Editor’s Note: As digital technologists specializing in healthcare transformation, we are constantly reminded that the work we do affects patient’s lives. In fact, when we do our jobs right, the technology platforms we develop save lives and enable a better patient experience.
In that spirit, we feel it important as a company to present information not just from the technical side of healthcare IT, but from the human journey side as well. We publish this story as both a reminder of what we ultimately do for patients, doctors and hospitals, and as a prompt to show us and others that we as a company, and as an industry have so much more work to do.
Patient Experience and Technology – Through the Patient’s Eyes
As hospitals increasingly value the patient experience, it’s important to consider how technology (or lack thereof) affects the patient experience and which technologies truly make a difference in the lives of patients.
Having spent time at five children’s hospitals in three states since our daughter was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease a few years ago, I have seen technology dramatically improve the patient experience by making life easier and less traumatic for her. While I’m extremely grateful for that, I have also experienced technological shortfalls that created stressful delays.
Our daughter has left a health data trail across three different states. But we don’t always have access to that data and her doctors don’t have an easy way to share it.
After several years of having appointments with countless providers at different facilities, I do not have a comprehensive electronic record for all of her visits, procedures and treatments. I have lots of paper files, a couple faxes, a big stack of business cards, several patient education brochures and quite a few radiology CD’s.
Nearly one-third of people who went to a doctor in the past year reported experiencing a gap in information exchange, according to a 2018 report from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. For example, a patient’s medical records were unavailable to a new doctor or a patient had to bring test results, such as a MRI, to an appointment. Even worse, almost 1 in 10 people surveyed reported having to actually redo a test or procedure because their prior data was unavailable.
Since 2008, office-based physician adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) overall has more than doubled, from 42% to 87%, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
As the EHR becomes increasingly prevalent, healthcare systems will need to address interoperability and usability challenges. This is essential to improving not only the patient experience, but also the productivity and well being of physicians.
It’s estimated that there are more than 1,000 vendors selling EHR systems. The interplay between disparate EHR systems is a big problem that causes headaches for physicians and patients.
For example, I regularly rely on a fax between two pediatric specialists who care for our daughter and use different EHR systems. Yes, a fax in 2018.
I make medical appointments online, I check into our children’s hospital through a kiosk (just like at the airport), I frequently email with our pediatric Rheumatologist, I get a text reminder when our prescriptions have been auto-refilled, but I still rely on a fax machine to share blood tests results and clinical notes between two specialists.
The Patient’s Quest for Medical Records
It sounds silly, but another big challenge for patients is actually getting access to their own medical records.
I went to an obscure room in the basement of one children’s hospital more than a few times to fill out forms to request medical records that I needed for an insurance approval. One imaging center graciously provided me with my daughter’s diagnostic records without me even asking (but it’s a CD in a format I cannot open).
At our first children’s hospital, I battled for weeks to get my daughter’s surgery records and blood test results, because we had to move out of state in the midst of a very complicated diagnosis. It was a horrible experience and I finally gave up and left it up to the two physicians in two different states to share the information with one another (they did somehow, probably via fax).
So you can imagine my surprise when I found a very thick “Priority Mail” envelope from that hospital addressed to my 7-year-old daughter in our mailbox — exactly 14 months later. Voilà! It was the surgery records and blood test results, along with a bill for $11.80 for supplies and shipping.
Bringing Technology Home to Patients
Although that was low point in our patient experience, there have definitely been bright spots in our journey.
Telemedicine or telehealth made a positive difference in our life. Last winter during the peak of flu season, I used telemedicine to avoid bringing my immunosuppressed child into the pediatrician’s office and potentially exposing her to something dangerous when her younger brother was sick. I scheduled my appointment online and had a consult with a Board-Certified pediatrician for my son within an hour, without ever leaving the couch. He sent a prescription electronically to my local pharmacy. Germs avoided, time saved and everyone was happy — thanks to technology.
But telehealth has a long way to go. The truth is healthcare providers have embraced telemedicine with varying levels of enthusiasm, and states have very different laws governing telehealth as seen in this interactive map from the Center for Connected Health Policy.
Nearly 41 percent of hospitals and health systems had no plans to offer telehealth services in 2018, according to a recent report from the Medical Group Management Association cited in Becker’s Hospital Review.
Piedmont Healthcare, an Atlanta-based healthcare system with 11 hospitals, launched a telehealth service a few years ago. “Piedmont On Call” offers 24/7 consults with a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner via smartphone or tablet for a flat fee of $49. Patients get their appointment within 30 minutes or less.
Erin Moriarty Wade is a freelance writer specializing in healthcare and the mom of a child with a rare autoimmune disease. Follow her on Twitter at @EMoriartyWade.
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