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Embracing Technology Doesn’t Have To Come At The Expense Of Engagement – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on January 14, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Amy Hamilton,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Amy Hamilton - Stericycle Healthcare IT
In the New Year I set the typical health/financial related goals, but I also like to make small changes to daily tasks in an effort to enrich my life. For instance, last year I made the commitment to add more novels to my obsessive reading habits. This year, I’m thinking about the screens that I carry in my pocket, my purse, my backpack and on my wrist and how I could step away from them more often to become more engaged in the relationships in my life. This got me thinking about how this notion of screens getting in the way impacts a variety of relationships differently whether it be professional, family, friend or even the provider/patient relationship. We all know technology isn’t going anywhere. So how can we adjust our lives to better accommodate tech while enhancing our engagement in our relationships?

I think it’s safe to say that most professionals are like me. We look like we’re moving out when we travel from meeting to meeting with a stack of technology that we “need.” Personal phone, work phone, laptop, and tablet…the technologies we’ve grown so dependent on that we believe we can’t have a successful in person meeting without them.  I believe we have good intentions when carting around this collection of technology, but in reality the majority of the time we end up using the devices for web browsing, texting, email checking, tweeting, Facebook friending and sharing. It’s rare that the technology is used solely for enhancing the agenda of the meeting. Oddly enough, it’s so commonplace that it’s no longer considered rude or unprofessional to be on a device during a meeting or presentation. (I’m live tweeting I swear!)

On the contrary, there is a movement among families to ban technology from the dinner table, even Pope Francis recently said how important it is to have device free family dinners. He said, “The sharing of a meal — and therefore, other than of food, also of affections, of stories, of events — is a fundamental experience.”  My family and friends definitely make an effort during special dinners, but on a daily basis we are a technology obsessed group and we are rarely offended if our guests are communicating more with a friend on another continent than the people sitting at the same table.

So I’m left wondering… if technology is openly accepted in the office, but doesn’t belong at the family dinner table, but is common place during friendly gatherings, what are my communication expectations for my providers?

It’s no surprise, as a Health IT professional, that I believe technology contributes significantly to improving care delivery and overall patient engagement and satisfaction. However, it’s the role technology plays in the exam room that has me scratching my head. I’m guilty of peeking over my providers’ shoulders to see what EHR they use and maybe even mildly judging them based on their selection, but the real judgement comes when they spend more time looking at their computer than me.

I know I may sound like a hypocrite because I want my information documented electronically. I want it to be easily shared and referenceable, but more than anything I want my provider’s attention. I often find myself struggling to “find the time” for the doctor. So when I carve out the time for my health I want that time to be maximized.   I want to be reminded of my appointment via a text. I want to have in-depth, in person conversations about my symptoms and to review all possibilities of conditions. I want all necessary tests to be performed and the results to be delivered quickly.

I understand and accept that none of this can be done today without the assistance of technology and as a high maintenance patient I want my providers to have the best technology. But more than anything, I want to be listened to.

But if I can tweet about an article I read while also taking notes about the presentation my boss is delivering, why don’t I trust my provider enough to listen to me with intention and take notes in her EHR at the same time. Why are my expectations for my provider completely out of touch with my expectations of my friends and family at the dinner table?

I think it’s because this is my health we’re talking about here, and at the end of the day healthcare is a relationship, but also a service and any service is enhanced by personal engagement.

I have a great GP. She recently changed offices and is now in what I might describe as a “boutique or luxury doctor’s office.” There is herbal tea, large screen TVs and modern furniture in the waiting room. The office is equipped with state of the art healthcare technologies, and she was able to quickly acquire my medical records from her previous location. She does, however, sit in front of the computer when I’m in the exam room. At her previous location I felt like sometimes she was looking at her screen more than at me.

Since the move, I’ve never felt neglected like I used to. So what changed? It’s not her care style. She’s still on the computer. It’s not my expectations. I’m still a high maintenance patient. After thinking about it for a while I realized, it was so simple. It’s the type of technologies and the layout of the exam room that have made such a huge impact on her engagement with me. The new EHR has a more patient friendly workflow, less clicking and more dragging and dropping, less free text and smarter lookup functions. These small changes in technology allow her to be more engaged in our conversations. It allows her to document what I say in about half the time so she can look up at me more often.

In the old office the computer was set up so that her back was turned to me when she was typing. Without the swivel of her chair our eyes never connected. The new office, however, is set up in a way that when she looks up she’s looking right at me. Such a small change to furniture layout makes such a huge improvement in engagement.

It’s wonderful that we have the ability to multitask to the nth degree, but I think I have to agree with the Pope on this one; we’re losing the collaboration, interactions and affection that is at the heart of face to face meetings and gatherings. The changes needed to enhance engagement while embracing technology may not be as drastic as putting it down or walking away, but simply making intentional changes to the technologies we use, the way we use them and the environment we use them in.

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