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Dr. Mike’s perspectives on how to ignite a better patient experience

Patients are demanding more from their healthcare experiences than ever before, but in the face of mounting pressures, meeting expectations may feel like a daunting task for care teams. 

Dr. Mike Varshavski, known as “Dr. Mike” online, is a family-medicine physician and health and lifestyle personality and was recently featured in an NRC Health live webcast examining the future of the patient experience and how clinicians can balance Human Understanding with the very real pressures of contemporary healthcare delivery.  

Drawing on voices from his nearly 23 million followers, Dr. Mike highlighted the transformative impact of placing human connection at the forefront of healthcare practices and showed how empathy and communication will lead the revolution of healthcare interactions for patients and providers. 

The use of AI:

“No patient wants their doctor to come in and be a robot,” Dr. Mike says. “When doctors speak robotically to patients, when they stare at the computer screen and type—even though they might be doing the correct thing by listening intently and documenting the encounter—the fact that the physician is acting robotically creates an issue in the patient’s mind that the doctor is not fully caring about them as another human.  

On-demand webcast

“And when you have that, and lose that trust, you run into problems because the teamwork needs to be on the same page,” he adds. “I can’t tell you how many of my patient encounters are less medical and more and more often human. Because the things that drive the best outcomes happen as a result of things that we can do within our lifestyles and human capacity.” 

The use of telemedicine and freestanding clinics:

“In our current capitalistic system, it’s very easy to have a tool like telemedicine or urgent care—that would fit a very specific niche and help very specific patients—start getting overused because it can possibly become more profitable,” Dr. Mike says. “We have to put safeguards in place and educate patients, so they don’t use these well-intentioned avenues for getting care in ways that are not ideal for them. Too often, I see young people in college, early in their careers, start utilizing urgent care as their primary care doctor, which is not what the tool is intended to do. It’s like, sure, you could use a screwdriver as a hammer. But it’s much better and safer to use a hammer. So we need to think about it and educate, so that patients can make the best decisions for themselves.” 

Financial transparency of hospitals: 

“Speaking about the topic of transparency and pricing, where if I am trying to prescribe a medicine for a patient or a diagnostic modality, I don’t know the costs of these things, because they’re so hidden and so differently negotiated by different insurance companies with different hospital systems, that it becomes impossible to formulate a budget-friendly plan for a patient,” Dr. Mike says. “For any other healthcare system that is not insurance-based, let’s say cosmetic surgery, we can call multiple offices, compare prices for a nose job or some other procedure—say, liposuction—and get prices and do a comparison shot. In healthcare, this is nearly impossible to do. Then we wonder why patients are upset with the cost of healthcare, because they’re not in control. The idea of empowerment is really just a hallucination in the corporation’s mind. 

“Because if I’m empowered, I know the cost of things,” he explains. “If I’m empowered, I’m able to have choice in things. If I’m empowered, I get my questions answered. But if I need to wait 30 minutes to get a simple question answered, or I have no idea how much things cost, the idea of empowerment is just a mirage.” 

Humanizing the use of hospitalists: 

“I think little things go a long way,” Dr. Mike emphasizes. “So for example, when a patient is hospitalized, they often don’t see the sunlight. They lose track of time—of what time is it during the day. They lose sense of where they are, especially if they’re older, and they have issues maintaining good cognition.  

“And little steps: something as simple as writing who your doctor is and who your nurse is on a board is a good step. But that’s not enough. Can we then start putting imagery of the doctor on the screen and making sure the patient is aware of who will be coming in? Can we set up a schedule so they can set expectations around when this doctor will come in? Can we write their history and educational background, so the patient becomes more familiar with them? These little trust hacks are very valuable and can help familiarize the patient with their hospitalist before they even walk in. 

“But it can’t be just some afterthought,” he adds. “There has to be an intention behind this. If you make it accessible to the patient right by their bedside, they have a schedule of when approximately the doctor will come in, so we don’t need to put specific time pressures on the doctor—You have to be there in this 15-minute slot. Within these three hours, this is when morning rounds happen. This is the doctor you should be expecting. Here’s a little bit about the doctor. Here’s a picture of the doctor. 

Patient experience scores: 

“Patient-satisfaction scores are a tool that can absolutely bring benefits and improve the way we practice healthcare,” Dr. Mike says. “But not alone can they be responsible for solving all our problems, because that will, in turn, create some issues—they’re a tool that should be used responsibly. Why do you think we don’t use chainsaws to perform surgeries? Because one tool does not solve all our problems. In this scenario, patient-satisfaction scores can really highlight serious ineffectiveness with providers, systems, and recurring issues that can be solved, maybe upstream, very simply.  

“So they’re very important,” he concludes. “But at the same time, we need to ensure they’re not weaponized against hospital systems, against providers. I’ve seen doctors experience so much pressure from the fear of getting a negative patient review that they compromise their clinical decision-making, ordering tests that the patient may get harm from, prescribing medications that are inappropriate for a certain condition because the patient requested them and threatened them with a negative review. We need to be aware of the harms that can come from the situation and instead use it to its strongest benefit.” 

Watch the full webcast with Dr. Mike on-demand.