Technology & the Human Factor in Healthcare: When Communications Fail to Engage
Gary Wizenread, CEO of Cordata Healthcare Innovations, guest blogs today, sharing his thoughts on the all-too-often frustrating experience of post-procedure, follow-up communications.
I want to tell you about my colonoscopy. No, not the procedure itself (you’re welcome), but rather about my experience with the follow-up communication process. It was neither engaging nor particularly patient-centric in my view. Instead, it felt like a large organization doing its best but defaulting to a “check-the-box” approach. I don’t mean to be too harsh on them. After all, patient communication is difficult to do well and its staff has many other items on its agenda.
The experience also confirmed to me exactly why success rates for such communications are so low – typically 0-5% patient response and usually closer to the zero end of the scale. And it underscored the need for a personalized and automated approach to patient communication, which is exactly what Cordata is building through our partnership with c2b solutions and PatientBond.
Patient Communications: Getting It Half Right
Here’s what happened. The appointment was on a Thursday and everything went fine. The news was good. In checking out, the office staff told me they were going to call me back and they asked, quite earnestly, for my commitment to respond when they reached out. They clearly set my expectations and I was impressed with the clarity of the protocols. So far, so good.
The next day I received a voice mail at 3:15. A very nice and helpful woman asked about any after-effects from the procedure and encouraged me to get right back to them, because they were very concerned and were there to help there was even the first hint of trouble. She gave a number and repeated it thoughtfully.
I was busy with meetings and things and it was 4:15 when I called back. I wasn’t terribly surprised that no one answered, given that it was Friday afternoon. And this was not a big deal medically, but the standard “our office is closed” message gave me no way to tell them everything was okay. So I couldn’t do what they’d told me was so important to do just the day before. And now it was up to me to get back to them on Monday, which I would never remember to do, of course, unless they offered a secondary or automated follow-up process, which they didn’t.
I don't mean to pick on the staff – no doubt, they have very full plates. But waiting until right before the office closes to reach out to patients and providing no option to leave a message suggest that follow-up communications is pretty low on the agenda. And it shows that, when it comes to patient engagement and care coordination, many large organizations get it only half right. That is, they know they should be taking these steps, but the execution is typically far from a best practice.
Research shows that communications breakdowns in healthcare can be dangerous – and the staff at my physician’s office seemed to get the importance. But effective communication must be two-way. That is especially important for complex or chronic specialties (such as spine, oncology or behavioral health), where ongoing communications are a critical part of driving more effective (and cost-effective) outcomes. The negative impacts of communications breakdowns for episodic care (like colonoscopies) are multiplied for patient treatment plans that extend across months or years and may involve multiple specialists and facilities.
Patient portals have been the default electronic patient communication solution for many healthcare organizations. Unfortunately, most such patient portals simply don’t reflect how consumers prefer to receive information. For one, they require patients to take action – remembering and then taking time to go to a specified online location to check on medication reminders, test results and the like. In some cases, no reminders are sent to nudge patients to visit the portal, which often features complex, clunky and user-unfriendly interfaces. Considering that many patient portals are built off the back of large EHR systems (which were not designed for patient engagement or care coordination), it’s not surprising that the patient experience is sub-par.
Patient Communications: Why It Matters and How to Do It Better
Which brings me to Cordata Healthcare’s connection with c2b solutions and PatientBond. I’ve written previously on the five things that we find most exciting about the technology. Chief among them is what I call the “human factor” in healthcare.
Yes, medicine is a science, but because patients are people, too, treatment plans must account for human nature. Many people simply don’t adhere to treatment plans or general healthcare recommendations because they’re human. In my father’s case, his love of food trumps doctor’s orders to lose a little weight. That’s why he needs ongoing care coordination with a dollop of personalized communications to remind him of the importance of eating healthy. Driving patients to change their behaviors is difficult, which is why we need advanced communications that reflect the latest research on how consumers receive, consume and act on information today.
PatientBond’s capabilities are based on the idea that different people have different preferences for receiving information (in terms of format, frequency and tone), so it’s no wonder that they are that much more effective than portals, which require patients do most of the work of finding information. They also are designed to support ongoing, two-way communications
Beyond personalization, the communications are automated and designed to support specific use cases and workflows (like surgical preparation, appointment follow-ups and medication reminders). That means healthcare organizations can reach more patients more frequently, with the right information delivered through the right channel at the right time.
A Better Mousetrap for Patient Engagement and Behavior Change
Though there are no silver bullets in healthcare, these capabilities seem pretty darn close. At minimum, this is a much better mousetrap that solves several longstanding problems at once. Think about it. The ability to deliver automated and personalized communications at scale turns a critical process that was high-cost, high-touch, highly inefficient and consequently done with limited effort and often done poorly, into one that is focused, streamlined and highly effective.
It’s also strategic for the business of healthcare. If patient communication and care coordination are to become enterprise-scale capabilities (as they must become), such a “platform” approach is the only way to go.
Further, it is now possible to focus finite (and usually overworked) care coordination resources on the highest-priority and most at-risk patients, thanks to intelligent management-by-exception capabilities. In other words, care coordinators have tools to automate routine communications, thus allowing them to prioritize their time and energy on those cases where their efforts will deliver the most meaningful results (such as reduced readmissions, closer compliance to treatment plans and fewer missed appointments). Beyond the substantial clinical benefits, these capabilities can help hospitals and other healthcare organizations improve their returns on technology investments and care coordination staff.
We passionately believe that technology is a critical part of the solution for what ails our industry today. But the best tools and technology are those that factor in the human and personal side of healthcare – both in terms of influencing patient behavior and enabling skilled professionals (including care coordinators) to do their jobs more effectively.
Gary Wizenread is the CEO of Cordata Healthcare Innovations. Cordata’s specialty care coordination platform helps healthcare organizations more effectively treat people with chronic specialty diseases and generate better clinical and business outcomes through effective patient management and retention along complex care plans. Learn more at http://www.cordatahealth.com