Technology the Key to Patient-Centered, Personalized Healthcare

January 31, 2014
Mike Hoaglin

Physicians, are you giving your patients a credit union or big bank experience? Here's how to tell and make some changes.

I’ve had my checking account with a “Big Four” bank for over a decade. My paycheck arrives and my expenses come out - along with the arbitrary fountain of fees. The bank keeps years of my detailed transaction records and balance patterns, yet it still doesn’t really know me.

My impersonal bank experience inspires me to think about the relationship patients have with their physician’s office. We all deserve a doctor’s office that doesn’t just keep records, but also uses them to anticipate our needs between visits. My bank reaches out only when it wants something: more money in my account, more generic services to sell, etc. But virtually never do they offer something personal, something that shows they really know my needs. That’s where credit unions have stepped in.

Over the last century, a cadre of credit unions has quietly spread, serving community needs by knowing the population they serve. Credit unions are not-for-profit. They answer only to their members (who are technically owners), funneling profits toward discounts, better interest rates, and personalized customer service. To compete with banks, who offer the convenience of many branch locations, they’ve figured out how to tap into large networks of financial services in order to provide bank-level brokerage, loans, and free nationwide ATM access. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement, credit union memberships have soared.

The legacy care model - waiting months for appointments or hours in waiting rooms to get only a few minutes with a provider - is impersonal and frustrating to patients, akin to long waits on hold or the teller queue at big banks. The evolving patient-consumer will demand more from the healthcare system. While some savvy patients may push their doctors to help interpret FitBit data and 23andMe genome reports, the majority just want providers to listen, understand their concerns, and deliver personalized care. New technology allows doctors to do just that, and patients stand to benefit in both the short and long term.

Robust, low-cost, cloud-based medical platforms and EHR solutions allow independent medical practices to free themselves from paper records and provide personalized outpatient care on-par or better than the big guys. Doctors are able to stay in private practice and provide the personalized care that patients are looking for. According to the AMA's Physician Practice Benchmark Survey, the majority of physicians were self-employed last year, holding strong despite big hospital groups buying up private practices.

Hundreds of thousands of these independent providers have already implemented patient connectivity platforms to augment their care with better technology. With online tools, patients can find a local doctor that suits them and make appointments, even from their smartphone.Verified reviews left after their appointments create a crowdsourced accountability that allows patients to choose better providers.

The spirit of personalized services needs to further penetrate healthcare and keep consolidation in check. Smart technology will empower doctors who are trying to practice patient-centered, personalized care. When considering how you want to be practicing medicine, think about how well the credit union model has worked. The tools that are ushering in more personalized practice are the same ones that will help you stick by your independence.

Mike Hoaglinis clinical scholar-in-residence at Practice Fusion, which provides free EHRs to doctors and their practices. Hoaglin is an MD candidate at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a former ONC policy analyst specializing in meaningful use. E-mail him here.