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How healthcare organizations can ramp up accessibility

From telemedicine to interactive medical software – there is no shortage of ways the healthcare industry can leverage mobile technology to improve the efficiency and quality of patient care.

Think about your own mobile habits. How many times a day do you look at your smartphone? Is it within your reach right now?

Mobile technology has revolutionized the way we interact, communicate and do business. It has perpetuated an “on demand” mentality. We literally have a world of information and capabilities at our fingertips, and this new normal has fundamentally altered our expectations.

Today, we can easily book a flight or hotel room, deposit a check, trade stocks and purchase just about anything in seconds using nothing but our smartphones.

Just about every service industry has embraced a mobile-first strategy, except one — healthcare.

In healthcare, mobile interaction is still the exception rather than the rule. The majority of healthcare providers are still tied to paper processes or fixed computer terminals when it comes to everything from appointment scheduling and patent registration to medical record access and billing.

This comes as no surprise to the providers themselves.

In a recent HIMSS survey conducted on behalf of Unisys, 64% of the health IT decision makers and influencers surveyed rated their organizations as being “behind the curve” when it comes to how they are leveraging digital and mobile technologies to improve the patient experience.

Another 20% rated themselves as “laggards”.

This self- awareness does little to squelch the frustrations experienced by clinicians and patients alike when it comes to the mobile limitations in healthcare.

These two customers are at the center of just about every healthcare relationship, and both are hungry for a mobile awakening in the field.

Your physicians might already be ahead

If you think physicians are sitting idly waiting for the healthcare organizations they work for to implement enterprise-wide mobile strategies — think again.

Research shows that clinicians are using mobile devices in the care and treatment of patients regardless of whether corporate mobile systems or policies have been established.

  • 90% of clinicians are utilizing mobile devices within their organizations to engage patients in their healthcare.
  • 74% of clinicians qualify themselves as “digital omnivores,” defined as those who utilize a tablet, smartphone and computer routinely in a professional capacity.
  • 69% of providers say they use a mobile device to view patient information, and 36% use mobile healthcare technology to collect data in the exam room.

The problem with this rampant use of mobile technology by physicians is much of it is unchecked and unsupported by the healthcare organization.

In other words, many of the enterprise systems physicians need to interact with aren’t mobile ready, creating an inconsistent and incomplete user experience.

Furthermore, any information captured by physicians on mobile devices during a patient exam (i.e. photos, video, notes, etc.) don’t always feed back into the enterprise systems of record.

This scenario can create localized “dark data” that can expose a healthcare organization to protected health information (PHI) exposure risks.

While physicians won’t let a healthcare organization’s mobile dormancy stifle their personal use of mobile technology on the job, most are desperate for a symbiotic relationship to emerge between their mobile devices and the clinical systems they use every day.

According to a HIMSS Analytics 2017 Essentials Brief on mobile technology, three main themes emerged with regard to how physicians would like to leverage mobile technology to improve care and outcomes.

Those three themes were access, security and care coordination.

1. Access

Improving access to health data via mobile technology was the biggest desire among physicians.

Clinicians feel they can be more productive and effective if they can access key patient information — including vitals, lab results, clinical narratives, medical images and more — from anywhere via their mobile devices.

This capability can accelerate diagnosis and treatment while improving accuracy.

Furthermore, it allows the physician to easily present and review key information with patients while in the exam room, enhancing doctor/patient interaction and the patient experience.

Data capture via mobile device — whether alphanumeric, images/video or voice dictation — and having this information be easily integrated with core clinical platforms, such as an EMR, clinical decision support (CDS) system or PACS, is also coveted among the physician community.

This capability can help streamline clinical workflows, reducing existing documentation burdens, while ensuring captured information is properly stored and accessible via core applications.

2. Security

While mobile access to key patient data topped the physicians’ wish list, ensuring this mobile access and exchange of information is done securely was a close second.

Mobile technologies are often viewed as more vulnerable or susceptible to hacking, and the healthcare industry has been a prime target for cyberattacks as it is.

Physicians want to have confidence that whatever information they access, capture or share via a mobile device doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

3. Care coordination

The coordination of patient data across care settings was another highly sought after function of mobile technology. Improvements in team-based, inter-departmental and inter-organizational patient data coordination are important to physicians.

Similarly, the continuity of care between one department and another, as well as one hospital and another, is extremely important to physicians and their goals of providing the highest quality care possible.

What do your patients want?

Patients want (and have come to expect) the same type of mobile experience from their healthcare provider that they currently receive from their banks, retailers and hospitality providers.

It starts with convenience, but bleeds into access and control.

1. Convenience

Ask almost any patient what the most annoying thing is about visiting the doctor’s office and most will say the same thing — paperwork.

Even in this day and age, it seems like every time we go to the doctor or hospital (even it’s a provider we have seen before) we’re handed a stack of forms to complete.

The time it takes to complete paperwork is not only tedious, it contributes to lengthy wait times, another patient pet peeve. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half (49 percent) of the time dedicated to a doctor’s visit is spent either filling out forms or sitting in the waiting room8.

Why can’t healthcare providers simply ask us for our demographic information and medical history once, and only ask us to include information that is new or has changes on subsequent visits?

Patients want a streamlined patient experience. They want to be free from the hassle of repetitive paperwork and they want to see their physician in a timely manner.

Moreover, they want to leverage their mobile devices to help make this a reality — whether that’s by completing forms or submitting medical information online, or scheduling or changing appointments electronically.

2. Information accessibility

Like physicians, patients also want access to their medical information.

Historically, physicians and the healthcare provider organizations they represent have been the owners of medical data. While this is largely still the norm, that mindset is beginning to change. Patients are starting to demand access to their own health data.

They want to take ownership of their data and be able to take it with them or transfer the information to other healthcare providers as they see fit.

Most anticipate mobile technologies to provide the conduit for this data liberation. Applications such as Apple Health and other personal health records (PHRs) are examples of this trend.

Patients want to be the keepers of their medical information and play a more active role in provider decisions, their ongoing care or the care of loved ones.

Access for the patient also includes improved access to physicians and other caregivers.

Patients expect to be able to contact their clinicians directly via email or text and receive a prompt response.

They no longer want to be forced to navigate a myriad of gatekeepers over the telephone to get in touch with their doctors. Furthermore, in some instances patients even want the option to visit a doctor virtually via a telemedicine session as opposed to visiting an office in person.

Patients are basing their care decisions on much more than just cost, but on quality of care and patient experience — an attribute that can be significantly influenced by the use of mobile technology.

What’s at stake?

Quite simply, healthcare providers that do not address growing physician and patient demands for mobile engagement are at risk of losing customers — and revenue.

The rise of high-deductible health plans (HDPs) is feeding healthcare consumerism and patients are actively shopping around for their healthcare services.

Patients are basing their care decisions on much more than just cost, but on quality of care and patient experience — an attribute that can be significantly influenced by the use of mobile technology.

Market research shines a light on the impact being more progressive in use of digital and mobile technologies can have on the patient experience and customer retention:

  • 40% of patients would be more likely to recommend a technologically advanced doctor to others, and 36% would be less likely to switch to a new doctor.
  • 51% of patients would select a doctor that lets them fill out paperwork online before a visit.
  • 75% of all patients believe physicians who leverage mobile technology provide a faster and more convenient experience for patients, such as cutting down on physician wait times.
  • Between 55% and 69% of respondents whom frequently use online health tools reported increased satisfaction.
  • Approximately 7% of patients have switched healthcare providers due to poor customer experience.

The action plan for healthcare organizations

As you can see, becoming a more mobile friendly enterprise is a must for today’s healthcare organization.

If you haven’t started down this path yet, you need to start. If you have, you should be constantly looking for ways to further enhance the mobile capabilities of your physicians and patients.

For physicians, look for ways to improve mobile access to the valuable patient content they need to reference at the point of care.

This must go beyond simple mobile access to discrete EMR data. You should also empower your physicians to access a wide variety of unstructured patient content including clinical documents, medical images, video and more via a mobile device.

This capability should be enabled either through direct integration with a mobile EMR interface or via separate mobile applications such as a universal viewer.

Improving a clinician’s ability to properly capture patient information at the point of care is also recommended. For example, ensuring the exam notes and photos physicians are capturing on mobile devices are properly routed and connected to core clinical systems such as EMRs and PACS is vital to ensuring data security and a comprehensive, longitudinal patient record.

For patients, focus should be placed on simplifying their interactions with your organization and its caregivers.

Start by reducing the paperwork burden. Establish a digital-first approach to collecting patient information. For example, give patients the option to complete forms and submit pertinent medical information online before an appointment or collect this information digitally in the waiting room or at the bedside via a tablet computer. Implementing methods for electronic appointment scheduling, billing and payment are also recommended.

Then, empower your physicians to access a wide variety of unstructured patient content including clinical documents, medical images, video and more via a mobile device.

Establishing an online patient portal that allows patients to access and view their medical information — including exam notes, lab results and medical images — is also a good way to empower patients and improve their overall healthcare experience.

Finally, you may also want to explore ways to better connect physicians and patients using digital and mobile technology. For example, secure chat rooms and text messaging can provide patients with a direct connection to their caregivers that enhances the customer service experience.

Offering virtual appointment services via telemedicine can also add a layer of convenience that patients seek.

The healthcare industry is already behind the times when it comes to leveraging mobile technologies to enhance care and service. Providers can ill afford to wait any longer.

Going mobile is the key to addressing physician and patient needs more quickly and fostering patient engagement that not only retains but attracts new customers.

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