RACING TOWARD INNOVATION TO IMPROVE THE CARE EXPERIENCE
Sachin Gupta, MD, a pulmonologist and technology enthusiast, is predicting an explosion of digital innovation in healthcare. “With respect to digital health, I think there’s a bit of an arms race going on between hospitals right now,” Dr. Gupta said. “Digital innovation pilots are happening in many health systems because patients are demanding to receive care with these innovative tools. So, hospitals and health systems are going to be forced to adopt innovative technologies whether they want to
About 80% of people are doing a Google search or some kind of digital search to find healthcare providers at a location near them.
Customer is king
As such, many trailblazing healthcare organizations are looking to get out ahead of the technology curve and provide consumers with what they want – and need. For example, AMITA Health has embarked upon what Deborah Fullerton, CMO and VP, calls a “digital retail journey” as the health system aims to focus keenly on the needs of patients.
“We held a retreat for leadership last spring about the consumerization of healthcare. Our leadership understands that we need to ensure our organization thinks and acts more like a retail environment,” Fullerton said.
As part of this consumer-focused effort, the Arlington Heights, Ill.-based health system has implemented an online appointment scheduling system that intelligently matches patients with available healthcare providers. With this system in place, patients can use online search tools to access the AMITA Health physician directory and easily book appointments with providers who accept their insurance and match their individual healthcare needs. Patients can quickly see which providers are available at their desired times, without having to pick up the phone or wait on hold.
“About 80% of people are doing a Google search or some kind of digital search to find healthcare providers at a location near them. So, we are giving them a mobile-ready way to find the information that they need. We are making it possible for patients to tailor their search by ZIP code, specialty, ailment or physician. Giving them the
Adding an easy, fast self-scheduling option is the next logical service improvement.
capability to search in a variety of different ways helps to create a better experience,” Fullerton said. “Adding an easy, fast self-scheduling option is the next logical service improvement.”
In addition to making it easier for patients to schedule appointments, the online scheduling system is also expected to enable AMITA Health to make improvements to the overall patient experience. Data gathered by the online system provides detailed insights into patient behavior, as related to existing workflows. As such, AMITA Health will be able to leverage this information to make changes that could improve the patient experience, provider productivity and staff utilization.
For example, a particular physician might have open schedule slots but the data could show that new patients are requesting appointments for Fridays, a day that the physician has fewer appointments. As such, AMITA Health will be able to better “align supply and demand,” Fullerton said.
The online scheduling system is just one of many technologies that AMITA Health is using to improve the overall patient experience. The healthcare organization is implementing a variety of consumer facing technologies such as:
An omni-channel contact center. “This center will enable consumers to communicate with us in the medium they choose, whether that’s texting or email or phone call or snail mail,” Fullerton said.
AMITA Health Check, a patient-generated health data app. This app simplifies complex care plans into daily steps/reminders and enables patients to communicate directly with their care teams about every aspect of health, from medication doses and side effects to follow-up appointments. The app uses artificial intelligence to customize a symptom word cloud. Patients also enter their pain levels and register their activities. All of these entries are monitored daily by nurses on a customized dashboard, which quickly identifies when patients need an intervention.
“AMITA Health first introduced this app to joint replacement patients because of the many activities required by patients before they show up for surgery – and the fact that if they fail to complete these, surgery would be cancelled, which is not good for the patient or the hospital,” said Fullerton. “Now AMITA Health uses this app for patients with anxiety, depression, stroke and bariatric surgery.”
A medical transportation app. “This app uses Lyft drivers for patients who need follow-up physical therapy. A driver, with a special vehicle and who is specially trained to pick up healthcare patients is sent to pick them up,” Fullerton said.
A behavioral medicine app. This app is initially being used with addiction patients. “It has a GPS, so if the patient is in an area that’s near a temptation – say, their favorite bar – then it sends them positive messages and tells them where the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is,” Fullerton said. The app also connects patients to
With the blue-tooth technology in place, clinical staff will receive updates in real time, eliminating the need for frequent check-ins.
counselors, who are available around the clock.
Create a better experience
Dr. Gupta agrees that healthcare providers need to meet escalating consumer demands by providing a more connected healthcare experience.
“There is a bell curve developing. The most connected patients that live in cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York City are already starting to demand it. And, I think we're going to see an uptick now where even less tech-savvy patients are going to start looking at availability of health technology as an important factor when making decisions about which insurer and hospital system they go to,” Dr. Gupta said.
To meet these needs, Dr. Gupta is counting on the fact that innovative technology can not only looking to make healthcare more convenient and efficient but more effective. More specifically, Dr. Gupta is working to develop a system that utilizes bluetooth connected devices (blood pressure cuff, scale, pulse oximeter and activity tracker) that pulmonary hypertension patients can use at home to provide information to clinicians who can monitor their health status.
“There’s a condition called pulmonary hypertension, which is basically a form of heart failure where the heart fails due to high pressure in the lung’s arteries. Patients need to be on diuretics to control the swelling. So, helping these patients regulate their diuretics is really key,” Dr. Gupta said. “These patients require high touch services. So, with the existing traditional systems, nurses or pharmacists need to manually call patients at set intervals. They check in to see what their weight and blood pressure is. The patients often record these measures on a piece of paper and then recite them. This is OK but there are times when this process fails, and these vulnerable patients can slip through the cracks.”
With the blue-tooth technology in place, clinical staff will receive updates in real time, eliminating the need for frequent check-ins. Perhaps more importantly, though, the system leverages analytics to “identify trends in a patient’s blood pressure, oxygen levels, activity, or weight that indicate they are proceeding in the direction toward heart failure based on predefined variables,” Dr. Gupta said.
“Just being able to digitize this process, in and of itself, is valuable because it can ensure that patients are being properly monitored. Applying the algorithm to determine which direction patients are moving in, that’s what really distinguishes the value of this technology,” Dr. Gupta said. As such, the technology is expected to improve patient satisfaction, and hopefully demonstrate it can help reduce hospital readmissions and improve morbidity rates.
Having an app that provides and, at the same time, documents my review of the clinical guidelines and NIH (National Institutes of Health) stroke scale is essential.
In addition to assessing patient progress, artificial intelligence can also be used to help clinicians provide more effective care (see sidebar). For example, Marcus Scarbrough, MD, a hospitalist with Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Kansas, is using a mobile app that helps to prevent errors by providing clinicians with standardized, step-by-step guidance and decision support during critical healthcare events such as stroke, cardiac arrest and sepsis. The app provides stepby-step navigation similar to a GPS application to a sometimes 40 to 50 step algorithm followed by clinicians during a critical medical event. In essence, the app intelligently automates a clinical algorithm and offers a simple, intuitive way for providers to navigate that scenario for time critical diagnoses.
The app has proved especially helpful when dealing with stroke patients in inpatient units – because clinicians working in this environment typically do not experience these events very often, according to Scarbrough.
“When patients have a possible stroke in the inpatient unit it can be challenging because of the low frequency of this occurrence but the obviously high stakes. Having an app that provides and, at the same time, documents my review of the clinical guidelines and NIH (National Institutes of Health) stroke scale is essential. All the while, the timer is prompting and reminding me how much time we have to get the TPA (tissue plasminogen activator) in,” Scarbrough said. “I don’t want to be without the app anymore when I go on shift.”`