All healthcare providers strive for clinical excellence. Accurate diagnosis and effective treatment is, after all, central to every healthcare provider’s value proposition — as is the age-old mandate to “do no harm.”
But as healthcare delivery becomes increasingly complex, and competition for healthcare dollars intensifies, providers need to do more than just deliver great clinical care. They also need to optimize the patient’s experience of that care.
In fact, evidence shows that an enhanced patient experience pays off in three ways:
Better clinical outcomes: A patient’s emotional state can significantly affect his or her health. One University of California-Los Angeles study found that surgery patients treated at hospitals in the top quartile of patient experience had a substantially lower likelihood of death and complications.
Improved operational efficiency: When patients are comfortable in their environment and can communicate clearly with hospital staff, they are less expensive to treat.
Greater revenue and growth: Pleasant hospitals are popular hospitals. According to research published in the American Journal of Medical Quality, hospitals in the 90th percentile of patient experience saw patient volume increase one-third over five years. Those in the bottom 10th percentile saw a decrease of 17 percent.
“Patients expect to receive care as easily as they book a flight or manage their finances,” says Craig Richardville, CIO at Carolinas HealthCare System. “Convenience and ease are vital to serving patients.”
Health IT Enables Multifaceted Digital Engagement
To achieve consistently superior patient experiences, healthcare institutions must develop a culture of open communication and individualized attention across the board, from doctors and nursing staff to administration and food service.
But digital technologies also play a vital role. Those technologies include:
Electronic health records: EHRs help hospitals improve the quality and efficiency of clinical care. They also support improved patient experience. Patients have much more confidence in the care they’re receiving when they know hospital staff can see all relevant information about their condition and treatment. By sharing EHR data with each other, healthcare providers also spare patients the aggravation and anxiety that occurs when it seems like multiple specialists don’t know what the others are doing.
Patients also want to view their health records themselves. Doing so helps them feel more in control of their own care — increasing their comfort with an otherwise opaque and disconcerting process.
On-premises mobility: Thanks to mobility, doctors and nurses can now walk into patients’ rooms with all the information they need at their fingertips. They can also capture data for immediate, reliable entry into EHR systems. This mobile-enabled care has a positive effect on both clinical outcomes and patient experience, since caregivers can see more patients sooner — so patients spend less time waiting and worrying.
With the right mobile apps, patients can also keep an eye on the progress of their care — and their billing — from their personal mobile devices. They can manage nonmedical services such as meals and TV. And they can stay in touch with friends and family. These capabilities contribute to a greater sense of personal well-being.
Telemedicine: Remote telemedicine tools enable hospitals to extend their reach and leverage their clinicians’ most specialized — and thus rarest — skill sets over a much larger set of patients than physical travel would allow.
Telemedicine also lets patients receive care at home or at work, where they’re more comfortable. By using wearables, hospitals can track patients’ heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs after they’ve been discharged. New “smart pill” technology even enables hospitals to ensure that patients stick to their medication regimens — an especially high-stakes issue in situations such as post-transplant organ acceptance.
“Opportunities to treat patients where they live, learn and play continue to expand,” says Pamela Arora, senior vice president and CIO at Children’s Health in Dallas. “By capitalizing on those opportunities, we can deliver better care to more children at lower cost.”
Halifax Health Enhances Infrastructure to Boost Patient Experience
Use of digital technologies to optimize the safety and efficiency of clinical care — as well as the quality of the patient experience — is in full swing at Halifax Health, a nonprofit 678-bed healthcare provider that operates two hospitals and more than 20 facilities in the Daytona Beach area of Florida.
Doctors, for example, can input any of the provider’s more than 1 million annual medication orders directly into an automated system, eliminating delays and the chance of an unclear written order being misread. The system automatically dispenses medications into bins that make it easy for nurses to bring the right pills to the right bed. Nurses then scan the patient’s wristband ID along with the medication — further safeguarding accuracy while also creating an electronic record for billing.
Upgraded infrastructure has been essential for supporting this level of technologically advanced clinical care. Previously, when Halifax depended primarily on physical servers alone, it maxed out the data center floor space, power and cooling capacity at about 200 servers. By going 90 percent virtual using solutions from VMware and Cisco UCS, Halifax now runs about 700 servers in one-tenth of the space.
Halifax also upgraded its wireless network so it can now support more than 4,000 connected devices with highly reliable throughput.
“Because we are so electronic, it’s very disruptive if our infrastructure goes down,” says Tom Stafford, vice president and CIO at Halifax. “So making sure that infrastructure stays operational is a big deal.”