Guest Column | November 5, 2020

Is It Time To Get Away From The Idea Of "Patient Experience"?

By Josh Weiner, CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach

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For the last 20 years, the healthcare industry has been slowly shifting from fee-for-service to value-based care. We’ve seen the advent of the triple aim, the quadruple aim, pay-for-performance, and ACOs. All of this in an attempt to move from paying for healthcare based on quantity to paying for quality and outcomes. In the meantime, we’ve also seen a rise in consumerism and a focus on patient experience. And we tie those to the goals of value-based care. But the very word experience suggests we are still thinking about healthcare as episodic, and episodic care is susceptible to massive disruptions like those we’ve seen with COVID-19.

The real shift we need to be making is away from thinking of healthcare as an experience and toward thinking about healthcare as an integral part of our daily lives. Whether virtual or in-person, healthcare should be a seamless part of life, fluidly integrated into every day through ubiquitous and inexpensive technologies. It should be more of an ongoing conversation and less of a one-off encounter. The tools that can help us get there are simple things like two-way text, telehealth, and AI-driven text and chatbots.

Think about how we all use text messaging in the rest of our lives. It can be easy to carry on a conversation with someone like a parent or spouse throughout the day. You send and receive messages as you are available to do so. Or how you now interact with many retailers that confirm your order and send regular updates about the status via text. These are ongoing interactions. Some don’t require a response while others do, but either way, there is a level of presence and engagement the whole time. Similarly, people sign up for various lifestyle services that deliver content via text. The person may be able to respond, but they don’t always respond. Sometimes they just consume the information.

Engaging in this way through text is what patients want. A recent study showed that interest in phone calls from healthcare providers has gone down 14 percent since the pandemic began. And interest in automated digital communications is up. Patients said they felt that text was an effective tool for communicating across the patient journey.

The preference for digital communication, especially text, just highlights the patient’s desire for a more ongoing interactive relationship with their healthcare providers. Other recent data supports this. Currently, 98 percent of text messages are opened and 95 percent are opened and responded to within three minutes. Nine out of ten people say they want to communicate with businesses through text messages whether it is “through sending alerts, reminders, back and forth communication, etc.”

When it comes to healthcare communication specifically, the trends appear to be the same. The majority of patients say they want automated messages like reminders via text. They also say that they would like to send messages to providers and receive text messages from providers in real-time.

Similar trends are appearing around telehealth. Before the pandemic, patients showed interest, but many providers hesitated due to reimbursement concerns. Since reimbursement has changed, at least temporarily, providers have offered it as a safer alternative, and patients seem happy with that choice. According to one MGMA survey from summer 2020, many patients are fearful about going to the doctor. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about their health or want to get care. Telehealth provides a safe, effective option to keep the lines of communication open and deliver care. Research has shown it is often as effective as in-person care. Telehealth also delivers more options to stay in more regular contact. While most surveys and data focus on the synchronous video and audio visits, that isn’t the only telehealth option. When providers are willing to offer telehealth, they also can offer text and phone-based check-ins and asynchronous visits through a secure portal or email.

When you add up all the alternative ways available for patients to connect through text, email, telehealth, etc., it’s clear that you can create an ongoing conversation with patients. Even portal adoption appears to be on the rise during COVID. There are so many ways to connect and deliver care that there is no excuse for not making healthcare interactions a part of a patient’s life and not just a single experience or episode where providers a reacting to a specific injury or disease. It's time the healthcare experience expands to be one long journey that spans across scheduling, care, financial, and outreach.

By incorporating healthcare into daily life instead of segmenting it into individual experiences we simplify our ability to engage patients in personal, productive healthcare, which will inevitably improve patient health and outcomes and reduce overall healthcare costs.

About The Author

Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Before Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, daughter. Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.