Patient Experience: Are We Overlooking Something Here?
Sacrificing Patient Experience at the Altar of Technology
Today, we live in a technology-ladened, microwave-like world. Instant gratification is key. Multi-tasking is heralded as an essential skill to have. Without having this skill, or at least pretending to have it, you are dead in the water. But, how does this play out in the realm of healthcare? Are we moving so fast that we are overlooking the most important component? Have we forgotten that healthcare is uniquely human? Have we forgotten the patient experience in our quest for more technology? Let’s examine this situation.
I received a call from my sister. She was told a person we grew up with needed help. He was recently discharged from the hospital with lots of medical devices. But, he did not know how to operate them. He said the nurse explained how to operate them. Unfortunately, she explained everything so fast, he couldn’t remember what she said. She gave him a number to call if he needed help, but this was also very difficult to understand. When he called the number, the system asked him to press this or press that. It was too confusing for him.
Before this patient’s needs reached my sister, he first called our brother. Our brother is a member of his church and his number was the only number the patient could remember. He lives about 30 minutes away from this patient. My sister lives about 15 minutes away and our brother thought she could help him quicker. Since my sister has no medical training, she called me. I am a registered nurse; but, I live about an hour away! Can you see the problem here? This is not an example of a great patient experience!
This patient lives in a rural part of the state. He lives approximately 1.5 hours away from his primary care provider (PCP) and the hospital. It’s not like he could pop back in the hospital to have the devices explained again. Besides, he was recently discharged from the hospital. He is still sick.
We didn’t realize this, but in the time that passed from his first call to our brother to her call to me, the patient panicked. So much so that he called 911. This was not an emergency but, in his mind, it was. As I was leaving my home to go to him, my sister called to tell me he was on his way back to the hospital by ambulance. He was going back to the hospital by ambulance to have someone explain how to work his medical devices. Did you get that?
So, what are we looking at here? First, we must re-establish the fact that healthcare is about people. Humans, in other words, and their patient experience. Even if you are talking about animals and pets, humans start their healthcare. Secondly, we are looking at a patient without healthcare he could access. If your access system is a bunch of prompts, how does that help the patient if they don’t know how to navigate the prompts? Thirdly, we see a great waste of valuable resources. Having to resort to using an ambulance to get a patient’s non-emergent needs met is a great waste of time and money. Especially, when a registered nurse’s visit or even an expert provider call would solve this patient’s problem.
In the United States, we are seeing a tremendous growth in the baby boomer generation. Baby boomers are those persons born between 1946 and 1964. Baby boomers are changing the way society defines “senior citizens.” Many baby boomers are very tech savvy. But, that still doesn’t mean they want healthcare to become inhuman. Especially when they are experiencing an illness of their own or a loved one.
Using this situation as an example, what can we do to make the patient experience better? I know, I know. I can hear it now – the registered nurse should slow down and explain things better. Maybe. But, maybe it had little to do with the explanation. Maybe, it had more to do with the memory or cognition of the patient.
What about making sure the patients have a support system in place before discharge? That could be a spouse, partner, or a friend. Someone is expecting the patient to reach out to them if they have a need. Not as much to meet that need but someone who can ease getting their needs met.
What about having a healthcare access and delivery system available? This support functions addition to or instead of a proximate human support system. Some people don’t have others around who can be a support system. As in this case, this patient lives in a very rural area. Even having a support system in place, it might take hours to get the needed help. Considering this, we must make healthcare access and delivery convenient. And, in ways patients can understand.
As express by Rohit Bhargava, “As automation increases, people hungry for more personal and authentic experiences begin to put a premium on advice, services, and interactions involving actual humans.”
Let us not forget our humanity.