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Has Technology Changed The Way We Interact With Each Other, Our Healthcare Providers And Healthcare Organizations?

Posted on July 19, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle

In this blog series, we have talked a lot about healthcare consumerism, the importance of communication in the patient/provider relationship and how embracing technology can lead to an increased patient experience. Today I want to talk about how technology is changing the way we interact with each other in the healthcare industry.

The other day I tried to book a doctor’s appointment with my family physician.  I looked up my family physician’s phone number online and called in. After about 25 rings, 20 minutes on hold and a cranky voice on the other end, I hung up the phone feeling extremely frustrated and couldn’t event remember the time of my appointment.

This left me thinking. Everyday we rely and crave the use of technology to help us be more efficient and to simplify our lives.  I would argue, even more so, when it comes to our health. Approximately 58% of patients believe that technology leads to better care.  Technology has truly transformed the way patients want to interact with providers.  And to be fair, a lot of healthcare organizations and clinicians have been quick to adopt as they see the efficiency and patient experience benefits – so what was the hold up with my family physician?  I think perhaps they just weren’t aware of the facts.

So let’s take a look at them:

Fact 1 – Mobile Health

The truth hurts.  Many of us are addicted to our phone and are guilty of driving home when we were almost at work to retrieve it. When it comes to mobile health, the addiction is just as strong. Over 50% of smartphone owners, have used their phone to look up health or medical information.  A staggering 80% of patients want the option of using their smartphone to interact with healthcare providers.  Traditional methods of inquiring about our health and interacting with healthcare providers are long gone. Today’s technology makes it much more convenient for both physicians and patients to connect, research and communicate right from their smartphone.

Fact 2 – Online Health

Face it! Most of us have gone down the rabbit hole of searching a particular ailment online.  At least 35% of U.S. adults say they have gone online to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. Research indicates that 77% of online health seekers began their last session at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo.  The presence of the internet has given patients easy access to information and has empowered them to make more informed choices about their health. It has also allowed physicians to easily update new information and build interactive treatment plans that can increase patient adherence and retention.

Fact 3 – Online Scheduling

Truth be told, I did scream when I got off the phone with doctor’s office.  Why was calling in to book my doctor’s appointment the most painful thing I had done all week? I am not alone, 77% of consumers think that the ability to book, change or cancel healthcare appointments online is important. Technology has us conditioned to want the quickest and easiest way of getting things done.  It is much quicker and convenient to go online to book the next available appointment than the 8.1 minutes it takes for a patient to complete a scheduling call.  Online scheduling helps to satisfy a patient’s need for quick gratification and alleviates the significant amount of time staff spend scheduling appointments.

Fact 4 – Digital Communication Platforms

The fact that I couldn’t remember the time of my appointment the moment I got off the phone was a bit embarrassing. But let’s face it, we’ve become so reliant on technology telling us where we need to be and what time we need to be there that our brains begin to ignore certain timelines. The truth is, the sticky note no longer holds the top spot in patient’s minds. A whopping 85% of consumers say that they would welcome digital appointment reminders, medication reminders and general health tips.   This type of technology is a win-win for both patients and clinicians.  Patients receive a simple reminder that can be added into their calendar allowing them to show up and be better prepared and clinicians receive appointment confirmations allowing them to increase their operational efficiencies, revenue and better manage their daily schedule.

Fact 5 – Tracking Health

Tracking health is not a new concept, but the exchanges and the method patients are tracking their health has revolutionized with newer technology. When recommended by a doctor, 3 in 4 consumers followed advice to wear technology to track their health. Over 20% of patients track their health indicators with the use of technology.  Technologies that assist in tracking one’s health have allowed for higher patient engagement which can lead to better monitoring and increased outcomes.  Both US consumers (77%) and doctors (85%) agree that using wearables helps a patient engage in their own health.

As technology evolves, so will our interactions as patients, providers and healthcare organizations.   It’s imperative to capitalize on the many benefits healthcare technology has given us to ensure we expand our connectivity, grow our data, increase our health outcomes and continuously improve our communication and collaboration. However, and unfortunately, in the meantime while we wait for everyone to catch up some of us will suffer from the frustration of expecting technology and not getting it. #Siricantyoujustrunmylife

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms

EHRs Don’t Have to Be a One-Stop-Shop – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on May 16, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
We have talked a lot about healthcare consumerism on this blog series, and it appears that as we discuss many topics, the importance and relevance of healthcare consumerism continues to grow.  More and more patients are demanding to be treated and have access to their healthcare as they would any other commodity they buy.

As I started to think more and more about patients as consumers, I started to think about my own buying behaviors.  If I were to be put into a category of buyers, what would I be? As consumers we don’t always fall into one particular bucket of buyers. We typically fall into several buckets of buyers depending largely on the type of commodity that we are buying. You may be a “One-Stop Shopper” or a “Bargain Shopper” for one thing, but become a “Research Shopper” for other things.

But what about when it comes to healthcare? Do we follow the same trends?  Typically when I shop, I’m a “One-Stop Shopper”.  I travel a lot for work and the convenience of a one-stop-shop significantly increases the time I have to do other things I enjoy. However, when it comes to my healthcare, I quickly become “The Researcher.”  I scour websites and reviews to ensure that I am getting the best healthcare I can.  I chalk it up to the fact that at the end of the day, I really don’t want to be getting my healthcare from the gas station around the corner from my house.

How we shop varies depending on a consumer’s lifestyle and what we are shopping for. But what about providers? Do healthcare providers receive the same liberties that patients have with their vendors?

Take shopping for an EHR for example.  Were physicians given the same consumer rights and liberties when it comes to EHRs? Do EHRs really provide everything a physician needs? The consensus is saying no.  Although studies have shown that EHR adoption rates have increased over the last few years, satisfaction rates from physicians have declined. Reports found that in 2010, 61 percent of respondents claimed they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their EHRs, compared to just 34 percent in 2014.

So what happened? Did EHR vendors miss the mark?

Lack of Inclusion
A big portion of what went wrong can be linked back to the lack of inclusion from EHR vendor’s biggest consumer….physicians.  Many EHR vendors rushed to the market with software that dictated a user’s workflow rather than providing them with software that actually complements how they normally work. What transpired were cumbersome and difficult to use EHRs that significantly slowed physicians down.

Big Promises
EHRs had big promises for healthcare delivery and many doctors continue to be disappointed that they have not met their promises when it comes to quality, safety, efficiency and enagement.  A report titled “Physicians Use of EHR Systems 2014” found that 55% percent of physicians said it was difficult or very difficult to use their EHR to improve efficiency and 72 percent said it was difficult or very difficult to use their EHR to decrease workload. A far cry from the promise of efficiency and better patient engagement.

Interoperability
Another major drawback is the current lack of interoperability of EHRs with other products that exist in the market.  There is a growing number of healthcare platforms and technologies in the market that actually increase a physician’s quality, safety, efficiency and engagement, however many EHRs whether due to stubbornness or fear of loss of control have made it difficult for physicians to easily integrate with these platforms.

Needless to say, physicians are quickly realizing that their pseudo one-stop-shop of an EHR is not cutting it when it comes to satisfying the patient’s needs and their own needs.  Patients’ demands for things like access to their medical records, appointment reminders and mHealth have got physicians on alert for vendors who can deliver. Not to mention, their own demands for things like patient engagement tools and better overall efficiencies.  These crucial demands have begun to shift their buying behaviors to that of a healthcare consumer.  Many physicians are taking a stance with their own healthcare consumerism, recognizing that their EHR can’t and won’t be their one-stop-shop and have begun researching the market for the many niche products and vendors that can and will deliver better results and ultimately happier patients and a happier physician.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms

Finding The Perfect Match…The Hunt For A Provider Patient Relationship That Works – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on February 11, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, some of my single friends are sharing the difficulties they are having while trying to find “the one.” This got me thinking about the relationships in my life where I’ve struggled to find “the one.”

Most of us put in a lot of time and consideration when choosing a healthcare provider.  If you think about it, it’s almost like online dating.  We research our physicians online, take a look at their reviews, get feedback and recommendations from friends, and meet with them to make sure it’s the right fit.  After what could be months of trying to find the right doctor we finally make a decision and bring them onboard as a trusted healthcare advisor.  You entrust them with your health, your life, and your future.  This got me thinking…are our healthcare providers taking the same amount of time and consideration when evaluating the services they provide to us?

Healthcare providers offer a number of services and contract many different service organizations when it comes to running their organizations. Everything from EHRs, to Patient Engagement tools, to Lab Facilities, to Digital Health apps, to their telephone answering service is outsourced in one way or another. I wonder, how can you ensure you’re selecting a physician who takes as much care choosing service providers and their amenities as you did choosing them?  After all, your care and health outcomes are impacted by both people in the relationship being the “right match.”

After working in the healthcare industry for several years, I treat my visit to my doctor’s office like I would a first date. I take notes, try to spot the red flags and ask lots of tough questions. Anything from which EHR they are using, to how they document my visit, how they dispose or store patient files, how they remind me for my appointment, how they route my calls, what patient educational tools they offer me, my wait-time, and even who they buy their supplies from.

Now…I am able to spot these things because I have an idea of what I am looking for and the right questions to ask.  But what about patient’s who don’t know what to look for? Do they know what they are looking for in a long term provider relationship? What are the most important characteristics to them and what are they willing to compromise?

Here are some of my deal breakers:

  • Old Equipment and Technology. It’s important to me that my provider uses the best healthcare products and services on the market that can help manage my health effectively.
  • Lackadaisical Security. It’s imperative that my health data is secure. My provider must understand the importance of maintaining secure patient information and employing vendors who are HIPAA compliant.
  • Unavailability. I get that my healthcare provider may not work 24 hours a day, but there are times that I think their service providers should. What if I need an appointment on a Saturday? What if I need to get a hold of my physician after hours? Who will take that call? A provider who I can only communicate with Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm is a deal-breaker for me.
  • Poor Communication. I always have questions about my health and how to better maintain it. For me, my provider has to be available, approachable, caring, and communicative to serve as a consultant in my healthcare journey.
  • Makes me pay. When I am searching for the right providers, insurance is the first place I start. Does the healthcare organization accept my insurance, or will I have to pay for my services? Don’t take my insurance? Deal breaker!

Unfortunately, there is not a Match.com to help pair the right patient with the right provider….yet. (With the demands patients are putting on healthcare organizations I wouldn’t be surprised if we are swiping left or right when picking our providers in the next 5 years). However, as patients become more and more involved in their care decisions and continue to expect more from their providers I’d encourage everyone to create their list of deal breakers and ask the hard questions, and when in doubt, introduce them to your mom!

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms

Can Automation Assist The Patient/Provider Relationship When It Matters Most? – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on December 10, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
Have you had plans with friends or family that you had to cancel at the last minute? Maybe you’ve come down with a cold, maybe you’re stuck in traffic, or maybe you are caring for a sick child.  Whatever the case may be, we have all been there. We have all had to make a call or send a text and let the other party know that we won’t be able to make it.  In my case, I always feel bad about cancelling last minute, but know in the end that my friends and family will understand why I’m canceling if I let them know at my earliest convenience.

You see, for most of us in 2015 it’s easy.  Almost all of us have quick access to a phone and can easily send a message to any contact in our phone.  We can easily communicate the reason we need to cancel, thus avoiding any damage to the relationship, and avoiding conversations like, “I waited at the restaurant for 30 minutes for you to show up” or “Where were you last night? I drove all the way downtown and you were a no-show.”

But what about maintaining this same relationship within a healthcare organization? There is a lot of buzz around building a solid patient/provider relationship through communication and trust, however quite often due to many unforeseen circumstances patients don’t show up for their appointment, physician’s offices close unexpectedly, or a doctor is out sick and communicating these changes can be difficult.

In a perfect world, and hopefully in a 2018/2020 world, if my child was sick, I would be able to pick up the phone and text my doctor “Won’t be able to make it, Molly is sick.” My doctor would text me back saying “No problem, let’s reschedule for next week when she’s feeling better.”  On the contrary as I mentioned in my last blog post, my doctor may be unable to make our scheduled appointment and could send me a message saying, “Have a family emergency, Dr. Smith is covering for me.”

Unfortunately, it is not quite that easy in the healthcare world.  I do not always have the means to communicate effectively with my doctor’s office if I cannot show up.  Many doctor’s offices also may not have an easy way to communicate to all their patients of an unexpected event or closure.  Alerting each patient individually is an almost impossible task, and quite often we as patients encounter a surprise substitute provider, a closed office due to weather (that we fought to get there just to find out they’re closed), or extremely long wait times thus irritating us and potentially damaging our patient/provider relationship.

As I have said before, I think there has to be a better way.  Similarly to sending a text to a family member or a friend, implementing some simple automation solutions into a healthcare organization can strengthen communication between both the patient and the provider.  Sending an automated appointment reminder initiates the initial conversation and engagement between a patient and a physician.  It can prompt a patient to confirm or not confirm their appointment back to the physician office.  Sending out an automated mass notification to patients letting them know to stay at home during a severe snow storm goes a long way to strengthening that relationship and keeping the communication dialogue alive.

We talk about providers treating patients like consumers/customers and whether that’s good or bad. But, maybe the conversation should really be about the providers AND the patients treating each other like a friend, a neighbor, or even family. Communication and respect for time is an important aspect of those great relationships and in healthcare we still have a lot to learn from them.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Learn more about the automations solutions discussed above here. Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms

Communication Breakdown…My Patient Story – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on November 12, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
Recently I booked my annual well-woman exam appointment with my family physician.  I went through my regular rigmarole of calling in several times in the morning as quite often I am disconnected before I even get a ring tone.  When I finally was able to connect with the office, I was put on hold right away.  Unfortunately, this is typical for my doctor’s office, so I was prepared to work at my desk for several minutes until someone could get to my call.

After about 15 minutes, the front staff picked up my call and asked for my details.  I let them know that I would like to book my annual physical with my family physician in the next couple of weeks.  She proceeded to tell me that unfortunately, my family physician could only accommodate me on a Tuesday at 12pm and the next available Tuesday was in 3 weeks.  Admittedly, I was a bit annoyed that it would take me that long to get an appointment and that the only available times were mid-day, but I agreed to the appointment and put the date in my calendar and made plans to be in town in three weeks.  You see, I work in the city, so I have to do some finagling with my schedule to accommodate midweek appointments in town.

Fast forward two and a half weeks, I get a call from my doctor’s office letting me know that unfortunately my doctor was out of town and had to cancel my appointment and it could be rescheduled in another 3 weeks.  A bit annoyed, I agreed to the next appointment and again put the date in my calendar and arranged to be in town that day for my appointment.

It was a week later, when I got another call from the doctor’s office saying that my physician had to cancel all appointments due to an emergency and my appointment would be rescheduled in another 2 weeks.  At this point, I was quite irritated and nearly lost my cool on the phone, but agreed to the next available appointment as I would be traveling the next month for several weeks and wanted to make sure I completed my appointment before then. As I had done before, I made arrangements with work to be in town during the day of my appointment.

By the time my appointment came around, it had been well over two months since I had first made my original call and my appointment had been rescheduled three different days, along with three different times.  The morning of my appointment, I looked in my calendar to double check the time of my appointment.  My calendar noted that it was at 11:30am, however due to the amount of rescheduling, I began to second guess if I had the right date and time.   I also began to wonder if there was anything I needed to do to prep for my appointment.  I had been too concerned during the rescheduling calls to ensure I could get an appointment that I couldn’t remember if I needed to do or bring anything to my appointment.

In an effort to make sure I was prepared, I called my doctor’s office to confirm these details.  When I called the office, I was again put on hold for about 10 minutes. When the front office staff picked up the phone, I asked her to confirm the date, time and details for my appointment.  She confirmed it was that day and it was at 11:00am (not 11:30am) and that I should be prepared to give a urine sample and to have my blood taken.  She also proceeded to tell me that unfortunately, my doctor was called out and he has another doctor covering for him who would do my annual physical.

As I hung up the phone, completely irritated at the turn of events, I couldn’t help but think several things about this entire experience:

  1. Why was it ok to keep someone on hold for over 30 minutes in total to make a single appointment at my doctor’s office?
  2. Why did it take me over two and a half months to actually get this appointment?
  3. Now that I have the appointment, why am I having it with a doctor who I have never met and the only reason I know this is because I called in to verify my appointment information?
  4. Why did I even have to call to ensure I was properly prepared for my appointment?
  5. Is there not a better way?
  6. And, how is my doctor’s office able to function like this daily? Isn’t their schedule a jumbled unpredictable mess, and don’t patients come in unprepared and confused about their appointment times?

As I drove to my appointment, I thought of my massage therapy appointment I had been to just weeks before which was a completely different experience:

  • I booked my appointment online
  • I was able to see all of the open upcoming appointment that were available with my massage therapist
  • Once I confirmed the date and time, I received an email reminder for the date of my appointment with a link to directions and a link to add the appointment to my calendar
  • A few days before my appointment, I got a call from my massage therapist office reminding me of my appointment
  • The day of my appointment, I received a text message reminder that my appointment was only a couple of hours away
  • I arrived on time, prepared and completely satisfied with my experience

I know there has been a lot of discussion recently over whether healthcare organizations should take more of a “customer” “vendor” relationship with their patients. Although, this conversation goes much deeper than just communications, I think when it comes to patient communications we should absolutely start treating patients like customers if that means ensuring that patients have the information about their appointments that they need when they need it. Communication is the foundation of any relationship, whether it be vendor and consumer or provider and patient.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms