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Top 5 Ways to Create a Stellar Patient Experience

Posted on August 13, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

Patient experience has always been something healthcare delivery organizations should strive to improve. However, in the past couple of years, patient experience has received a necessary focus as health consumers are presented with more choice, transparency, and data to navigate their healthcare journey. But with so many choices available, what can health providers do to drive loyalty?

I recently had to schedule a visit for my annual mammogram, a much dreaded experience for most women. I’m lucky to have many imaging options around me, making it easy to get in on a day that was convenient for me. However, the choice was very simple after the exemplary experience I received last year. One facility in particular made me into a loyal patient, and they did so in five key ways.

1. Convenience of access: Consumer-centric businesses like Amazon and Starbucks have made it so seamless and easy to get what you need from them when you need it, that it makes waiting in healthcare more painful than it used to be. Now, we expect to handle business transactions on our own terms and to receive immediate results. Even Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping wasn’t enough for us, and now we have Amazon Now. When it was time to schedule with the facility, it was simple to connect and get care when convenient for me. They offer online scheduling, which enabled me to browse open appointments and choose an option that fit my busy schedule. They have a phone number as well if you prefer to schedule that way, but I prefer doing most business transaction from my phone.

2. Patient-first in clinic experience: Everything at the facility was set up to make something no woman really wants to do, an enjoyable experience. I was greeted with a warm smile when I walked in and promptly taken back to the changing rooms. Their rooms are finely decorated with warm lighting and comfortable dressing rooms. I never sat idle for more than 10 minutes. They have even taken the extra step to provide lockers for your personal belongings with the names of famous amazing women so you can remember where your belongings are. I chose to be Eleanor Roosevelt one year, and Jane Austin this year.

3. Putting data in the patients’ hands: Both times I have been in for a screening, I receive my secure results within 24 to 48 hours and they send the results to both my OB/Gyn and my primary care provider. Armed with information contained in my profile, I can choose to have a more in depth conversation with my care providers regarding the risks and results, or I can keep them and compare year after year. Knowledge and education are the first two steps in patients having the ability to manage their health.

4. Proactive engagement in care: Patients can be very forgetful (especially when managing the care of four additional family members). If there is something I need to do in order to take better care of myself, it’s better to be proactive and ping me instead of assuming I’ve got it covered. This facility let me know several months in advance that it was time to reschedule. I knew the exact date I was eligible per my insurance, so it made it easy to take the best step to keep on top of my health.

5. Ease of doing business: No one wants to spend hours filling out paper forms. When looking for a repeat appointment for this year, I saw that there was a clinic closer to my office. I arrived a few minutes early to fill out the insurance forms since I scheduled online and there was no place for me to put the card information. When I walked in and gave my name at sign in, they had everything: my address, insurance, birthdate, records from the last visit at a different facility. This is imperative for healthcare organizations to prioritize as mergers and acquisitions mean multiple EHRs, billing systems, and contact centers. The experience and ease of doing business with your team before and after care will affect patient loyalty. Make it easier to do the small things, and watch your patient satisfaction increase.

The facility has gone to great lengths to ensure their patient experience is above par and their efforts have definitely paid off. And they will have my loyalty for it as long as they serve my area. Their mission states:

“Our promise is to provide an exceptional experience, exceptionally accurate results, and Peace of Mind to everyone we serve. Our purpose is to be the National Leader in Mammography and imaging services, helping patients achieve and maintain optimal health.”

What is your promise to your patients? Is your number one to provide an exceptional experience? Are you meeting the above five areas of the patient experience beyond the clinical face to face interaction? What are some additional ways you ensure the best experiences for everyone in your care?

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. 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

CareSync Shutdown and CareSync Alternatives

Posted on July 13, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve been watching the shutdown of CareSync a little closer than I do most healthcare IT startup companies. Partially because it happened so quickly and partially because I’m an advisor to CareCognitics which has a CCM (Chronic Care Management – 99490) offering as part of their suite of healthcare loyalty products. So, I’m totally biased in this situation.

With that said, I thought that CareCognitics captured my feelings about CareSync shutting down really well. Here’s an excerpt from their post:

For companies like ours that work in the Chronic Care Management (CCM) space, it was big news this week that CareSync was shutting down their offices and laying off employees. The details of why this happened aren’t clear, but it’s unfortunate that such a well-respected company is shutting down. Our hearts go out to all the employees that lost their jobs and we hope that many of their skills and expertise can find a home at CareCognitics. The work we are doing is too important to let that talent go to waste.

The most heartbreaking part of CareSync shutting down is all of the patients that will miss out on the special care they receive from the CCM program. We see such tremendous opportunity and success with chronic care management and so we hope that CareSync’s customers will continue their chronic care management efforts and possibly even find new opportunities to take them to an even greater level.

Read the full post for more details. Obviously, I think CareCognitics is a good home for CareSync users who are looking to continue their CCM efforts but want to do so in the EHR which they control and will always have access to in the event of issues.

It really is unfortunate that one of the biggest names in the CCM space shutdown. I hope that those that are part of the company will share their learnings with the rest of healthcare since managing chronic conditions is such an important thing for healthcare to become what it needs to become. I know a number of them are going around trying to share what they can with others and I’ve talked to a few myself.

While painful, the good news for CareSync users is that there are plenty of alternative CCM companies out there. It won’t be fun to switch companies, but there are CareSync alternatives. It also seems that the Tampa Bay tech community has rallied to help many of the CareSync employees. That’s a good thing even though I’m sure some will still have challenges ahead as they search for a new job.

Does all of this mean that healthcare organizations should stop working with startup companies?

Of course not. If you’ve ever bought a product from a big company, you know that big companies can shut products down just as easily (and in some cases more easily) than a startup company. However, you should be thoughtful about which startup companies you work with and keep in mind the risks associated with working with startups.

Here are some questions and thoughts you should consider as you buy a product from a startup company. What’s the track record of the founding team? Worry less about how much money they’ve raised and how efficiently they’re using that money. People are expensive and that impacts what those of us in the startup world call burn rate. How much money you’ve raised doesn’t matter if you have too high of a burn rate. The best startup companies learn how to balance this effectively. This is sometimes hard to understand from the outside, but is possible if you dig enough. It’s also one reason why 2nd time entrepreneurs are often more successful. They’ve learned how to manage their burn rate effectively.

Other questions you should consider is “What happens if this company shuts down?” It’s never a bad idea to have a backup plan if things go awry like they did at CareSync. This question is also best asked before selecting a vendor. As CareSync users evaluate new CCM companies, this is a great question to ask. The answer to the question may determine which company you get in bed with for your chronic care management efforts.

Outside partners are essential to a healthcare organizations success. It’s just impossible for a healthcare organization to do 100% of what they need to accomplish in house. This is especially true for larger healthcare organizations. So, finding the right partners needs to be a key part of your strategy. Make sure your strategy includes what will happen if you choose the wrong partner. However, the great thing is that if you choose the right partner, you’ll benefit as that partner grows and enhances what you’re doing over time.

As was mentioned in today’s #HITsm chat, “We’re not buying from a vendor; we’re marrying them.”

Alleviating “Pregnancy Brain” With Appointment Reminders

Posted on July 12, 2018 I Written By

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

Brittany Quemby - Stericycle

Picture this: I’m standing on the tradeshow floor watching as people try to grab as much swag as possible. I’m speaking to someone who really isn’t listening to my spiel because they are only in it for the free pen. Then, I get someone who is fairly interested in our appointment reminder service. Thinking I’ve hooked, lined and sunk them, I am met with a familiar objection: “We don’t need an appointment reminder service for our OBGYN clinic because women, especially pregnant women, don’t forget when their appointments are.”

Thinking back, I wish I knew then what I know now and could have countered that argument with some cold hard facts.

You may have heard about little bouts of forgetfulness during pregnancy. According to most experts, pregnancy does not change a woman’s brain, but some women don’t feel as sharp as usual when they’re pregnant. Although the science is still out on whether “pregnancy brain” is truly myth or reality, being seven months pregnant, I can testify that I am definitely not at the top of my game.

I have to check that I’ve locked the door three times. I forget simple words. I have a hard time remembering anything if I don’t write it down. Of course, I remember that I am due at the doctor once a month (I’m not an animal) and enter the date and time of future appointments into my phone. But between work meetings, presentations, ultrasounds, and other appointments, I inevitably forget when I’m supposed to go in and begin to question myself. Did I write down the date correctly? Did I already miss my appointment?

Every month, this confusion and second guessing always leads me to call my doctor’s office before my appointment to check the appropriate date and time.

What I do know is that this seconding guessing and additional effort could be completely eliminated if my clinic were to provide more patient-focused engagement before my appointments with the help of simple appointment reminders. With so many other things to worry about, I have come to appreciate these gentle reminders from places like my hair stylist, masseuse, and even prenatal class instructor, all of who send me a quick note including the following:

  • Appointment date
  • Appointment time
  • Location
  • Preparation instructions and,
  • Any additional “need to knows.”

Although it may seem like pregnant women would never forget an appointment that has to do with something as pivotal as bringing a child into this world, I can firmly say it happens. And something as simple as an appointment reminder goes a long way to ease a patient’s mind and elevate their overall patient experience. Now if only I could remember the name of the OBGYN clinic from that tradeshow I was at…..

Click here, to learn more about how Stericycle Communication Solutions is helping to create the optimal patient experience through our customized automated messaging solutions.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality answering services, online scheduling solutions, and messaging solutions. 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

How Technology Helped My Family Receive a Better Healthcare Experience

Posted on May 10, 2018 I Written By

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

Brittany Quemby - Stericycle

When was the last time you had a truly outstanding patient experience? For my family, two healthcare facilities located hours apart recently teamed up to make our lives significantly more convenient. Without modern technology, however, our new reality may never have been possible. Let’s start from the beginning.

A few years ago, my family member suffered a heart attack that caused a traumatic brain injury. He was treated at a major facility about two hours away from his home for speech therapy, occupational therapy, neurological care, cardiologist support, and more. After a year of hard work, he was discharged from the hospital and was able to move back to his home town.

Unfortunately, his community hospital was not equipped to provide the specific care he required. So for the next two years, he and his wife, who is now his primary care giver, commuted to the city multiple times a week to ensure he received the care he needed.

Eventually, we all wondered the same thing: Isn’t there a better way?

After many meetings with the facility that treated my relative and our local hospital, we started discussing how digital health experiences and virtual care could augment my family’s patient and caregiver experience. We were determined to find a solution that provided care options and choice, and allowed them to continue receiving the necessary care without the exhaustion of “living on the road.”

A recent study by Accenture said it best: “Finding the best combination of traditional in-person services and making those same services available virtually can offer consumers the choice they want in deciding when and how they receive care and support.”

Fortunately, we learned that our local hospital was equipped to provide virtual care. However, many patients had not yet taken advantage of these technologies. After some coordinating between facilities, we were able to set up ongoing virtual appointments. These appointments enabled my family member to receive care in a much more convenient setting.

With virtual appointments, they can even:

  • Easily schedule virtual appointments
  • Participate in the appointments from the comfort of a boardroom at the hospital
  • Consult with the first hospital’s specialist and also an in-person care facilitator
  • Receive follow-up health reminders and education directly after the appointment

Now, almost half of his appointments have transitioned to virtual appointments. And my family is not the only one taking advantage of this care capability. Recent research explores the many reasons why healthcare consumers are making this virtual shift:

  • One of the top three reasons why consumers tried virtual health was convenience. 37% said it was more convenient than traditional, in-person health services
  • 76% of people would have a follow-up appointment (after seeing a doctor or healthcare professional)
  • 74% would get virtual follow-up care services in their home after being hospitalized
  • 73% would discuss a specific health concern virtually with a doctor or other healthcare people and
  • 72% would be open to getting virtual daily support to manage an ongoing health issue

Consumer willingness to demand choice and becoming more involved in their health is rising. Like my family, more patients are ready to collaborate with clinicians, embrace new technologies, and explore digital health experiences that can help manage our health and create more convenient and engaging patient experiences.

Learn more about how Stericycle Communication Solutions is helping create the optimal patient experience through a combination of human and tech-enabled communication services. Check out our service overview here!

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality live agent services, scheduling solutions, and automated messaging solutions.  Stericycle Communication Solutions provides unified human & tech-enabled communication solutions for optimized patient experiences.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

The Human Side of Healthcare Interactions

Posted on March 19, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

The week after HIMSS is certainly a rest and reflect (and catch up) time period. So much information is crammed into five short days that hopefully fuel innovation and change in our industry for the next year. We hear a lot of buzzwords during HIMSS, and as marketers in general. This year my biggest area of post-HIMSS reflection is on the human side of healthcare. Often, as health IT professionals, we can be so enamored with the techie side of things that we lose sight of what adding more automation does to our daily interactions.

The digital revolution has certainly made life easier. We can connect online, schedule an appointment, Uber to our destination, order groceries online, and pick them up on our way home with limited interactions with any real human. While the convenience for many far outweighs any downside, the digital world is causing its own health concern: loneliness.

Research by Holt-Lunstad found that “weak social connections carry a health risk that is more harmful than not exercising, twice as harmful as obesity, and is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.” But the digitization of our lives is reducing the amount of human interaction and our reasons to connect in real life. I keep hearing the phrase “we are more connected than ever, but we are feeling more alone”.  How do we avoid feeding another health issue, such as depression, while making healthcare more accessible, cost-effective, and convenient?

In healthcare communications, I want both technological convenience and warm, caring human interaction depending on what my need is at a given moment. If I need to schedule an appointment, I’d better have the option to schedule online. But in the middle of the night, when my child has a 104F fever and I call my doctor, I want a real person to talk and ask questions to, who will listen to the state my child is in and make the best recommendation for their health.

I had the privilege of discussing this balance of human and tech in a meet up at HIMSS last week. We learned that my colleague and friend learned the gender of her baby via a portal while waiting patiently for the doctor’s office to call. This is pushing the line of being ok in my opinion. But what if it was something worse, such as a cancer diagnosis or something equally scary? Is that ok for you? Wouldn’t you prefer and need someone to guide you through the result and talk about next steps?

As we add even more channels to communicate between health facility and patient, we need to take a look at the patient interaction lifecycle and personalize it to their needs. We should address the areas where automation might move faster than the human connections we initiate to ensure we are always in step with our tools and technology. Healthcare relationships rely on confidence and loyalty, and these things aren’t so easily built into an app. Online interactions will never replace the human, day-to-day banter and touch we all need. But I believe that technology can create efficiency that allows my doctor to spend more quality time with me during my visits and better engage me in my health.

So the question stands: how do you think the healthcare industry can find the right tech and human balance?

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. 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

Three Pillars of Clinical Process Improvement and Control

Posted on February 21, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brita Hansen, MD, Chief Medical Officer at LogicStream Health.

In a value-based care environment, achieving quality and safety measures is a priority. Health systems must have the capabilities to measure a process following its initial implementation. The reality, however, is that traditional improvement methods are often plagued with lagging indicators that provide little (if any) insight into areas requiring corrective actions. Health systems have an opportunity to make a significant impact on patient care by focusing on three pillars of clinical process improvement and control: quality and safety, appropriate utilization and clinician engagement.

Quality and Safety

Data in a health system’s electronic health record (EHR) typically is not easily accessible. Providers struggle to aggregate the data they need in a timely manner, often with limited resources, thereby hindering efforts to measure process efficacy and consistency. To achieve sustainable quality improvements, clinical leaders must equip their teams with advanced software solutions capable of delivering highly-actionable insights in near-real-time, thereby allowing them to gain a true understanding of clinical processes and how to avoid clinical errors and care variations.

Clinicians need instant insights into what clinical content in their EHR is being used; by whom; and how it affects patient care. This data empowers providers with the ability to continuously analyze and address care gaps and inefficient workflows.

For example, identifying inappropriate uses of Foley catheters that lead to catheter associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI) allows clinical leaders make targeted improvements to the care process or to counsel individual clinician outliers on appropriate best practices. This will, in turn, reduce CAUTI rates. To most effectively improve clinical processes, clinicians need software tools that enable them to examine those processes in their entirety, including process steps within the EHR, patient data and the actions of individual clinicians or groups as they interact with the care process every day.

Only with instant insight into how the care process is being followed can clinicians see in real-time what is happening and where to intervene, make the necessary changes in the EHR workflow, then measure and monitor the effects over time to improve care delivery in a sustainable way.

Appropriate Utilization

Verifying appropriate utilization of best practices also plays a critical role in optimizing clinical processes. Yet healthcare organizations often lack the ability to identify and correct the use of obsolete tests, procedures and medications. When armed with dynamic tools that quickly and easily allow any individual to understand the exact location of ordering opportunities for these components, an organization can evaluate its departments, clinicians, and patient populations for ineffective ordering patterns and areas that require greater compliance. By assessing areas in need of intervention, organizations can notify clinicians of the most up-to-date best practices that, when integrated into clinical workflows, will improve care and yield significant cost savings. Through targeted efforts to ensure proper usage of high-cost and high-volume medications, lab tests and other orderables, for example, health systems can achieve significant savings while improving the quality of care delivery.

The benefits of such an approach are reflected in one health system’s implementation of clinical process improvement and control software, which allowed them to more effectively manage the content in their EHR, including oversight of order sets. Specifically, the organization focused on reviewing the rate of tests used diagnose acute myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). It discovered that physicians were regularly ordering an outdated Creatine kinase-MB (CKMB) lab test along with a new, more efficient test for no other reason than it was pre-checked on numerous order sets.

Although the test itself was inexpensive, the high order rate led to massive waste and increased the cost of care. Leveraging the software enabled the organization to quickly identify the problem, then significantly reduce costs and save resources by eliminating an unnecessary test that otherwise would have remained hidden within the EHR.

Clinician Engagement

Enhancing clinician engagement is key to addressing dissatisfaction and burnout, often traced to alert fatigue and a lack of order set optimization within an EHR. The typical health system averages 24 million alert firings per year. Confronted with a high volume of unnecessary warnings, clinicians ignore alerts 49 percent to 96 percent of the time, resulting in poor compliance with care protocols. EHRs often contain an overwhelming number of order sets that can lead to confusion about best practices for patient care and a frustrating amount of choice to navigate. To increase engagement, alerts must be designed to send the right information, to the right person, in the right format, through the right channel, at the right time in the workflow; and order sets should be streamlined and make it easy for clinicians to follow the up-to-date best clinical practices.

For example, one hospital utilized EHR-generated alerts targeting potential cases of sepsis. These alerts, however, were rarely acted upon as they were not specific enough and fired inappropriately at such exhaustive rates clinicians grew to simply ignore them, creating a clear case of alert fatigue. By fine-tuning alerts and adjusting the workflow to ensure alerts were sent to the right clinician at the optimal time, the hospital was able to achieve and maintain nearly full compliance with its initiative. As early detection and treatment of sepsis increased, the hospital also reduced length of stay in its intensive care unit. Data-driven targeted interventions were developed to address outliers whose actions were driving unnecessary variation in the process.

Ultimately, when the three pillars—quality and safety, appropriate utilization and clinician engagement—are used as the building blocks for standardizing and controlling vital clinical processes, multiple objectives can be realized. Empowered with technology that supports these factors, healthcare organizations can truly achieve sustainable, proactive clinical process improvement and control.

Dr. Brita Hansen is a hospitalist at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Dr. Hansen also serves as Chief Medical Officer of LogicStream Health.

Predicting the Top Patient Engagement Themes of #HIMSS18

Posted on February 12, 2018 I Written By

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

Brittany Quemby - StericycleWe all have different motivations in life – and when it comes to your health, it is no different. Motivation strikes us all differently, especially regarding eating well, exercising, maintaining good health, and engaging in our healthcare.  Have you ever thought about what motivates you when it comes to your healthcare?

For instance, I love carbs. So, my motivation for exercising is the reward of being able to eat pizza and pasta without feeling guilty. When it comes to my relationship with my provider, I want to be able to conveniently schedule an appointment without waiting on hold for over an hour. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about some of the ways the industry is starting to close communication gaps in an effort to improve patient experiences, and how these trends will influence focus at the HIMSS18 conference in Las Vegas.

Below are some of the themes to keep a look for at HIMSS18 that are driving more strategic engagement amongst patients and providers.

Convenience

As consumers, we drive trends and change in the market. As patients, we do something similar in the healthcare market: drive our healthcare experiences.  Consumers and patients alike want convenience and quality and will choose care providers accordingly.

Take those aged 18 to 34, or millennials, as an example. They are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force right, surpassing Gen Xers according to U.S. Census Bureau data by Pew Research.  Convenience for this generation is a top motivator. Millennials, for example, find it inconvenient to see their physician and find scheduling preventative visits and booking appointments to be a chore. A survey from Salesforce and Harris Poll showed that 71 percent of millennials want to be able to book appointments through mobile apps.

And I think I can speak for the rest of us by saying that convenience is at the top of list for everyone else. According to Accenture, 64 percent of all patients will book appointments digitally by 2019. Tapping into the convenience card is essential for establishing lasting engagement with patients while delivering an optimal user experience.

Access

It’s time to say goodbye to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. support. Unfortunately for Dolly, these days it is no way to make a livin’. Consumers have grown accustomed to instant gratification and are looking for constant accessibility. In fact, a recent EMC report found that patients want faster access to services. The report found that a whopping 45 percent wanted 24/7 access and connectivity and 42 percent wanted access on more devices.

For most, patients’ craving more access shouldn’t be a surprise. Whether it’s through portals, apps, phone, email, chat, or text – we want it! Patients have become much more comfortable with new technology and are constantly seeking new tools that make accessing and engaging with our providers easy.

Personalization

You know that feeling when the barista calls out your name when your coffee is ready? You strut up to the counter, grab the cup with your name on it, and enjoy the hot brew that was made especially for you. The same sentiment can be created in the healthcare space, and can lead to enticing results. Personalized patient engagement correlates with better care outcomes. The more involved and invested a patient is and feels with his or her healthcare, the greater the likelihood for successful outcomes.

An EMC report showed that 47 percent of patients want “personalized” experiences. The key for healthcare providers is the same as the barista: know your customer. Not all patients are the same, and treating them as such deters them from taking part in their health. Utilizing data and preferences, healthcare organizations can tailor interactions with patients, including what doctor a patient prefers, their health history, how they like to communicate, and potential other health issues, allowing treatment options to become easy, delightful, and accessible.

Conclusion

As the industry goes forward to improve upon strategic patient experience improvement, research from PwC suggests that the solution is systemic: 73 percent of provider executives say balancing patient satisfaction and employee job satisfaction is a barrier to efforts to improve the patient experience. But with the right technology-based tools and human support, this barrier can be lifted, helping eliminate employee hardships and improve the patient experience by delivering on each of the above trends.

If you’re going to be at HIMSS18, come and stop by the Stericycle Communications Solutions booth #859 to share your ideas and perspectives on patient engagement.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality live agent services, scheduling solutions, and automated messaging solutions.  Stericycle Communication Solutions provides unified human & tech-enabled communication solutions for optimized patient experiences.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Measuring the Vital Signs of Health Care Progress at the Connected Health Conference (Part 3 of 3)

Posted on November 17, 2017 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The previous segment of this article covered one of the crucial themes in health care today: simplifying technology’s interactions with individuals over health care. This segment finishes my coverage of this year’s Connected Health Conference with two more themes: improved data sharing and blockchains.

Keynote at Connected Health Conference

Keynote at Connected Health Conference

Improved data sharing
The third trend I’m pursuing is interoperability. If data collection is the oxygen that fuels connected health, data sharing is the trachea that brings it where it’s needed. Without interoperability, clinicians cannot aid patients in their homes, analysts cannot derive insights that inform treatments, and transitions to assisted living facilities or other environments will lead to poor care.

But the health care field is notoriously bad at data sharing. The usual explanation is that doctors want to make it hard for competitors to win away their patients. If that’s true, fee-for-value reimbursements will make them even more possessive. After all, under fee-for-value, clinicians are held accountable for patient outcomes over a long period of time. They won’t want to lose control of the patient. I first heard of this danger at a 2012 conference (described in the section titled “Low-hanging fruit signals a new path for cost savings”).

So the trade press routinely and ponderously reports that once again, years have gone by without much progress in data sharing. The US government recognizes that support for interoperability is unsatisfactory, and has recently changed the ONC certification program to focus on it.

Carla Kriwet, CEO of Connected Care and Health Informatics at Philips, was asked in her keynote Fireside Chat to rate the interoperability of health data on a scale from 0 to 10, and chose a measly 3. She declared that “we don’t believe in closed systems at all” and told me in an interview that Philips is committed to creating integrated solutions that work with any and all products. Although Philips devices are legendary in many domains, Kriwet wants customers to pay for outcomes, not devices.

For instance, Philips recently acquired the Wellcentive platform that allows better care in hospitals by adopting population health approaches that look at whole patient populations to find what works. The platform works with a wide range of input sources and is meant to understand patient populations, navigate care and activate patients. Philips also creates dashboards with output driven by artificial intelligence–the Philips IntelliVue Guardian solution with Early Warning Scoring (EWS)–that leverages predictive analytics to present critical information about patient deterioration to nurses and physicians. This lets them intervene quickly before an adverse event occurs, without the need for logging in repeatedly. (This is an example of another trend I cover in this article, the search for simpler interfaces.)

Kriwet also told me that Philips has incorporated the principles of agile programming throughout the company. Sprints of a few weeks develop their products, and “the boundary comes down” between R&D and the sales team.

I also met with Jon Michaeli, EVP of Strategic Partnerships with Medisafe, a company that I covered two years ago. Medisafe is one of a slew of companies that encourage medication adherence. Always intensely based on taking in data and engaging patients in a personalized way, Medisafe has upped the sophistication of their solution, partly by integrating with other technologies. One recent example is its Safety Net, provided by artificial intelligence platform Neura. For instance, if you normally cart your cell phone around with you, but it’s lying quiet from 10:00 PM until 6:00 AM, Safety Net may determine your reason for missing your bedtime dose at 11:00 PM was that you had already fallen asleep. If Safety Net sees recurring patterns of behavior, it will adjust reminder time automatically.

Medisafe also gives users the option of recording the medication adherence through sensors rather than responding to reminders. They can communicate over Bluetooth to a pill bottle cap (“iCap”) that replaces the standard medicine cap and lets the service know when you have opened the bottle. The iCap fits the vast majority of medicine bottles dispensed by U.S. pharmacies and costs only $20 ($40 for a pack of 2), so you can buy several and use them for as long as you’re taking your medicine.

On another level, Mivatek provides some of the low-level scaffolding to connected health by furnishing data from devices to systems developed by the company’s clients. Suppose, for instance, that a company is developing a system that responds to patients who fall. Mivatek can help them take input from a button on the patient’s phone, from a camera, from a fall detector, or anything else to which Mivatek can connect. The user can add a device to his system simply by taking a picture of the bar code with his phone.

Jorge Perdomo, Senior Vice President Corporate Strategy & Development at Mivatek, told me that these devices work with virtually all of the available protocols on the market that have been developed to promote interoperability. In supporting WiFi, Mivatek loads an agent into its system to provide an additional level of security. This prevents device hacking and creates an easy-to-install experience with no setup requirements.

Blockchains
Most famous as a key technological innovation supporting BitCoin, blockchains have a broad application as data stores that record transactions securely. They can be used in health care for granting permissions to data and other contractual matters. The enticement offered by this technology is that no central institution controls or stores the blockchain. One can distribute the responsibility for storage and avoid ceding control to one institution.

Blockchains do, however, suffer from inherent scaling problems by design: they grow linearly as people add transactions, the additions must be done synchronously, and the whole chain must be stored in its entirety. But for a limited set of participants and relatively rate updates (for instance, recording just the granting of permissions to data and not each chunk of data exchanged), the technology holds great promise.

Although I see a limited role for blockchains, the conference gave considerable bandwidth to the concept. In a keynote that was devoted to blockchains, Dr. Samir Damani described how one of his companies, MintHealth, planned to use them to give individuals control over health data that is currently held by clinicians or researchers–and withheld from the individuals themselves.

I have previously covered the importance patient health records, and the open source project spotlighted by that article, HIE of One, now intends to use blockchain in a manner similar to MintHealth. In both projects, the patient owns his own data. MintHealth adds the innovation of offering rewards for patients who share their data with researchers, all delivered through the blockchain. The reward system is quite intriguing, because it would create for the first time a real market for highly valuable patient data, and thus lead to more research use along with fair compensation for the patients. MintHealth’s reward system also fits the connected health vision of promoting healthy behavior on a daily basis, to reduce chronic illness and health care costs.

Conclusion
Although progress toward connected health comes in fits and starts, the Connected Health Conference is still a bright spot in health care each year. For the first time this year, Partners’ Center for Connected Health partnered with another organization, the Personal Connected Health Alliance, and the combination seems to be a positive one. Certain changes were noticeable: for instance, all the breakout sessions were panels, and the keynotes were punctuated by annoying ads. An interesting focus this year was wellness in aging, the topic of the final panel. One surprising difference was the absence of the patient advocates from the Society for Participatory Medicine whom I’m used to meeting each year at this conference, perhaps because they held their own conference the day before.

The Center for Connected Health’s Joseph Kvedar still ran the program team, and the themes were familiar from previous years. This conference has become my touchstone for understanding health IT, and it will continue to be the place to go to track the progress of health care reform from a technological standpoint.

Measuring the Vital Signs of Health Care Progress at the Connected Health Conference (Part 2 of 3)

Posted on November 15, 2017 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

The first segment of this article introduced the themes of the Connected Health Conference and talked about the importance of validating what new technologies do using trials or studies like traditional medical advances. This segment continues my investigation into another major theme in health care: advanced interfaces.

Speaker from Validic at Connected Health Conference

Speaker from Validic at Connected Health Conference

Advanced interfaces
The compulsory picture of health care we’re accustomed to seeing, whenever we view hospital propaganda or marketing from health care companies, shows a patient in an awkward gown seated on an uncomfortable examination table. A doctor faces him or her full on–not a computer screen in site–exuding concern, wisdom, friendliness, and professionalism.

More and more, however, health sites are replacing this canonical photograph with one of a mobile phone screen speckled with indicators of our vital signs or thumbnail shot of our caregivers. The promise being conveyed is no longer care from a trusted clinician in the office, but instant access to all our information through a medium familiar to almost everyone everywhere–the personal mobile device.

But even touchscreen access to the world of the cloud is beginning to seem fusty. Typing in everything you eat with your thumbs, or even answering daily surveys about your mental state, gets old fast. As Dr. Yechiel Engelhard of TEVA said in his keynote, patients don’t want to put a lot of time into managing their illnesses, nor do doctors want to change their workflows. So I’m fascinated with connected health solutions that take the friction out of data collection and transmission.

One clear trend is the move to voice–or rather, I should say back to voice, because it is the original form of human communication for precise data. The popularity of Amazon Echo, along with Siri and similar interfaces, shows that this technology will hit a fever pitch soon. One research firm found that voice-triggered devices more than doubled in popularity between 2015 and 2016, and that more than half of Americans would like such a device in the home.

I recently covered a health care challenge using Amazon Alexa that demonstrates how the technology can power connected health solutions. Most of the finalists in the challenge were doing the things that the Connected Health Conference talks about incessantly: easy and frequent interactions with patients, analytics to uncover health problems, integration with health care providers, personalization, and so on.

Orbita is another company capitalizing on voice interfaces to deliver a range of connected health solutions, from simple medication reminders to complete care management applications for diabetes. I talked to CEO Bill Rogers, who explained that they provide a platform for integrating with AI engines provided by other services to carry out communication with individuals through whatever technology they have available. Thus, Orbita can talk through Echo, send SMS messages, interact with a fitness device or smart scale, or even deliver a reminder over a plain telephone interface.

One client of Orbita uses it platform to run a voice bot that talks to patients during their discharge process. The bot provides post-discharge care instructions and answers patients’ questions about things like pain management and surgery wound care. The results show that patients are more willing to ask questions of the bot than of a discharge nurse, perhaps because they’re not afraid of wasting someone’s time. Rogers also said services are improving their affective interfaces, which respond to the emotional tone of the patient.

Another trick to avoid complex interfaces is to gather as much data as possible from the patient’s behavior (with her consent, of course) to eliminate totally the need for her to manually enter data, or even press a button. Devices are getting closer to this kind of context-awareness. Following are some of the advances I enjoyed seeing at the Connected Health Conference.

  • PulseOn puts more health data collection into a wrist device than I’ve ever seen. Among the usual applications to fitness, they claim to detect atrial fibrillation and sleep apnea by shining a light on the user’s skin and measuring changes in reflections caused by variations in blood flow.
  • A finger-sized device called Gocap, from Common Sensing, measures insulin use and reports it over wireless connections to clinical care-takers. The device is placed over the needle end of an insulin pen, determines how much was injected by measuring the amount of fluid dispensed after a dose, and transmits care activity to clinicians through a companion app on the user’s smartphone. Thus, without having to enter any information by hand, people with diabetes can keep the clinicians up to date on their treatment.
  • One of the cleverest devices I saw was a comprehensive examination tool from Tyto Care. A small kit can carry the elements of a home health care exam, all focused on a cute little sphere that fits easily in the palm. Jeff Cutler, Chief Revenue Officer, showed me a simple check on the heart, ear, and throat that anyone can perform. You can do it with a doctor on the other end of a video connection, or save the data and send it to a doctor for later evaluation.

    Tyto Care has a home version that is currently being used and distributed by partners such as Heath Systems, providers, payers and employers, but will ultimately be available for sale to consumers for $299. They also offer a professional and remote clinic version that’s tailor-made for a school or assisted living facility.

A new Digital Therapeutics Alliance was announced just before the conference, hoping to promote more effective medical devices and allow solutions to scale up through such things as improving standards and regulations. Among other things, the alliance will encourage clinical trials, which I have already highlighted as critical.

Big advances were also announced by Validic, which I covered last year. Formerly a connectivity solution that unraveled the varying quasi-standard or non-standard protocols of different devices in order to take their data into electronic health records, Validic has created a new streaming API that allows much faster data transfers, at a much higher volume. On top of this platform they have built a notification service called Inform, which takes them from a networking solution to a part of the clinicians’ workflow.

Considerable new infrastructure is required to provide such services. For instance, like many medication adherence services, Validic can recognize when time has gone by without a patient reporting that’s he’s taken his pill. This level of monitoring requires storing large amounts of longitudinal data–and in fact, Validic is storing all transactions carried out over its platform. The value of such a large data set for discovering future health care solutions through analytics can make data scientists salivate.

The next segment of this article wraps up coverage of the conference with two more themes.

Measuring the Vital Signs of Health Care Progress at the Connected Health Conference (Part 1 of 3)

Posted on November 13, 2017 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Attendees at each Connected Health Conference know by now the architecture of health reform promoted there. The term “connected health” has been associated with a sophisticated amalgam of detailed wellness plans, modern sensors, continuous data collection in the field, patient control over data, frequent alerts and reminders, and analytics to create a learning health care system. The mix remains the same each year, so I go each time to seek out progress toward the collective goal. This year, I’ve been researching what’s happening in these areas:

  • Validation through clinical trials
  • Advanced interfaces to make user interaction easier
  • Improved data sharing (interoperability)
  • Blockchains

Panel at Connected Health Conference

Panel at Connected Health Conference

There were a few other trends of interest, which I’ll mention briefly here. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) turned up at some exhibitor booths and were the topic of a panel. Some of these technologies run on generic digital devices–such as the obsession-inducing Pokémon GO game–while others require special goggles such as the Oculus Rift (the first VR technology to show a promise for widespread adoption, and now acquired by Facebook) or Microsoft’s HoloLens. VR shuts out the user’s surroundings and presents her with a 360-degree fantasy world, whereas AR imposes information or images on the surroundings. Both VR and AR are useful for teaching, such as showing an organ in 3D organ in front of a medical student on a HoloLens, and rotating it or splitting it apart to show details.

I haven’t yet mentioned the popular buzzword “telehealth,” because it’s subsumed under the larger goal of connected health. I do use the term “artificial intelligence,” certainly a phrase that has gotten thrown around too much, and whose meaning is subject of much dissension. Everybody wants to claim the use of artificial intelligence, just as a few years ago everybody talked about “the cloud.” At the conference, a panel of three experts took up the topic and gave three different definitions of the term. Rather than try to identify the exact algorithms used by each product in this article and parse out whether they constitute “real” artificial intelligence, I go ahead and use the term as my interviewees use it.

Exhibition hall at Connected Health Conference

Exhibition hall at Connected Health Conference

Let’s look now at my main research topics.

Validation through clinical trials
Health apps and consumer devices can be marketed like vitamin pills, on vague impressions that they’re virtuous and that doing something is better than doing nothing. But if you want to hook into the movement for wellness–connected health–you need to prove your value to the whole ecosystem of clinicians and caretakers. The consumer market just doesn’t work for serious health care solutions. Expecting an individual to pay for a service or product would limit you to those who can afford it out-of-pocket, and who are concerned enough about wellness to drag out their wallets.

So a successful business model involves broaching the gates of Mordor and persuading insurers or clinicians to recommend your solution. And these institutions won’t budge until you have trials or studies showing that you actually make a difference–and that you won’t hurt anybody.

A few savvy app and device developers build in such studies early in their existence. For instance, last year I covered a typical connected health solution called Twine Health, detailing their successful diabetes and hypertension trials. Twine Health combines the key elements that one finds all over the Connected Health Conference: a care plan, patient tracking, data analysis, and regular check-ins. Their business model is to work with employer-owned health plans, and to expand to clinicians as they gradually migrate to fee-for-value reimbursement.

I sense that awareness is growing among app and device developers that the way to open doors in health care is to test their solutions rigorously and objectively. But I haven’t found many who do so yet.

In the next segment of this article continues my exploration of the key themes I identified at the start of this article.