The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed attention to the ways healthcare is delivered — and how those processes might be improved to help patients.
While healthcare transformation is a complex topic, not all solutions are out of reach. In fact, some can be implemented rather easily, often at little cost, particularly if providers start from the perspective of adopting a patient-first lens.
What is patient-centered healthcare?
Patient-centered healthcare is care that approaches patients as people, not numbers or case files. It’s precise, tailored medical service, delivered to patients when and where they need it.
Many individual providers and both large and small healthcare systems have been working diligently to make a patient-centered system the new standard of care. But there’s still more work to be done.
While there’s no single, fail-safe approach, individual physicians and hospitals alike can work to make healthcare more accessible and less intimidating for patients through a few simple strategies:
1. Prioritize patient communication
It’s hard to build rapport with patients if your back is turned to type notes in an electronic medical record (EMR) while they’re sharing their symptoms. Everyone understands physicians are crunched for time and that records must be updated. But, if possible, healthcare systems should allow frontline providers to be shadowed by a notetaker so care specialists can focus their energies on truly listening — face to face — when their patients share what’s brought them in for care. In this way, providers can build real rapport with their patients, a process that’s been shown to improve health outcomes and increase the likelihood that patients will follow through on recommended care.
2. Make care more accessible
COVID-19 uncovered troubling healthcare disparities, particularly in regard to accessibility. Citizens living in rural areas and less affluent urban districts have access to fewer healthcare providers — especially when it comes to specialists — per capita than more affluent suburban residents. Systems can tackle these disparities through innovative care delivery models such as:
- Telehealth delivery services, including online appointments
- Mobile clinic vans, which can travel into underserved areas
- Pop-up clinics, positioned to target specific demographics — including those without health insurance — who may not otherwise access care
- Partnerships with area nonprofit organizations, libraries and community centers to offer free heart health checkups, vaccinations and more
- Remote monitoring and digital care delivery options, which allow patients to receive care from the comfort of their own homes
- Sliding-scale fee systems, which can encourage underinsured patients to seek healthcare services
3. Ease paths to scheduling and specialty services
Providers can go a long way toward patient-friendly care delivery by simply allowing for easy, patient-driven online scheduling — saving patients the need to navigate long phone waits to speak with a scheduling coordinator. Relatedly, when systems considering clustering services under one roof — from general practitioners to specialist providers, X-ray services, labs and more — navigating multiple facets of care becomes much less intimidating and less time-consuming for patients.
4. Invest in patient education
Many healthcare systems now have detailed EMR platforms and other patient-facing healthcare portals, many of which make it easy to connect with physicians, view lab or test results and see notes about past care procedures. But too often, patients fail to fully utilize these platforms’ capabilities, because they either don’t know about them or they are not sure how to navigate them. Systems should invest in robust communication strategies, from posters in exam rooms to email campaigns featuring step-by-step usage tutorials, to help patients better utilize digital care platforms already within reach.
5. Prioritize disease prevention
Healthcare can often focus on a reactive rather than a proactive approach. Instead, healthcare systems should allow providers the time to speak with their patients about healthy lifestyle choices and disease prevention strategies. Similarly, insurance providers can go further in offering patient incentives — think points toward free movie tickets or exercise gear — when they stop smoking, take steps to exercise and target a diet rich in fruits and vegetables instead of fatty or sugary foods. By taking such a dual approach, we can help positively refocus care on prevention. In the process, we can shift the pendulum and begin addressing common health issues, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, before they happen.
As digital transformation — including new possibilities for telecare and remote digital monitoring and increased use of AI — continues to reshape the US healthcare system, the defining goal of healthcare will continue to be the same. This is an industry that is, and always will be, about helping patients live their best lives.
By centering the patient experience in all decision-making, providers and healthcare systems can ensure their focus remains on that all-important goal, even as the way care is provided shifts to meet patients’ evolving needs.
How Wipfli can help
Healthcare delivery is evolving. So are patient expectations. Healthcare organizations across the country are adopting digital solutions that push patient care forward, and the only way for your organization to keep up and keep moving forward is to embrace new technology. Our healthcare practice is ready to help make the digital future work for you. Learn more about our digital services for healthcare organizations.