In 1939, JAMA published “The Patient as a Person: A Study of the Social Aspects of Illness” stating: “if the medical profession is to give its best to the public which is now demanding changes in its medical service […] the true physician must know his patient as an individual.”
Eighty years later, the conversation continues as a call to action. With all the technology and knowledge at our fingertips, hospitals are still often treating the disease state rather than the individual. Care teams are hindered by a lack of information sharing and timely feedback, negatively impacting both patient and clinician satisfaction. Conversations promoting consumerization in healthcare mostly focus on outpatient care, skipping over the inpatient stay when patients are often most needy and vulnerable.
We have seen how thoughtful technology has transformed the consumer experience across so many industries. Now is the time to use it to transform the inpatient experience for both patients and clinical staff.
Giving Dignity to Patients, Families and Care Teams
In 2015, my team worked with a California hospital where a patient receiving inpatient care lost her mother. Unable to leave and travel to the funeral, we found a way to stream the funeral onto the TV screen in her room for which she was eternally grateful. That was six years ago.
Efforts to improve the inpatient experience have grown with the shift to value-based care but using innovative digital capabilities has often been deemed as “nice to have.” When COVID-19 hit and health systems and care teams struggled to support growing admission rates and isolated patients, the benefits of technology at the bedside became self-evident to care teams, patients, and their families alike.
Patients were isolated from their families who could no longer visit. While some could use their own devices to video call, not everyone had this option. We heard desperately sad stories of nurses having to use their own personal smartphones to FaceTime their patient’s family members to say goodbye.
Clinicians were also at risk, with a lack of PPE, and organizations scrambled to deploy anything from baby monitors to Nest cameras to keep patients connected with their care team, in a desperate effort to minimize PPE usage. Forward-looking organizations that had already invested in bedside technology platforms were relieved to be able to rapidly deploy communication solutions.
Even without a pandemic, there is a pressing need for connecting isolated patients when care teams and the patient do not share the same primary language, or hearing-challenged patients and families need help communicating with the team.
Accessing video remote interpretation for patients and care teams at the bedside is reassuring to both patients and care teams. In this day and age, the care team shouldn’t have to worry about having to find a device cart, hope it’s charged and transport it to a patient’s room for this single use case. A digital platform enabling this interaction as well as providing access to education, entertainment, meal-ordering and room controls in a patient’s native language helps personalize the experience and demystify the hospital environment.
Shaping patient engagement with these considerations improves quality and safety giving more autonomy for patients and families. In many hospitals, the only control the patient has is the nurse call button. Rather than pressing that button for every need, people should have the option to control non-clinical aspects like placing meal orders, accessing education and controlling their room lighting and temperature.
Giving Time Back to Care Teams
Giving the patient control over some of these manual tasks and other non-clinical patient requests liberates care teams to focus on clinical care while improving nurse satisfaction. By displaying the names and photos of the current care team and stay details, all automated from the EHR, a digital system can enhance familiarity and encourage more effective communication between the care team, their patients and families.
In a highly competitive healthcare system, clinicians and nurses are under intense pressure to do more with less. This intelligent use of technology can lead us back to what matters: providing the patient with convenience and control while lessening the burden on care teams to deal with non-medical service requests.
Technology Facilitating Elevated Care Experiences
Patient-centric technology has been promised in the US healthcare system for nearly two decades. It’s sad to acknowledge that it has taken a global pandemic to validate the value proposition of bedside technology. We have all become accustomed to consumer-centric digital experiences in our daily lives – whether in e-commerce, finance, travel or entertainment. And yet being admitted to a hospital room has been like going back in time to a pre-digital era.
A key enabler for digital transformation across industries has been the cloud. Healthcare has been slow to adopt cloud but that transition has finally begun in earnest. The benefits are well documented and include faster, less costly deployments that require significantly fewer hospital resources to implement and maintain. This improves team agility and the ability to remain current with technology versions. It also has the added benefit of accelerated technology adoption for the vendor community promoting speed to market and allowing fresh innovation and entrepreneurship.
Security and privacy will rightly remain first and foremost concerns for health systems. Partnering with organizations that understand the risks and have invested in precautions, including ISO certification, can help mitigate that concern. The digitization of health records and continued, albeit glacial, advancements in interoperability are enabling a platform approach at the bedside, delivering connected digital solutions to enable new care models and match consumer expectations. Significant R&D has been invested into care experience platforms during the past decade, making them secure, intuitive and scalable. The time has arrived to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption of patient-centric bedside technology.
After a wave of consolidation, the US provider market has never been more competitive. Hospitals are rightly prioritizing the patient experience as a competitive differentiator. Demystifying and personalizing the inpatient experience with new virtual models of care that drive operational efficiency, reduce disparities and improve experiences for patients and providers will go a long way to determining who ultimately wins the hearts and minds of the consumer.
Photo: CYCLONEPROJECT, Getty Images