Healthcare is one of the many industries that tremendously benefits from constant innovation and technology. Medical services that seemed to only exist in science fiction a few decades ago are now basic operations in healthcare facilities.
From wearable gadgets that measure a person’s heartbeats to nanotechnology that helps physicians diagnose diseases better and faster, technology has made healthcare better. Apart from streamlining hospital operations and providing better services, technology in healthcare helps improve patient engagement.
Patient engagement: why is it important?
Many people feel intimidated when visiting physicians. This may be because they enter a state of vulnerability or not know enough about a condition, making them confused but rendering them mute at the same time. A 2017 study described this feeling of intimidation by physicians as “hostage bargaining syndrome” or HBS. The researchers described HBS as patients behaving “as if negotiating for their health from a position of fear and confusion. It may manifest as understating a concern, asking for less than what is desired or needed, or even remaining silent against one’s better judgment.”
The researchers suggested that to combat HBS, doctors and other care providers should subscribe to shared decision-making where they actively involve patients in choosing the treatments available to them. It is one example of patient engagement. When physicians apply this to their practice, it encourages patients to be more proactive about their health, which in turn allows physicians to provide them with the right care they need.
As mentioned earlier, using technology is one of the ways healthcare providers can improve patient engagement. We presented a few examples of how this happens below.
1. Streamline administrative processes
Patients of healthcare practices are just like any other consumer in the way that they do not like to be inconvenienced or kept waiting. If they have a bad experience, they tend to become frustrated, which puts them off A 2019 study on healthcare consumers revealed that 49 percent of patients are frustrated with their healthcare provider’s admin processes, such as bills payment and appointment scheduling.
This is the reason technologies like EHRs and practice management software are essential in providing better healthcare services. With these healthcare practices, ’ administrative staff can streamline their processes, such as finding patient records, which in turn reduces patients’ frustration.
2. Open lines of communication
Like EHR systems, the use of patient portals has been normalized in many public and private practices. One of the main reasons for this technology’s success is the fact that it provides many opportunities for patient engagement. Some of the things patients can do on patient portals include:
- Schedule and reschedule their doctor’s appointments
- Pay medical bills
- Request refills for prescription medication
- Access lab results
- Connect with their physicians from home
With these functions, patients can take charge of how they receive the care they need. Giving them access to their medical records allows them to read and review those records. And because patient portals give patients an avenue to talk to their physicians even outside of appointments, they can ask questions regarding their medical reports, which is a perfect example of good patient engagement.
3. Improve patient experience
Wait times at clinical practices are normal. Even if a patient with an appointment arrives on time, some physicians take a while to start their consultation. Some are held up by another patient. Industry statistics state that the average patient wait time at doctors’ offices was 18 minutes and 13 seconds in 2018.
While this does not seem like a long time, it’s still enough to affect patient satisfaction. While other technologies can help, practices can make patient wait times an opportunity to engage them. Tablets and Smart TVs can be used as educational tools, helping patients receive vital information about certain health care topics. Virtual assistants can help them communicate with their physicians or play the music they like while waiting. These simple techniques using technology make wait times bearable.
4. Reach more people
Around 46 million people in the U.S. live in rural areas where quality healthcare is scarce. About 30 million of the population live in an area where trauma care cannot be reached within an hour. Moreover, some of these people cannot travel at all, either due to a lack of resources or disability.
This is where telemedicine comes in. Thanks to this technology, physicians can bring their services to patients who cannot travel to receive medical care. Not only is it convenient, but it also reduces the costs patients have to pay compared to when they have to go to a hospital. And with everyone owning devices that can connect to the internet, telemedicine is highly accessible. Now, people do not need to ignore symptoms of health issues or make do with insufficient medical attention.
These are only a few examples of how different technologies in the healthcare industry help clinical practices improve engagement with their patients. With technology always evolving, the opportunities to leverage these tools to provide better healthcare will only grow.
Photograph by Darko Stojanovic