Quality of care has been a core focus in the health industry for decades. In recent years, it has been criticized by both patients and physicians as being costs and impersonal. Even, back in 2001, the Committee on Quality of Healthcare published a report, Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century, that concluded that the healthcare system wasn’t delivering the quality of care that patients expected or deserved. But, the report also uncovered strategies to redesign healthcare to deliver a higher standard of care. At the center of those strategies was technology. Almost two decades later, technology’s role in redefining modern care is greater than ever.
We hear about how technology is shaping healthcare on a daily basis, from its integration into personal devices that track our heart rates to the digitization of our health records. In the last 20 years, the pace of innovation has been fast and furious, and as a result, it is not only making healthcare safer, more efficient and cost-effective — it’s also changing how we think about and experience quality care.
Shifting Perceptions of Care
For patients, a relationship with their doctor is the single most important hallmark of quality care. According to a 2017 Consumer Health Care Priorities Study, What Patients and Doctors Want from the Health Care Systems, which examined patient and physician attitudes on the quality and delivery of healthcare services, the majority of consumers, regardless of age or health status, want a doctor who is experienced and knowledgeable, listens to their concerns, explains things clearly, and spends as much time as necessary. Value-coordinated care, and evidence-based medicine and treatments, based on research and proven methods, followed close behind. Perhaps not surprisingly, physicians also put a high value on the doctor-patient relationship.
Traditionally, quality of care has been measured by a physician’s adherence to a process. Did the doctor follow protocols? Were symptoms effectively diagnosed? Was the right medicine prescribed? Today, those measurements are table stakes. Among physicians and patients, a lot more is desired from the care experience.
A Renewed Focus on the Doctor-Patient Relationship
The importance of the doctor-patient relationship isn’t new. It’s consistently been a critical ingredient in the recipe for high-quality care, but technology is changing the nature of that relationship. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we have access to an endless amount of information about our symptoms and what they might mean. As a result, people don’t always rely on their doctors to get a quick diagnosis. Technology has enabled patients to take their health into their own hands, and thus shifted the role that doctors play in our care, and the relationships we have with them. To continue delivering care at the level that patients expect, providers need to find new ways to establish a connection with their patients.
In recent years, telehealth has been an effective tool for physicians to improve communication and access with patients. Companies like American Well and Doctor On Demand are strong examples of real-time consultation technologies that not only streamline the experience but let patients benefit from expert medical consultation while establishing a (nearly) face-to-face rapport.
Chatbots and virtual assistants are additional examples of technology solutions that can enhance the doctor-patient relationship, particularly when it comes to patient triage and providing aftercare. Time-consuming tasks like scheduling, filling out paperwork and the sheer volume of patients doctors need to see can have a negligible effect on quality care. Not many physicians today have the ability to follow-up with every single one of their patients to make sure that they’re feeling better and reaching a full recovery.
Embracing change to evolve how we care
Technology’s role in healthcare isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to become more entrenched in both the patient and the provider experience. But regardless of technology’s ability to reduce costs, save time and make processes more efficient, we can’t forget the importance of addressing the human things.
Whether through an app, video or a text, physicians still need to be able to talk individuals about what’s going on in their world, and treat the right things at the right time. But to do a quality job, providers still need to spend time with patients, talk to them and understand them.