By Chris Edwards, Chief Client Experience Officer, Conversa
What or who’s driving the transformation in healthcare? So far, the “transformation” of healthcare—marked by the rise of electronic medical records (EMRs), patient portals and interoperability—seems to have been mandated primarily by government regulation. Meanwhile, other industries have had their digital transformation driven by the consumer.
The healthcare industry is also evolving to keep up with the shifting preferences of consumers, moving strategically in conjunction with their insights and experiencesFurthermore, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology are improving how patients experience and engage with their care.
One growing piece of evidence in this consumer-centric evolution can be seen in the rise of digital personal assistants. We see this in everyday life, whether it’s customer service popping up on a website or tools like Siri and Alexa, and we’re beginning to see it with virtual health assistants (VHAs). VHAs, as defined in a recent Health XL report, are interfaces, either voice-based or chat-based, that serve up specific knowledge to the user. VHAs supplement and support humans delivering care.
VHAs, such as health chats, are playing a critical role in improving patient experience, one of the four aims of the “quadruple aim,” an industry effort advocating for the healthcare system of the future. Developed by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, the other Quadruple Aim objectives are to reduce the costs of care, improve the health of populations and enhance clinician well-being.
The Beryl Institute, an organization dedicated to improving the patient experience, recently published a special issue of its Patient Experience Journal focused on the role of innovation and technology in improving the patient experience. Among the challenges noted is overcoming consumer skepticism about whether technology can truly help with an “already confusing and complicated healthcare system.”
The advantage of applying innovation to healthcare is not simply to introduce process improvement tools, explains Jason Wolf, PhD, CPXP, CEO and president of the Beryl Institute. The best outcome is when innovation elevates the human interactions at the heart of healthcare. Think about that for a moment—the “heart of healthcare.” We know what’s right—the “heart” certainly isn’t a billing code.
Technology provides positive experiences in industries such as travel, retail or hospitality. The leaders in these industries have done a good job in removing friction and bad feelings out of experiences. Delta Airlines, for example, has an app that enables customers to track their luggage so passengers can be sure it is in the airport and on the plane. But consumers don’t rate their interactions with the healthcare system as highly as they do other industries. More customers expect their healthcare interactions to mimic the simplicity and digital offerings of a modern retail setting, but a majority find those experiences to be lacking. In fact, three out of every four consumers say their digital healthcare experience needs to improve. Sadly, that’s not a surprise.
And more consumers now expect the touchpoints of their health system to occur on smartphones, which ideally positions health chats. The use of messaging applications has surpassed social media networks, and VHA tools such as health chats appeal to 73% of healthcare consumers.
Some healthcare organizations are delivering digital solutions to patients as part of a holistic approach. For instance, Northwell Health, a 23-hospital health system in New York, developed a Digital Patient Experience (dPx) program to transform customer experience across its entire system. Northwell identified five key patient challenges:
- Identity—Making patients feel as if Northwell knows who they are
- Access—Getting appointments with the right doctor at a convenient time
- Financial health—Addressing confusion and frustration about payments
- Support—Clarity around getting customer service
- Platform—Creating a single point of digital access to patients
As part of these innovation efforts, Northwell introduced Northwell Health Chats to be a virtual health assistant for their two million patients. They are seeing great results with patient empowerment, satisfaction, care team productivity and outcomes.
We expect technology to help companies realize efficiencies, but it’s encouraging to see early signs that health chats are delivering on the promise of improving the patient experience. The future of healthcare depends upon it.