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Battling the Barriers in EP/Cath Labs

Posted on December 5, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Tom Downes, CEO of Quail Digital.

Clear and unambiguous communication between team members is an essential component of any surgical environment. It’s particularly important – and indeed particularly challenging – in cath labs and electrophysiology (EP) labs where physicians and clinical staff in interventional cardiovascular and other minimally-invasive therapeutics are typically spread across multiple rooms and physically separated by lead-lined doors.

But as patient demand continues to rapidly grow, the inherent complexities of the surgical environment are presenting significant communication challenges between the surgeons, clinicians and nurses. These restrictions are creating great stressors for the whole operating team as they strive to continue to deliver a proficient patient service.

Creating Clear Communication

Stress amongst hospital staff is not just a recognised problem, it’s an escalating one. A study evaluating burnout among surgeons has found that 80% of surgeons agree burnout and stress are issues they should be monitored for. In light of this, it’s clear that maintaining the well-being of healthcare professionals is a challenge, and one that needs to be addressed quickly.

Previous studies have revealed that a number of potential stressors can compromise performance in the OR, including team interaction and extreme noise. It is therefore clear that problems with communication is one of the main barriers that needs to be broken down in order to achieve a tranquil, organized environment that will alleviate pressure in the operating room. The chatter of workmates, the hum of the air conditioning and the relentless drone of essential technology, combines to create a high-stress clinical environment where the multidisciplinary teams’ need for serenity is commonly confounded by practical necessities they cannot change.

Implementing clear and immediate communication will be a positive step towards reducing the complexities of the clinical space. Failure to do this risks squandering the undoubted benefits of surgical innovation; the patient implications of an avoidable clinical error due to miscommunication could, in the worst extremes, be catastrophic. Fortunately, communication technology has evolved to present a simple, affordable solution.

Adopting a Wireless Approach

Traditionally, facilities have adopted primitive measures to deliver communication between the OR and the monitoring suite, including basic hand gestures and microphones in each room. But this approach comes with challenges, for example, the likelihood of mishearing and misreading a fellow surgeon, or instruction, is naturally increased which could then delay the procedure and cause frustration. Another thing to consider is that all the medical team will be equipped with masks, making it difficult to hear and see dated visual and auditory clues.

By adopting wireless headset technology, physicians can transform the OR, EP and cath lab experience, as well as the working environment for the whole team involved in the procedure. The technology, which operates on high quality digital frequencies and is encrypted to avoid interference from other devices or emissions in the OR, enables multidisciplinary teams to collaborate and communicate – hands-free – in the interventional OR or hybrid suite, at monitoring stations, through adjacent control rooms and ancillary areas. A lack of clarity can create stress and blame amongst the operating team, but with the ability to hear instructions clearly in every clinical environment this ambiguity can be avoided. Additionally, the pressures placed upon surgeons will be drastically reduced as they have the confidence of knowing that every member of staff is able to perform their role in a more assured manner.

And as it has been suggested that high-quality teamwork among operating room professionals is key to efficient and safe practice, implementing a system that initiates better communication between staff will be extremely beneficial to the clinical environment. Creating a more attentive, focused team will also be vital to reducing significant stress-levels and enabling greater levels of workflow. Associate Professor and Director of the Robotic and Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgery program at the University of Chicago Medicine, Dr Husam H Balkhy, has first hand experience of using wireless headsets in a surgical setting, he comments, “My ability to communicate quickly and effectively with other members of the robotic team including the table-side first assistant, the anaesthesiologist, the perfusionist and nursing staff, has led to increased efficacy and patient safety in these complex procedure.”

Balkhy isn’t the only one to have benefitted from these tools, Dr Ziv Tsafrir, a Fellow in Minimally Invasive Gynecology at Henry Ford, adds: “Using wireless headsets during robotic procedures certainly contributed to better patient outcomes by creating a calmer environment for clinicians and staff.”

The Next Steps

As patient demand grows, and the global use of EP and robotics surgery increases, wireless headset technology will be an essential companion to ensure optimal, efficacious and cost-effective communications. Combine this communication tool with the below practices and clinicians will be able to further enhance the surgical environment to not only create more effective workflows and treatment, but to increase positive patient outcomes.

  • Ensuring the surgical team have a focused team discussion prior to surgery to assign roles, establish expectations and anticipate outcomes, will enable each member of the team to be prepared for any scenario that may play out. This will be beneficial to the patient’s experience and will reduce the level of stress to a minimum.
  • Whilst a briefing before the operation is an extremely important part of the medical process, a debriefing post-op is just as vital. This discussion gives the whole team the opportunity to explore the problems that occurred during the procedure and how these can be overcome before the next operation.
  • Good communication is also vital outside the cath / EP lab and amongst the rest of the hospital staff. Lack of clarity about responsibility for care and decision-making is a major contributor to medical errors and could have an extremely negative impact on the operating room.
  • In a medical setting, the person who is supposed to act on information isn’t always clearly identified. Therefore, team members should communicate clearly, both at the beginning and throughout the operation, who this person is.

By working together and communicating clearly to one another before, during and after the procedure,  the stress levels of the entire surgical team and the patient can be significantly reduced.

About Tom Downes
Tom Downes founded Quail Digital in 1995 to design headset systems for ‘team’ communication. The philosophy being that the easier and more freely a team can speak with each other in the workplace, the better their outcomes, wellbeing and productivity. Quail Digital designs and manufactures systems for the healthcare, retail and hospitality sectors, and has offices in Dallas, TX and London UK. Quail Digital is the leading provider of communications systems in the OR, and a sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

Carely – Helping Family Caregivers Partner with Providers

Posted on November 30, 2018 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Over the past year I have met many entrepreneurs who are or have created an app designed to help families better coordinate the care of loved ones. These apps all have similar features:

  • A Facebook-like interface that allows multiple family members to post medical/care updates and add comments
  • A calendar feature for important appointments and for coordinating care coverage by family members
  • An iMessage/Whatsapp-like messaging tool to communicate one-on-one with members of the family

Caring for a loved one and trying to coordinate family members is a daunting task so I applaud all of these efforts to make it easier.

However, I must admit that I come away after meeting these enthusiastic entrepreneurs a little disappointed. Their apps, while impressive, are stand-alone and are isolated from the rest of the healthcare ecosystem. For example, manual entry is often the only way to incorporate medical information from a provider and any communication with a healthcare organization needs to be rekeyed into the app.

Because of this, I was very excited when I ran into Michael Eidsaune, Founder and CEO of Carely at a recent conference. His company is taking a unique approach – instead of just focusing on family caregivers, his company is trying to bring caregivers and healthcare providers closer together so that BOTH benefit.

Below is a summary of our conversation.

What makes Carely different than other family caregiving apps?

With Carely, we didn’t stop at just trying to make things easier for families to care for a loved one. What we want to do is recruit families to be an active part of the care team alongside the healthcare provider. We don’t want families to be passive observers waiting for the next bit of news or have to log into those terrible “family portals” that don’t really give you any useful information or allow you to communicate effectively with the healthcare organization. We all hate using portals, it’s so one-sided.

For us it’s ultimately about getting the best care for your loved one not just about making things easy. In order to do this you need to get providers involved and not just families.

So why would a healthcare provider adopt Carely? What’s in it for them?

The provider-side of Carely is something we call Carely Community. This is something we built specifically for healthcare providers. It allows them to interact with families of the loved ones they are caring for. They can share information like when appointments are, what activities their loved one has been involved in and get feedback on those things from family members.

Long-Term and Post-Acute Care providers in particular have found that listening to family feedback can help them deliver better care. Through Carely they can get messages like “Mom seemed to have a little less appetite than usual today” or “Uncle Joe seemed a bit more confused than normal and had trouble getting to the toilet”. When the provider sees these messages in combination with the medical record, they can quickly make a determination as to whether this was something expected or something they need to look into. Having observations from family members over a period of time, helps to paint a better picture for everyone. A better picture equals better care.

The reverse is also true. If the provider can share updates with families, they can help reduce the number of phone calls they get. Imagine how relieved you would feel if the long-term care facility let you know that “Aunt Mary took part in the garden walk today” or “Dad ate everything at dinner tonight”. Those simple updates can help take worries away.

Is that what families get out of Carely? Less worry?

Carely Family is the app side of our business. That’s where all the tools are for families to coordinate and track their loved one’s care. Here you can see upcoming appointments, who will be visiting, etc. But the real power comes when the healthcare provider gets added to family’s care circle. Now the entire family can get updates on what’s happening and they can make better decisions together.

Take for example, Home Care. Typically Home Care is needed as a result of an unexpected event – maybe a fall or a minor accident. Arranging for Home Care puts a lot of stress on families and they all have to come together to make decisions. Without coordination there would be a lot of phone calls and texts flying around. If it were me I wouldn’t want to be getting 5 phone calls a day from people asking me how I was doing. So by bringing everyone together onto a single platform, including the Home Care provider, now all the information is up-to-date and the family can make the best decision possible.

Let’s talk about integration for a moment. Have you integrated with any EHR or other healthcare system?

We are currently working with PointClickCare. They have an API interface that will allow us to pull updates from their system and feed it through Community and onto Family. This makes everything seamless for the healthcare organization – they just continue to use PointClickCare and families get updated behind the scenes. Down the road we will look at how we can push information or notifications into PointClickCare. As well, we plan to begin integrating with the many other systems that exist in healthcare today.

What’s next for Carely?

I wish we could still be operating in stealth mode, but we’ve had such great feedback and interest in our product that we’re operating out in the open now.

We are continuing to iterate our product based on feedback from families and healthcare providers. We’re really making an effort to incorporate their requests. People want to use tools that they love to use. No one wants to use a tool that makes their life harder or that’s confusing. That’s why we’re spending so much time iterating our product. On one side it’s got to fit into the daily lives of families and on the other it’s got to fit into the workflow of the healthcare provider.

At the end of the day, our mission and vision is to drastically improve the caregiver experience and it’s our core belief that in order to do that we have to create an industry-wide solution, eliminate silos, get rid of useless “family portals”, and continue to innovate. This NEEDS to be done and I’m confident we’ll be the ones to successfully do it.

Combatting Communication Problems in Community Healthcare Clinics

Posted on November 7, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Tom Downes, CEO of Quail Digital.

The notion of a community healthcare clinic is constantly evolving from the traditional model of a local clinic staffed by general practitioners and nurses, serving mainly rural populations. There is now a renewed interest in these organisations and their potential to deliver a more integrated care service within the community. However, in order to successfully make this transition, there is a need to better equip these clinics with the tools to ensure they’re able to cope with the extra demand and the ever-evolving medical treatments that are being practised.

With an estimated 33 million people visiting community healthcare clinics each year, these organisations are an essential part of the healthcare system. Whilst they are investing vital time into evolving their structure and delivering a focused range of medical services, without the right technology in place staff productivity will suffer, hindering their ability to make the most out of not only the current resources available, but any new, innovative resources they decide to invest in.

A collaborative approach

To foster a more productive, collaborative environment, communication should be implemented across the entire team. From diagnostics to preventive treatment, clinical procedure and rehabilitation, delivering a diverse set of services can create a stressful environment, if the team, from receptionist to clinicians, are wasting valuable time trying, without success, to communicate. But as services expand, enabling staff to speak easily with one another to seek answers to questions, locate the right individual and better manage the flow of patients through the appointments process, has become even more important.

Community healthcare clinics traditionally rely on telephones to communicate internally, but these can often go unanswered. Additionally, this device commonly only works when just two people want to communicate with each other, restricting the ability to send messages, updates and instructions to the whole team. Naturally, therefore, the likelihood of missing key information or mishearing a fellow colleague is increased, creating unnecessary stress and delays.

And this dated communication tool will not be able to facilitate the growing numbers of staff working in these clinics. As nearly 62 percent of all community healthcare clinics are in an urban setting they are providing services for extremely dense populations, therefore they require a greater amount of staff to help accommodate this demand. Team this up with the intense competition these urban clinics have with multiple clinics and medical centres serving the same geographic, and the need for a better communication tool that will help them provide a positive experience is even more important.

Clear Communication

Providing clear, discrete communication to all members at reception and in the clinics will have an extremely positive impact on the running of the community healthcare clinic. Lightweight headset technology will help the team working in these clinics to reduce unwanted hold-ups, improve workflow and offer a much improved experience for each of those patients who walk through the door. And with the ability to coordinate easily with one another, the team can become more productive and efficient to ensure they’re prepared for the demands felt by this expanding healthcare system.

Critically, in this most challenging of jobs, adopting a headset system that operates on a single channel will ensure all members of staff are in permanent communication. This way, doctors, nurses or receptionists are able to approach their colleagues who are working in another part of the clinic with any urgent query or question they may have. This immediate and non-obtrusive communication method is particularly important during times of expansion and innovation, as every team member will be learning and adopting new methods and structures.


Community healthcare clinics are evolving and there is now a growing need to implement digital solutions to provide staff with the ability to hear everything clearly, at all times. There are also other daily practices that can help facilitate a more tranquil environment. Along with headset technology, eliminating unnecessary, frantic noise across the clinic will drastically reduce the distractions all doctors, nurses and receptionists have to face. Not only will this have a positive impact on stress-levels, but it will also make it a lot easier to communicate effectively amongst the team. Daily team meetings are also vital for every member of staff in a community healthcare clinic. With a better understanding of everyone’s workload for that day the team will have greater visibility of who is available to assist with other tasks and enquiries.

By implementing communication tools and ensuring greater visibility across the team clinical operational efficiencies will be increased while staff stress levels will be reduced and their wellbeing improved.

About Tom Downes
Tom Downes founded Quail Digital in 1995 to design headset systems for ‘team’ communication. The philosophy being that the easier and more freely a team can speak with each other in the workplace, the better their outcomes, wellbeing and productivity. Quail Digital designs and manufactures systems for the healthcare, retail and hospitality sectors, and has offices in Dallas, TX and London UK. Quail Digital is the leading provider of communications systems in the OR, and a sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

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

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

Creating Provider Loyalty – And Why Communication Matters

Posted on June 14, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough from Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

Chelsea Kimbrough

A few months ago, I was on the hunt for the perfect healthcare provider – and my list of expectations was high. Thankfully, my extensive search paid off. I am happy to report I found an amazing physician who I fully plan on remaining loyal to for years to come! The main reason for this loyalty boils down to one common characteristic: communication. Across every step of my patient journey, I was engaged in a clear, convenient way.

Scheduling my appointment was easy. Like many patients, I enjoy the convenience of online scheduling. But as a first time patient, I opted to pick up the phone to make my appointment. The person who answered my call was friendly, focused, and efficient. I was not asked to repeat information and ended the call more quickly than I anticipated – and with more confidence that I’d made the right choice.

Before my appointment, I received a number of reminders. The first was sent via email a few days before my appointment. When I failed (read: forgot) to reply to it, I received another friendly reminder via text message. This time, I promptly confirmed my appointment. A few days before the appointment, I was invited to pre-check in online. I did this from the comfort of my home computer in just a few minutes. As a digital-minded patient, I was stoked that this was an available perk of my new doctor’s office.

When I arrived, I was thanked for already checking in. Unlike other locations where I needed to fill out additional paperwork upon arrival, I didn’t need to do this often repetitive task. This pleasant surprise allowed me to simply wait to be called back.

During my appointment, the doctor looked me in the eye, asked me genuine questions, and clearly explained anything I wanted to know more about. This level of dedicated attention made me feel genuinely cared for. What’s more, she ensured I understood what to expect after my appointment.

After my appointment, I received the communications I was advised to expect in a timely and unobtrusive manner. What’s more, I was invited to provide candid, anonymous feedback about my appointment. The survey was quick and unobtrusive, and left me feeling as if my opinion was valid and valued.

Each point of my patient journey was met with timely, convenient, and reliable engagement. As a patient, I felt confident and at ease. And as someone who works closely with healthcare communication services and solutions – both human and technology based – I was impressed. Few healthcare organizations provide patient experiences that meet patients’ traditional and digital expectations and reliably deliver on the expectations they set. Those that do, however, are sure to acquire patients like me who will stay loyal for the foreseeable future.

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

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

Why I Didn’t Choose Your Healthcare Organization

Posted on April 12, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough from Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms

Chelsea Kimbrough

I recently had a bad healthcare experience. I received functional care, but I wasn’t cared for. As in, I’m fairly certain my doctor didn’t know my name when she walked into the room or when she left it. To her, I was another patient in a crowded schedule. To me, it was a rushed, impersonal experience that left me with absolutely no desire to trust my wellbeing in her hands.

As someone who is familiar with the healthcare space, I’m the first to admit that finding a new provider is hard work – and finding one that meets each of your communication expectations is even harder. But after that appointment, I was more than up for the challenge.

It’s important to note that I’m a proud millennial who is accustomed to the service and support provided in other industries. When I wanted to make a dinner reservation last night, I did it via a mobile app. When I needed a great blazer to wear to a conference, I requested one in my clothes subscription box. I am an all-access-at-all-hours type of person. So when it came time to schedule an appointment, I turned to the place where I, the consumer, felt I had the most power: the internet.

But first, I needed to find a new doctor. I leveraged a process that went something like this:

  1. I opened multiple review-focused sites.
  2. I searched for what I needed (i.e. ‘family practitioner within 10 miles of my zip code’).
  3. I filtered results to ensure my search only displayed doctors with the rating and characteristics I prefer.
  4. I began the tedious process of cross referencing their profiles on different sites.
  5. When I thought I found a keeper, I scoured their organization’s website for more information.
  6. And then, I dug into any information I could find online to learn more about the doctor.

This process eliminated doctors who had poor reviews, who lacked information available online, and who had questionable posts on social media. (Seriously, everything is available online these days – and digitally-savvy patients like me will find it.)

In the end, I narrowed my search to a handful of local, highly-rated doctors and organizations. But what I was searching for wasn’t just someone with a great online rating and an office close to my front door, I was looking for someone who:

  • Communicates information quickly via text message
  • Calls patients to communicate more important messages
  • Offers online scheduling that doesn’t require a formal login
  • Keeps average wait times down
  • Creates genuine connections with their patients

In short, I wanted to find an organization that provides exceptional in-person care, prompt telephone support, and convenient technology-based tools. Anyone who seemed lacking was unceremoniously crossed off my ‘potential new doctor’ list.  And I’m not the only one who goes to these lengths: in today’s digitally-empowered world, there are more healthcare consumers than ever flexing their online search superpowers before entrusting their care to any healthcare professional.

Unfortunately, the process isn’t perfect. Bad experiences happen, and when they do, patients like me may choose to look elsewhere for care. On the other hand, when we find a healthcare organization that does provide all of the above, we receive a more seamless, enjoyable experience. And when met with a better experience, we are less likely to choose a different provider, facility, or organization to provide future care.

Want to learn more about consumer-minded patients’ healthcare journeys? Check out our patient journey infographic here!

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

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

Patient Access to Health Data: The AHA Doesn’t Really Want to Know

Posted on March 8, 2018 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 ( 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.

As Spring holds off a bit longer this March in New England, it’s certainly pleasant to read a sunny assessment of patient access to records, based on a survey by the American Hospital Association. Clearly, a lot of progress has been made toward the requirement that doctors have been on the hook for during the past decade: giving patients access to their own health data. We can also go online to accomplish many of the same tasks with our doctors as we’re used to doing with restaurants, banks, or auto repair shops. But the researchers did not dig very deep. This report may stand as a model for how to cover up problems by asking superficial questions.

I don’t want to denigrate a leap from 27% to 93%, over a four to five year period, in the hospitals who provide patients with their health data through portals. Even more impressive is the leap in the number of hospitals who provide data to patient caregivers (from zero to 83%). In this case, a “caregiver” appears to be a family member or other non-professional advocate, not a member of a health team–a crucial distinction I’ll return to later.

I’m disappointed that only 50% of health systems allow patients to reorder prescriptions online, but that’s still a big improvement over 22% in 2012. A smaller increase (from 55% to 68%) is seen in the number of providers who allow patients to send secure online messages, a recalcitrance that we might guess is related to the lack of reimbursement for time spent reading messages.

That gives you a flavor of the types of questions answered by the survey–you can easily read all four pages for yourself. The report ends with four questions about promoting more patient engagement through IT. The questions stay at the same superficial level as the rest of the report, however. My questions would probe a little more uncomfortably. These questions are:

  • How much of the record is available to the patient?
  • How speedily is it provided?
  • Is it in standard formats and units?
  • Does it facilitate a team approach?

The rest of this article looks at why I’d like to ask providers these questions.

How much of the record is available to the patient?

I base this question on personal interactions with my primary care physician. A few years ago he installed a patient portal based on the eClinicalWorks electronic health record system used at the hospital with which he is affiliated. When I pointed out that it contained hardly any information, he admitted that the practice had contracted with a consultant who charges a significant fee for every field of the record exposed to patients. The portal didn’t even show my diagnoses.

Recently the affiliated hospital (and therefore my PCP) joined the industry rush to Epic, and I ended up with Epic’s hugely ballyhooed MyChart portal. It is much richer than the old one. For a while, it had a bug in the prescription ordering process that would take too long to describe here–an interesting case study in computer-driven disambiguation. My online chart shows a lot of key facts, such as diagnoses, allergies, and medications. But it lacks much more than it has. For instance:

  • There are none of the crucial lab notes my doctors have diligently typed into my record over multiple visits.
  • It doesn’t indicate my surgical history, because the surgeries I’ve had took place before I joined the current practice.
  • Its immunization record doesn’t show childhood immunizations, or long-lasting shots I got in order to travel to Brazil many years ago.

Clearly, this record would be useless for serious medical interventions. A doctor treating me in an emergency room wouldn’t know a childhood injury I got, or might think I was suffering from a tropical disease against which I got an inoculation. She wouldn’t know about questions I asked over the years, or whether and why the doctor told me not to worry about those things. My doctor and his Epic-embracing hospital are still hoarding the data needed for my treatment.

How speedily is it provided?

Timeliness matters. My lab results are shown quickly in MyChart, and it seems like other updates take place expeditiously. But I want to hear whether other practices can provide information fast enough for patients and caregivers to take useful steps, and show relevant facts to specialists they visit.

Is it in standard formats and units?

Although high-level exchange is getting better with the adoption of the FHIR specification, many EHRs still refuse to conform to existing standards. A 2016 survey from Minnesota says, “Most clinics do not incorporate electronic information from other providers into their EHRs as standardized data. Only 31 percent of clinics integrated data in standardized format for immunization, 25 percent for medication history, 19 percent for lab results, and just 12 percent for summary-of-care records.”

The paragraph goes on to say, “The vast majority said they fax/scan/PDF the data to and from outside sources.” So FHIR may lead to a quick improvement in those shockingly low percentages.

Labs also fail to cooperate in using standards.

Does it facilitate a team approach?

This is really the bottom line, isn’t it–what we’re all aiming at? We want the PCP, the specialist, the visiting nurse, the physical therapist and occupational therapist, the rehab facility staff, and every random caregiver who comes along to work hand-in-latex-glove as a team. The previous sections of this article indicate that the patient portal doesn’t foster such collaboration. Will the American Hospital Association be able to tell me it does? And if not, when will they get to the position where they can care collaboratively for our needy populations?