their pre-appointment information – for example, the reason for their visit or the symptoms they’re experiencing – ahead of the visit through a program on their mobile device, the technology needs to ensure this information is efficiently surfaced to the clinician at the right time.

If the patient takes the time to thoroughly input all the information ahead of an appointment, they’re naturally going to expect their provider will have access to the information and is able to review it ahead of the appointment.

In this example, there’s going to be frustration on both sides if this information wasn’t made transparent to the clinician. This could create a negative patient experience and could result in situations where the patient is less likely to provide information in that moment or in future interactions.

Q. What must health IT vendors do to simultaneously help patients and not hamper providers?

A. When developing patient experience technology, it can’t stop at streamlining the process for patients to ensure completeness and accuracy of their record. As we approach our technology enhancements, we’re doing so through the lens of both patient and provider.

It’s important for health IT vendors to ensure the information gathered through patient experience technology is efficiently integrated into the clinician workflow. This eliminates miscommunication and empowers clinicians to have a more complete understanding of their patient and deliver quality care.

Also, the HIT industry can take this effort another step further by building technology that presents the most relevant information the provider needs at the right moment in time. Consider a single electronic patient chart as an example.

The concept is fantastic until there is more information that is needed for a specific appointment, requiring the clinician to dig through the chart. We must optimize technology to understand the clinician and patient needs at any given time.

Q. How does athenahealth integrate patient feedback in initial product research? What are the opportunities you as a vendor have as an ally to both patients and providers to advance more efficient healthcare?

A. athenahealth’s vision for the patient experience is to bring the patient and practice closer. To achieve this, we seek patient feedback in multiple forms when building patient experience technology. First, we have a dedicated patient research practice that seeks out patients from various backgrounds and with a wide range of healthcare needs.

The team takes the time to understand each patient’s unique needs through detailed interviews. This information then is used to create patient personas for the user experience team to test their designs against. Second, we run user concept tests with random patient samples for each new feature prior to full development to validate any design concepts.

Once we have designed and built the initial version of a new feature, we test with increasing amounts of users, collecting feedback directly within the new feature. We also work with customers to understand their strategic goals and the feedback they’re receiving from patients.

As an ally to both patients and providers, we have the opportunity to ease the communication burden between both entities and deploy technology that’s both easy to use and impactful. It is incumbent on us to not make the technology a barrier, but rather an enabler of the free flow of information.

More relevant and timely information for both parties is going to improve how patients and providers navigate the healthcare system and enable the best delivery of care possible.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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