Digital Collaboration at the heart of the Digital Health Revolution
The pressures facing the healthcare sector globally are well known – The population is growing, living longer and with more long term, comorbid conditions than ever before, yet patients as service consumers expect far more than they did in the past. To compound this budgets and workforce pressures in all aspects of healthcare management and delivery are under increasing pressure which means simply delivering more of the same is no longer a feasible solution. Having worked in the industry for many years as a CIO and in other related roles in many hospitals I have found myself able to effect more positive change by targeting the patient and staff experience than any other business change projects.
Currently in many health economies the focus is on the “Patient Experience” as it has the potential to reduce cost and improve quality outcomes. Governments are even driving this by penalizing providers for delivering a negative experience. For example, the HCAHPS initiative in the US has resulted in $1m in fines being imposed, and in the UK similar measures can result in hospital departments being closed or placed into special measures. It is the industry’s equivalent to the established measure of CSAT (Customer Satisfaction). In this and future posts I intend to look at how evolving digital collaboration tools can play an important role in furthering this healthcare revolution.
Before we start let me answer a question that nobody asks, “Why do we always talk about hospital patients, what about all the other patients?” That’s easy, acute care (Secondary or Hospital care) is the single largest cost in any health system, typically accounting for 70% of the spend for around 20% of the total patient number.
Secondly, why Patient experience? Again, there is a simple reason why a good experience is less stressful and more positive in terms of outcome. Medical studies have proven stress to inhibit healthy recovery. Less stress means quicker recovery and a consequent reduction in ‘length of stay’ and therefore a cost saving.
But this goes much further - by involving the patient in their care they are much more likely to engage in managing their own wellness, thereby reducing the burden on the professional care giver. If you look outside healthcare this is most evident in the airline industry where we are now perfectly happy and accustomed to ‘Check in’ to our flight. We own the process but the airlines achieve their cost reduction targets by making it part of our overall (hopefully) positive experience!
So, let’s look at some areas where we can improve the patient experience and how that in turn improves quality outcomes, while helping to drive down the cost of care.
One simple way is to de-stress the whole patient journey. As we have seen, many studies have shown a happy, relaxed person heals quicker, so by creating and maintaining the best customer experience we can, an inevitably stressful time is now made less stressful.
Advanced communication and collaboration tools fit perfectly here as they have been designed explicitly to improve customer and staff experiences. Take a simple thing such as a glass of water. A patient will ring the buzzer, a nurse responds and then acts on the request. Great you think – but look deeper. A skilled resource is now occupied with an unskilled task just because the only buzzer available was the nurse call solution. Let’s change that to providing a patient focused digital desktop located on a bedside terminal – the patient touches the ‘Glass of Water’ button that communicates directly with an auxiliary who responds to the request – the experience is good, the patient is receiving great service quicker. Most importantly the skilled resource has more time to focus on the specialist tasks.
Expanding this concept out further into the hospital environment, we see how the same approach can drive efficiencies and costs down while still improving those experiences. The first trick is keep it simple – by using what you have and what you know. Now digitalization can enable some incredible changes to the way we deliver acute care.
Using data as the instigator (instead of the Patient’s finger) think of a high-risk patient attending the emergency department. We apply the same principle except the call is to a specialist alerting them of the patient’s arrival. Now they can intervene as they know all about a totally unrelated issue which reduces the risk of clinical complication. A pregnant woman in early term (so visually nothing obvious), has been involved in a Road Traffic Accident. Now maternity can be immediately on hand informing the accepting emergency consultant of the pregnancy. With the right collaboration tools this can be done remotely, with the collaboration between the two specialists created in seconds without human intervention – at its best this will save lives and it can certainly improve outcomes!
Whatever next? A hospital without walls? Let’s look at that next time.