Everywhere you turn technology, makes our lives easier. And yet we take it for granted — until it’s not there.
I spent the holiday week in Boston with family. I observed every day, commonplace technology in my travels, our hotel stay, shopping, eating out, and more. We book our airline tickets online. We check in online or at an airport kiosk. We pass through security and find our current gate info on large screens conveniently located. Barely any human contact except when the flight attendant checks our seat belts and offers us pretzels and a drink. The safety information is a video, and when we arrive we find the right baggage carousel on another large screen.
Then there’s ground transportation. We decided to try the Silver Line for a free ride from the airport to near our hotel. An overhead screen told us how many minutes before it would arrive at our terminal. Once on board, the automated voice system and digital signs told us which stop we were at — all about GPS technology. We ordered Uber rides during the week from our iPhone and got receipts sent to our email accounts within minutes of the drop off. Uber is GPS technology on steroids. When we drove a borrowed car on the tollway, EZPass paid our tolls. We could have used ZipCar, another transportation option based on wireless technology.
At the hotel, we could have checked in with a mobile app at an iPad station at the desk. Keycards were programmed for our room where we used wireless to connect to the world. Remember when Internet access was not a given and didn’t always work in hotel rooms?
While shopping for gifts or doing returns, we can scan barcodes ourselves to check a price and the clerk scans to see if the item was bought there and returnable. At some restaurants, we are handed an iPad with the menu on it.
At church on Christmas Eve, amid the candles, the minister has her homily and readings safely in her hands on her mini-iPad.
But every day we visited a family member in the hospital, and there the technology experience was much different and simpler. We relied on confusing posted signage in multiple connected buildings to find our way around day one. We saw basic info such as the nurse on duty and today’s date handwritten on a white board in the room. Like many hospitals, this one had a relatively new EHR that the staff is still learning, and deals with minimal paper. But the patient, aka the consumer, has little technology available to them.
So how could this health care experience be different for our patients and their families?
- Way-finding apps that you can get on your mobile device to guide you from the front entrance to your destination. Yes, some hospitals are trying these but they are rare.
- Digital patient education, information and entertainment systems at the bedside. Imagine having at your fingertips information on who is taking care of you, when your next procedure or test is, info on when you may be going home, patient education specific to you, ordering meal service on demand, and a range of entertainment options. Hospitals are at various stages of implementing these kinds of interactive patient care systems.
- Family and friends who can’t visit in person having access to secure communication for updates, as much info as the patient is willing to share. These kinds of online caring communities are more common for long term illnesses and much appreciated by all involved.
- Case management information that your family can easily access during your hospital stay so they know when you will be ready for discharge and what your post hospital stay needs will be. Still largely an in-person discussion that family members have to make sure happens.
- All follow-up visits and tests scheduled for you before you leave the hospital. It would mean using the scheduling functionality that already exists with integrated EHRs plus a focus on customer service.
Does this sound like a better patient and family experience? It’s the kind of experience you’d expect given the level of technology in other parts of your life.
Of course, we have to strike the right balance. We all care for elderly and less tech-savvy patients. And we can never lose the basic human touch that everyone wants and needs when we are sick or in a healthcare crisis.
As we focus on improving customer service, developing patient-centered care models, and increasing overall patient engagement, I’m optimistic that as an industry, we will make progress in the next year to bring more of these scenarios to reality.