Guest Column | April 15, 2020

Reduce Medical Vulnerability: A Key Aspect Of Improving The Patient Experience

By Paul Jensen, Novarad

200_Doctor sharing information no tablet with patient

Conversations about how to create a better patient experience are ubiquitous throughout healthcare. However, despite being a good first step toward more patient-focused processes, they tend to be too broad to drive meaningful change.

Time and again, efforts to improve the patient experience try to address every step from patient intake to patient exit. While a global evaluation of the patient journey certainly is beneficial, health systems may find greater success by instead concentrating their attention more narrowly on moments of medical vulnerability.

Nearly everyone can relate to the concept of medical vulnerability as it is defined here. Simply put, it’s when the physical and/or mental discomfort of a healthcare encounter makes a patient feel anxious, helpless or exposed.

For example, consider the patient suffering acute abdominal pain who goes to see his family physician. After examining him, she tells him to drive to the imaging center for an abdominal ultrasound. There, he waits to be seen, undergoes the ultrasound, then waits for results. This kind of “routine” healthcare process happens hundreds of times each day. Yet throughout the whole ordeal, the patient is nervous and fearful in addition to enduring physical distress. What’s wrong with me? Do I have appendicitis? Will I need emergency surgery? How will I pay for my care? What will happen? These uncertainties make the patient feel defenseless.

Such instances of medical vulnerability can negatively color patients’ perceptions of their care — even when they receive the very best standards of care from kind and experienced providers. So, although it may be impossible to eliminate medical vulnerability completely, reducing it can go a long way toward improving the patient experience. Health systems should ask themselves: How can we lighten patients’ loads by saving them hours of medical vulnerability?

Minimize Vulnerability Through Modern Technology

The answer to minimizing medical vulnerability starts with speed and accuracy at both the diagnostic and therapeutic stages. The sooner patients understand their health issues and get on with their treatment plans, the less time they spend feeling powerless.

For many healthcare organizations, imaging procedures offer a good place to start addressing medical vulnerability. That’s because imaging procedures by their very nature are nearly always a source of apprehension, regardless of the modality.

When providers send patients for imaging, they’re basically acknowledging that they don’t yet know for sure what’s happening or whether everything is OK. For example: What family doesn’t worry while waiting for an X-ray to reveal if — and how badly — a child broke her leg playing soccer?

Leveraging advanced imaging devices and software could help reduce medical vulnerability just by getting definitive information to patients faster. It could be as simple as having an extraordinarily crisp digital radiography (DR) plate under an X-ray table that enables a quicker and more accurate radiology read — paired with software that speeds the radiologist’s interpretation to the referring physician. For the family soccer star, earlier diagnosis and treatment means less time stuck in the doctor’s office fretting over the unknown.

By marrying imaging solutions with modern technologies such as augmented reality (AR), similar benefits can be extended to procedures that cause even greater vulnerability — such as time in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine or the operating room.

Take MRI-guided breast biopsies as an example. These procedures require patients to spend an hour or more lying motionless, sliding in and out of the loud, claustrophobic confines of an MRI machine as physicians try to determine whether they have cancer. It can be a harrowing experience, both mentally and physically.

However, AR technologies that superimpose digital elements over a patient’s body in real-time allow physicians to visualize what can’t be visualized in 2D or even with 3D printing models. Registering a breast biopsy patient’s DICOM images directly onto her body could help determine optimal surgical navigation for a swifter procedure.

Decreasing the time patients interact with any imaging modality lessens their vulnerability in a couple of ways. First, of course, is that they spend less time enduring uncomfortable imaging exams. Just as important, however, is the fact that making each exam faster and more precise allows facilities to schedule more patients each day. Along with higher utilization rates for the facility, patients don’t need to wait as long to receive the care they need. It’s truly a win/win scenario for both health systems and patients.

Empower The Patient Experience

We commonly discuss the concept of medical vulnerability in the context of clinical research. However, we must also consider the idea that patients experience moments of “medical vulnerability” even within their everyday healthcare encounters.

Very often, patients’ uneasiness stems from a combination of physical discomfort and mental distress caused by a lack of knowledge. By leveraging technologies and processes that deliver earlier, more accurate medical intelligence via less traumatic procedures, health systems can take a pragmatic and altruistic approach to improve the patient experience.

About The Author

Paul Jensen is the President of Novarad. He brings over 25 years of experience in the global IT industry across finance, sales, marketing, and business development. Before leading Novarad, Paul found great success during 20 years of leadership at Microsoft. He is passionate and committed to Novarad’s mission of creating and using transformative technology to improve patient outcomes and reducing the impact of patient vulnerability in the world of medicine.