Patient Centric Healthcare 101
Buzzwords are a double edged sword. They can be good as short hand, encompassing in a few words what would normally take sentences. But, they can also be bad, creating misunderstanding between the haves (those who know what the buzzword means) and the have nots (those that aren’t sure what the buzzword means). Patient centric healthcare is one of those buzzwords (buzz phrases if we are being sticklers, and we are always sticklers).
If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.Ernest Hemingway
What is Patient Centric Healthcare?
Patient centric healthcare is an approach to make decisions based on what is best for the patients. If the stakeholders in healthcare are the patients, providers, executives, staff, and payers, patient centric healthcare makes decisions that are most beneficial to the patient. The idea is that what is best for the patient is most important. This is similar to the famous motto, “The Customer is always right.”
Why is patient centric healthcare having a moment now? There are several reasons.
The Rise in Consumer Convenience
Patients are also consumers. Amazon has changed consumers’ lives with their relentless focus on fast shipping to (and sometimes into: your door. With ride sharing, millions get private rides within minutes. Consumers experience this convenience in all facets of their life, they want it when seeing the doctor too.
The Technology is there
Now that patients experience convenience, they know that it’s possible. The rise of APIs, the cloud, and mobile makes it much easier for healthcare systems to provide a patient centric experience. While, mobile is often cited as the most important technological breakthrough, APIs and the cloud are the more important developments. They are just nerdier. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allows two technologies to talk to one another. When you pay for a package on Walmart.com using Paypal, an API allowed Paypal to “talk to” Walmart.com. The healthcare API allows outside vendors like QueueDr to receive and send data (securely!) to EMR systems that healthcare systems have to use, like athenahealth and Epic. Instead of one company working on solving problems plaguing patients, you have thousands! Those thousands of vendors are trying to improve every aspect of healthcare and are publicizing their work too.
In addition, the cloud allows technology companies to build and improve software faster. Instead of doing annual upgrades, they can do hourly upgrades. That’s 8,760 times for vendors to improve the patient experience! Yes, to the risk managing CIOs out there, that is 8,760 times for something to go wrong, but 8,759 times for the vendor to fix it.
Healthcare Systems Face More Competition
Healthcare systems face intense competition in three different ways. First, due to mergers, are larger healthcare systems. Larger health systems are armed with more money than ever due to lower interest rates (lower interest rates mean it’s cheaper to borrow money and your financial returns do not need to be as high to borrowing said money). Combined, healthcare systems are expanding into new territories competing more so than ever. Competition is forcing healthcare systems to seek a competitive advantage. One way of doing that is trying to provide the best patient experience possible. If patients have a choice, they will choose the system that treats them the best.
The second way healthcare systems face competition is from new entrants into healthcare. If Amazon were a country, it would be the 17th largest country in the world, ahead of Turkey, but behind Indonesia (which has 240 million people). Amazon has decided to focus that largess onto healthcare. Same with Walmart and their urgent care clinics. Because both of these companies make plenty of money elsewhere, they can actually provide healthcare at a financial loss. If healthcare systems can’t compete on price, they need to provide better patient access and customer service!
The final competitive threat comes from technology. Healthcare is local right? But what if it’s not? Very, very few patients can afford to fly to the doctor. Patients go to the healthcare systems that are closest to them. But with the rise of telemedicine, healthcare executives are worried. If healthcare is no longer local, the potential competitors grows dramatically.
Interoperability aka the ability for patients to easily get their data out of the EMR makes it easier for patients to switch doctors than ever before. Once again, it is not there yet, but healthcare executives are always thinking 5 years ahead!
We’ve written frequently about how population trends have increased the number of patients in the system. Healthcare executives see these patients as an opportunity to grow. With new patients up for grabs, so to speak, healthcare executives know that getting a patient in (thus the importance of patient access), can quickly make them a patient for life. Thus, they are focused on the patient centric care.
The Results of Focusing on Patient Centric Care
Focusing on patients creates a different healthcare system and experience.
Improved Patient Access
The bottom line is if you don’t get a patient in the office, you can’t care for them. That’s why improving patient access is the important task for a healthcare system to focus.
Better Patient Experience
By focusing on patient first care, patients will benefit. In addition to better patient access, patients can expect better communication, better customer service, and hopefully, better price transparency. These are some of the biggest complaints patients lodge today.
More Experiential Healthcare
In the age of online retail, many ask how physical retail can compete? Put another way, why would you go to the grocery store when you can get groceries delivered. To drive physical traffic, stores are making shopping an experience. If you are in the store, you will buy more things. Ever wonder why your Whole Foods (yes, your humble author has a soft spot for overpriced goods) has a bar? It’s to create an experience that online cannot replicate. Smart health systems will be doing the same. In addition to encouraging patients to go there, they can help them be healthier. It sounds insane, hanging out in the hospital, but as a parent of a 15 month old, I’m looking for any place to replace the malls as a hang out spot!
The Impact of Patient Centric Care on Other Stakeholders
But, patient centric healthcare isn’t all roses and rainbows. It is a delicate balance. By putting patients first, other stakeholders are not.
Healthcare systems will be asking more and more out of their administrative staff to improve the patient experience. You can only hire so many staff and ask them to do many things before there is a breaking point. It is why augmenting this effort with automation is vital. However, the key will be for health systems to also make the administrative job more fulfilling. That requires letting administrative staff develop tighter patient relationships (longer phone calls!) and with more insight into their results. Filling in an administrator on how a patient they cared for is doing, helps them realize their vital role. That way they will be more tolerant of the bumps that come with implementing patient centric technology and processes.
Investment and Innovation
Shifting to a more patient centric approach is not free. It will require upfront investment in technology, facilities, and marketing. In addition, success is not always quantifiable. While patient quality scores can help, stories are far more powerful. One story about how the patient centric focus saved one life will speak volumes. This approach requires patients (patience) and a refocusing of metrics. It will not be easy.
Potentially Lower Short Term Revenue
One way of creating a patient centric approach is lengthen time they spend with providers. However, longer appointments means fewer appointments. For health systems that make money per appointment, this will lead to a decrease in revenue in the short term. However, with more loyal patients and the rise of value based care, this should reverse over the longer term.
Summary on Patient Centric Healthcare
Patient centric healthcare is the framework that is dominating healthcare operations. Understanding what it means and how it impacts the patient experience and that of other stakeholders is vital.