By Matt Phillion
A recent survey of patient experience, operations, clinical, and IT leaders found that 71% of these professionals said their organizations have limited or no integration of patient engagement capabilities. Healthcare organizations and providers have made significant investments toward patient-oriented care in recent years. But with the adoption of many new technologies comes unintended results.
While integrating patient engagement capabilities was a high priority for 55% of survey participants, 84% did not think any existing platform could easily achieve this. They also identified inconsistent patient experiences across interactions (63%) and disjointed patient experiences (58%) as chronic pain points.
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the accelerated uptake of technology, says Patty Hayward, vice president of strategy, healthcare, and life sciences with Talkdesk. “Everyone needed healthcare, but they couldn’t go to their in-person providers in a lot of cases, so they turned to their phones,” she says. “These phone systems were not set up for that, so we saw the rapid adoption of technology offering ways to interact with patients.”
Whether an organization employed chatbots, text programs, or other communication options, the advent of technology during COVID-19 also brought a great deal of information siloing. This caused critical patient information gaps, made it difficult to effectively address patient issues, worsened patient outcomes, and sparked additional care team burnout, the survey found.
It was reminiscent of the initial adoption of EHRs, says Hayward. At that time, “we saw best-of-breed technologies that had to be spaghetti-strung together,” she says.
During the pandemic, she and her colleagues noticed a similar patchwork trend with all of the useful but disparate new technologies, so they decided to survey the field to see if their gut feelings were true. The survey focused on CHIME members, high-level executives who oversee many departments and technologies in their organizations.
“We asked who called [inconsistent and disjointed experiences] a big challenge, and 90% said it was either a moderate or extreme problem,” says Hayward. “We were definitely seeing a lot of data issues contributing to that, but we found the root problem was a fragmented patient experience because of that data flow. When we asked why, the respondents really felt that data management and collection and the ability to move between systems was a pretty big challenge.” Sixty-five percent of executives said it was at least a moderate challenge.
“What surprised me was the pessimism involved—from a technology perspective, it shouldn’t be that challenging, but one of my big takeaways was about the ownership of the patient experience,” says Hayward.
Out of alignment
One of the questions to come out of the survey: From an executive perspective, who owns patient experience? “It depends on what you’re talking about,” says Hayward. “Access? Financial? Clinical? Therein lies one of the challenges.”
Often, the technology is the easy part—the organization buys the tech it needs to perform a task. But questions remain regarding who owns the concept of patient experience and how staff can rally around a common cause to improve it.
“That requires executive leadership,” says Hayward. “Chief patient experience officer is a new title, but we’re seeing it more and more. But do they have the authority they need? Who reports to them, and how does it all come together?”
Hayward talks about the three-legged stool approach to solving this issue, where technology, process, and culture unite. “It’s about aligning those,” she says. Often consultants will work with an organization to do so, but the organization may struggle to get everyone to adopt the changes needed for alignment.
“We see uncertain ownership and limitations in the operations,” says Hayward. “It goes back to the ownership of those capabilities: Is it marketing, the call center, finance, IT? Who is the executive looking at the overarching patient experience?”
Care beyond the four walls
Innovative organizations do have the executive leadership to rally staff toward a common cause, but the role of patient experience officer sometimes focuses on patient survey scores, which may not solve the problem at hand.
“I think for the most part, when people think of patient experience, they [think] of HCAHPS scores: Did we do the right thing when the patient was in the hospital?” says Hayward. “But that’s not extending to the 80% of care delivered outside the hospital.”
The percentage of care delivered outside a traditional setting grew during the pandemic. Today, this form of care is not only an expectation, but also likely to be better for patients.
“As we started hospital at home, remote patient monitoring, and other things that keep patients at home where they’re mentally going to do better, there’s going to be a lot more work for these communications silos,” says Hayward.
The industry is also seeing significant disruption as industry giants—CVS, Amazon, and Walmart, for example—are rebranding themselves to jump into the healthcare space.
“We’ve seen so many of these high-tech groups dive in and crash into the shores of healthcare,” says Hayward. “Tech has these great, intense forays and [pulls] back if they are not seeing a return. It’s interesting to see them jump in and jump back out, but we think we’re going to see more consistency out of this, more concerted efforts to accomplish” disrupting the space.
These organizations can serve communities beyond the hospital setting, which will cause the industry to rethink the patient experience.
“Thinking about these new technologies coming up helps with incentives alignment,” says Hayward. “How do we keep populations healthier? When we think about communication and proactiveness and how we’ve started to turn the corner from being a reactive system to help people manage their health in a better way, it’s been a long journey from fee-for-service to fee-for-value.”
Healthcare’s economic foundation has been fee-for-service for so long that it’s been a process for patient experience executives to improve active care management and monitoring, which ties back to the explosion of siloed technologies in recent years.
While the industry has spent the past two years focused on traversing the pandemic, many executives are coming back to the table to make big movements forward, Hayward says.
“I’m optimistic,” says Hayward. “It takes partnering with organizations to understand and consume the information at hand and restructure. We don’t need to continually be put up against unintended consequences, but rather be purposeful with how [we] consume technology so it’s implemented well.”
By examining how a siloed, one-off tool was implemented, leaders can gain lessons to avoid inefficiencies in the future and strive for platform-based options over point solutions.
There is also a need to look beyond technology and process and delve into a unified culture. “It takes leadership to get everyone aligned on how you do this,” says Hayward. “For the last two years, everyone was just overwhelmed, but I think we’re getting to the point where people can take a breath and start focusing on where we want to go.”
Stepping back to examine how many people own patient experience, to think about it more broadly, and to unify it takes a leader with a vision, says Hayward. “The culture aspect is the tricky piece for any change,” she says. “It’s important to understand what each group is going through and how to make it better.”
Matt Phillion is a freelance writer covering healthcare, cybersecurity, and more. He can be reached at email@example.com.