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Synergize Patients’ Digital And Physical Experiences With Proper Design


Murali Kashaboina is the co-founder and CEO of Entrigna, inc., an AI-driven real-time decisions company.

As we understand it, healthcare is for humans, by humans, through human interfacing and interactions, where the emphasis is on making humans feel better through human touch, warmth and empathy. Such characterization of healthcare must continue to manifest regardless of physical or digital means, through which patient care and other healthcare services are delivered.

The aftermath of Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies to enable digital health interventions in tandem with traditional physical interventions. As health systems embrace digital health initiatives, the emerging narrative shifts to one that emphasizes the empathetic experience of both patients and caregivers. An empathetic experience for patients is one where patients would receive highly personalized, precise and engaging care based on each individual’s unique set of health and medical needs. Likewise, an empathetic experience for caregivers is one that enables a low-stress, low-friction environment, equips them with the right set of tools and entrusts them with the right information at the right time so they are fully empowered to deliver the highest quality care.

The following are counter-intuitive scenarios that attempt to combine digital and physical means to deliver services to patients but don’t quite reach that goal. My own personal recommended solutions follow each.

1. Broken telemedicine experience. A state-of-the-art telemedicine service enables remote patients and providers to easily communicate via video consultation. While the telemedicine application captures patients’ medical history and other information, it is not integrated with any FDA-approved wearable devices that can help collect patients’ vitals information. So providers request patients to visit a nearby clinic to record their vitals. Then patients often have to fill in their registration information all over again, causing frustration and wasting time.

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Recommendation: The solution involves integrating FDA-approved wearable devices with telemedicine applications. Bluetooth integration is the defacto method that almost all devices support securely. The other straightforward option is for the physician to get live readings via those devices over a video call. Physicians can then determine if a clinic visit is required for an in-depth diagnosis. Furthermore, telemedicine applications can store patients’ registration in central systems by using system APIs so that it’s accessible to other applications, preventing patients from filling out the same forms repeatedly.

2. Unintelligent bot experience. A sophisticated online diagnosis tool enables patients to chat with an artificial intelligence-driven bot that can predict illness based on the symptoms patients enter. For patients with severe symptoms, the bot would suggest patients book an appointment immediately and provide a phone number, but won’t auto-suggest any immediately available time slots. When patients call that number, they wait for a representative only to go through their information and symptoms again and end up with an appointment several weeks later.

Recommendation: The solution is to make bots more intelligent. Besides predicting illness, the bot can implement matching intelligence to determine the right physicians that the patient can consult. Furthermore, the bot can implement optimization logic to auto-suggest physicians with the earliest availability and enable the patient to book an appointment immediately.

3. Nonexistent portal integration. One hospital provides a cutting-edge portal to patients to access the patient’s up-to-date medical records. Then the patient gets a necessary transfer to a specialty hospital. If this is the first visit and the specialty hospital doesn’t have access to the prior one’s electronic medical records, the patient has to manage two separate accounts and portals for two different hospital systems that independently maintain records.

Recommendation: The solution is to enable one consistent patient medical record across the hospitals and clinics. Interoperability issues may pose barriers to enabling one consistent patient record. However, as more interoperability standards emerge, hospital systems can participate in state- or federal-sponsored health information exchange (HIE) initiatives to securely share records. HIE systems provide data exchange APIs that hospital systems can integrate to publish and consume patient medical information. At a minimum, the hospital systems that are part of the same network can share and maintain consistent medical records. Consistent patient information eliminates the need for the patient to manage multiple accounts and portals.

Each patient’s journey is unique, and its complexity can vary. The intertwining of physical and digital means to deliver care makes such journeys even more complex. A crucial aspect to consider is how the workflows are designed to combine digital and physical interactions. Critical subject matter experts and stakeholders should weigh in and approve these workflows. Better yet, the actual end-users — the patients — should be consulted to get their expectations and needs upfront.

Patients’ digital experience must encompass the same concerns of empathy, sensitivity, perceptivity, pertinency and spontaneity that are typically experienced in human-to-human interactions. Such emotions infuse trust and solace. Effectively, the empathetic patient experience is about establishing an emotional connection, and subtle aspects of such connection either make or break the patient’s trust. Patient experiences that lack such emotions, whether in digital or physical interactions, would result in patients’ distrust and dissatisfaction.

Yet another subtle but critical aspect is ensuring that caregivers’ experiences are kept in perspective. Fundamentally, the relationship between the patient and the caregiver is very symbiotic and is the primary source of the emotional connection. Any gaps in the caregivers’ experiences lead to gaps in patients’ experiences. Such an integrated perspective on design would also help get the right information to the right recipients at the right time throughout the workflows. This would help get both experiences right the first time. Understanding such information requirements would also help identify the health care ecosystems that need integration.

Thus the success mantra to deliver nuanced but empathetic digital experiences in tandem with physical experiences is to ensure that all components of the healthcare ecosystem are well integrated to operate in unison.

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