By Chris Yager
The healthcare industry continues to evolve, driven in large part by the changing policy landscape, but also by the (fast) entrance of new technologies. What started as a means to improve hospital, health system, and health plan operations — both clinical and financial — has now become the facilitator for healthcare consumerism. Given all that it can do, and all that can’t be done without it, healthcare technology is now a requirement for all organizations hoping to make it in this tumultuous environment.
Thankfully, this notion is widely recognized by stakeholders throughout the industry and most are doing all that they can to act before it is too late: before they lose out on incentive payments, before they are faced with a difficult merger or acquisition, and before any patients are lost to rival organizations.
Just look at the influx in patient-centered technology over the years: patient portals, virtual care, patient billing, wearables, and more. All are meant to make the experience and business of healthcare easier for everyone, and they do just that.
Unfortunately, all of these technologies are missing a critical piece of the healthcare puzzle: patient access.
Virtual care visits are intended to be a more flexible, convenient option for non-emergent care needs, but what good are they if it takes up to a day to schedule the visit? Even with improvements in interoperability, what good is patient record sharing if the patients themselves can’t get in the door to be seen by a provider? Wearables, like the FitBit and Apple Watch, have the incredible ability to track every day health and wellness patterns that can influence better care decisions, especially for those living with chronic conditions, but again, this data is hardly useful if patients forget to schedule and follow through on their routine health visits.
Access to care is what can make or break a technology investment. It makes little sense to embrace new technologies, either department- or system-wide, when the process of scheduling an appointment is left neglected. It is, as the old saying goes, “putting the cart before the horse.”
Improving patient access requires much more than just enabling digital appointment scheduling or referral coordination. It’s ensuring that patients are connected from the start with the most appropriate provider or specialist according to their specific care need. It’s considering a patient’s location during the scheduling process, ensuring a provider is accessible via local transportation or by foot if necessary. It’s considering a provider’s complete schedule to ensure patients with behavioral health needs are seen in a timely manner — a factor which, in the most serious of situations, could be the difference between life or death. And it’s providing adequate outreach and follow up to encourage patients to show up for their scheduled appointments and follow-ups.
When considering a technology enhancement, whether new or an overhaul, healthcare leaders should take a step back and truly assess if they have made the process of accessing care as easy and efficient as possible for their patients. Or, for those who have already invested heavily in new tech, are you getting the most out of your investment if access is still an issue? These are tough questions to ask, but they are necessary to help shine a light on this blind spot in healthcare technology and connect patients to the care they need.
Chris Yager is the vice president of technology at MyHealthDirect, a provider of digital care coordination solutions.
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