Making People The Priority in Health Care

This article was originally posted in Becker’s Hospital Review on November 16, 2017.

Working in healthcare for nearly 15 years has been one of the joys of my life. From the EHR revolution to payment reform to the development of Accountable Care Organizations, for the first time we are seeing what is possible when mission-driven people focus on solving important problems, and it makes me incredibly optimistic about the future. I have great respect for the clinicians, caregivers, hospital executives and the multitude of people that have pushed the ball forward faster than ever before.

The large majority of my 15 years has been spent “geeking out” in the financial operation of healthcare delivery systems. This past year, I removed my finance hat and replaced it with a patient experience cap. As I navigate the halls of physician practices and health systems, I wanted to take a moment to share three challenges I’ve observed, but also, opportunities to transform the healthcare industry in the future.

1. Using the term “patient” has made it OK to treat healthcare consumers differently than buyers of goods and services in every other industry.

I have been hard-pressed to find other industries that label their consumer with a specific name as we do in healthcare. We don’t label people that use Amazon as Amazonians or people that purchase food from Whole Foods, Whole Foodians. In healthcare, we call our consumers ‘patients.’ As a result of this definition, we find it acceptable to offer a lower standard of transparency than a person would expect when consuming other goods and services. For example, we don’t generally show the price of services publicly, or make it easy to pay for those services or value the patient’s ‘experience.’

Those of us working in healthcare need to think about patients as people- your parent, your child, your neighbor and your friend — people that consume services. Changing this mindset will allow us to truly rethink the- consumer experience in healthcare, allowing us to reimagine our approach to billing, in-office experience, and health technology.

2. We still use posters, plastic skeletons, outdated pamphlets and drawings to educate people on the most important decisions of their lives.

Other industries with B2C models have digitized the experience. Last week, I found myself in the back of an ancient taxi cab that was outfitted with flat panel displays for payment and entertainment, only to arrive at a restaurant that kept its wine list on a tablet. Yet we still use archaic tools to help people understand life threatening illnesses and make the most critical treatment decisions of their lives. According to the Social Science Research Network, 65 percent of people are visual learners, yet during a recent consultation I was given an outdated copy of a pamphlet explaining a complicated critical procedure.

As a result of this simple fact, we need dramatic improvement in the content that is available before, during and after a person’s point of care visits to better engage people and provide meaningful information. It should be highly visual and interactive so that consumers absorb the information being delivered to them and are empowered to make the best decisions possible about their care. This could be accomplished through applications or point of care technologies that wire video and content into exam rooms and waiting rooms.

3. We expect government policy to change healthcare.

Many of us expect that policy change will correct the problems we have in healthcare. Don’t get me wrong – it plays an important role. At the same time, the challenges that we have with chronic conditions (diabetes, congestive heart failure, etc.) will improve not through policy change, but as the result of the deeply personal choices people make everyday about their lifestyle, choices rooted in the information they take away from the exam room with their clinicians. This includes making tough decisions related to palliative care.

The best information needs to be available in the consultation room at the moment that critical care decisions are being made. Our healthcare providers must democratize that information and make it available to us to consume. If a person is diagnosed with lung cancer, they are receiving the worst news of their life. In these difficult moments, they need to understand the treatment options that are available in a way that is digestible and meaningful.

Onward- Opportunities For the Future

The great news is, there is a tectonic shift happening that is the equivalent of the conversion from paper to electronic health records. Healthcare delivery systems, physician practices and other providers are highly focused on the above observations. There is dramatic change happening, as is evident in the addition of retail clinics that offer services outside of normal business hours and in waiting and exam rooms that offer digital point of care technology to help consumers better understand their prognosis, and a plan forward. It can be felt in the newly designed offices health systems are introducing. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with leaders in healthcare on this journey and look forward to becoming a consumer rather than a patient.

Vince Panozzo is the EVP of Sales at Outcome Health – a leading technology company that provides health information and health intelligence during critical moments of care to enable patients and physicians to make the best healthcare decision possible. Outcome Health’s platform reaches 231,000 healthcare providers nationwide to impact 500 million patient visits annually.