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Why Technology In Healthcare Is A Balancing Act For Patients And Providers

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Written by Paul Cooper, Chief Information Officer at NRC Health.

Today’s healthcare consumers don’t just want excellent care; they want care delivered with more  eas e , convenience and choice. Data from our “2019 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report” shows that 51.3% of patients cited convenient, easy access to care as the most important factor in their healthcare decision making — more important than brand reputation, quality of care, providers’ bedside manner or insurance coverage. What’s more, 80% of healthcare consumers say they select their doctors based on convenience factors alone.

The Technology Paradox

Consumers’ craving for convenience has spurred enormous growth for the healthcare industry over the last decade, much of it driven by technology. From artificial intelligence (AI) and telehealth to augmented reality (AR) and connected medical devices, tech innovations have brought more flexibility and accessibility to healthcare, furthering this craving for convenience and improving the patient experience in the process.

But patients aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of technology in this new era of healthcare. Many medical processes and the day-to-day practices of healthcare professionals themselves are now more efficient thanks to digital upgrades.

While the advent of technology in healthcare has proven beneficial in many circumstances, such as improved health outcomes and more efficient provider workflow, technology can also be unintentionally detrimental to the care experience — particularly the patient-provider relationship. If health systems aren’t thinking about finding a balance now, they could end up alienating consumers rather than ensuring their lifelong loyalty.

Tech-Improved Patient Experiences

Today’s patients are approaching their healthcare experience in the same way they approach other industries transformed by technology, such as banking or retail. To thrive in a consumerist market, healthcare organizations must realize the importance of digitalization in order to get patients more involved in their own health. A few benefits of technology growth in healthcare include:

  • Breakthroughs in research. Along with this paradigm shift comes continued breakthroughs in research, diagnostics and treatments, giving providers more opportunities to capitalize on data and identify new ways to practice medicine.
  • Increased access to care. More than 80 healthcare specialties are now authorized to use telehealth services, and nearly 60% of employers offer some form of digital healthcare delivery to employees.
  • Understanding patient needs. The key to meeting consumer expectations is understanding what those expectations include. A nationwide poll of health-system leaders found that within 12 months, 47% of healthcare organizations planned to invest in a technology initiative to capture in-depth patient experience metrics.
  • Shorter wait times. With value-based incentives motivating providers to see more patients, patients aren’t left waiting nearly as long to see their doctors. Wait times are one of the most frequently complained-about aspects of healthcare, with 77% of comments about them in our “Healthcare Consumer Trends Report” being negative.

Cautionary Tales In Healthcare Tech

Countless examples offer evidence that, when applied correctly, the healthcare industry can derive enormous benefits from advancements in health IT. However, technology can also be a detriment to patients and healthcare organizations.

  • Increased security risks. In 2015, hackers stole 80 million health records from Anthem. And while restitutions have been made, large-scale data breaches like the Anthem hack will likely persist as long as personal data is “stored” somewhere.
  • But the industry is a long way from a universal health record. Instead, patient data winds up in multiple EMRs (electronic medical records) and CRMs (customer relationship management systems), which just further compounds the security risks. In fact, 45% of healthcare consumers today trust their own personal electronic devices over their healthcare providers’ when it comes to safeguarding their health information.
  • Prioritization of data entry. As much as technology has streamlined the care experience and opened up more access to care, when patients are sick, they actually want that personal connection with their provider. And while EMRs have helped shorten wait times, they’ve also put a barrier between the provider and patient: the computer screen. Rather than shake the patient’s hand, providers walk in with a laptop, sit down and start typing. The patient-provider relationship is already under attack, and technology can further drive a wedge.
  • Provider burnout. Providers don’t want to use all of this technology. The requirement of already overworked physicians to do their data entry in the EMR is not only a huge burden; it also contributes to dissatisfaction among healthcare providers and can lead to lower care quality. In fact, 7 out of 10 physicians would not recommend the profession. Patients notice when care quality dips, and they’re not afraid to switch providers because of it.

Healthcare leaders can’t afford to sacrifice the human connection that is integral to each patient’s care experience because to be a part of that experience, providers must see patients as they really are — real, live people. And healthcare is about so much more than technology; it’s about human understanding.

Why Balance Is Key

Providers are taught the science of medicine, but often lack the support and training around empathy and relationship building. Without knowing the right questions to ask or the best ways to respond, how can they be expected to address what matters most to their patients?

Patients also have a lot to say about their care experiences. Sharing patient feedback with providers creates a direct line of sight to improvement. The closer to the care encounter this feedback can be received, the sooner healthcare organizations can identify emerging issues in the care process and improve patient experiences.

The key to a better care experience, regardless of technology’s impact, is understanding of what patients want and addressing those expectations with compassion.

While technology is pivotal to the evolution of healthcare, putting it to effective use will likely continue to be a balancing act between protecting the provider-patient relationship and making sure patients can access convenient, affordable care. It will be up to providers and healthcare leaders to learn the art of that balance.