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The Shift to Understanding the Person behind the Patient


Technology is a useful tool to personalize the patient experience along the care journey while improving well-being and producing better outcomes.

As an industry, healthcare is miles behind its peers in retail, manufacturing, and scores of other sectors when it comes to reaching its core audience and promoting more of an experience than a one-off interaction.

The good news, however, is that the mindset of the patient as a consumer is advancing rapidly and there are plenty of examples for physicians and practices to use as a guide to catch up.

At this year's Healthcare Information Management Systems and Society (HIMSS) conference in Orlando, Joshua Newman, a family physician and chief medical officer for cloud computing firm Salesforce, discussed the shift in healthcare and health IT to focus on customer relationship management (CRM). By actively engaging patients, Newman said, physicians can create patient loyalty and generate feedback to improve what they do.

And "care is complicated," noted Newman with lots of different players in the patient's life, from a physician and nurse to pharmacist and insurer interacting through various means, from phone calls to texts. "We need to unify around the patient," he said. "It needs to be more experiential for you to understand what the patient goes through. Once you do that, you'll see that it is not easy to navigate … and that gets you thinking about how to organize."

Enhancing CRM software also means physicians and practices need to not only look at the interactions of a patient, but the path of those interactions toward wellness. "Consider the patient on a journey, not someone who gets a service, but for whom up to that moment and after gets the care they need [to be healthy]," said Newman.

To connect the patient journey, Newman focused on three aspects of patient interaction along the path:

• Acquire: Personalize the experience to build trust

• Serve: Provide ongoing services and follow up to improve care

• Engage: Connect the ecosystem to coordinate intelligently

"As a doctor, I realize outcomes are not just practice-based, but it's about what happens at home," Newman said. "No longer is it sufficient to just do surgery or give a medication … part of the job is to take care of the patient once they get home."

To better illustrate this concept, Newman highlighted three systems making strides in the steps he outlined.

For "acquire," Newman pointed to weight-loss firm Weight Watchers, which uses real-time tailored connections across various channels to make the journey relevant, he said. Starting with a mobile app that tracks a consumer's progress, they also send e-mail reminders and text messages encouraging consumers to stick with the plan and connect them with the company's experts to help meet personal goals.

Under "serve," Newman introduced Robert Van Tuyl, chief innovation officer for Easter Seals Bay Area, who discussed his company's work to expand autism and disability services through a relationship management platform. The technology brings together caregivers and patients in a single platform across the continuum of care.

"This was a big cultural changes for us," Van Tuyl said. "But we started at the executive level and got rid of siloed functions … in favor of centering around the customer. Once you put yourself in the customer's shoes [and see how hard things can be], it opens up new discussions."

And for "engage," internist Jitendra Barmecha, MD, chief information officer at New York-based St. Barnabas Health System discussed their care collaboration efforts around more than 386,000 lives through its more than 5,000 providers. The health system also works with the Bronx Partners for Healthy Communities, a coalition of organizations aiming to increase patient access, care quality, and efficiency in care delivery.

Barmecha said that healthcare needs to get past the negative connation of patients as "consumers" and realize that being more patient-focused, "will help us truly connect the dots."

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