In previous posts I discussed the importance of population health management and the essentials of ideal population management digital tech. One of my tenets as a consultant in digital health is that technology itself is not a solution. A technology is a tool which only becomes a solution when it is placed in a context of healthcare needs, provider, patient and caregiver workflows, and incorporates human interactions which close the loop on significant outlying data. Though there are many similarities in technologies (connected care devices, data collected) among companies, the human component and workflows can vary significantly. This is where the rubber meets the road regarding outcomes. There are now many companies in the health management space with both verified and unsubstantiated claims. I will discuss five areas which I believe are going to make a difference in patient reported outcomes.
- Virtual visits. It is clear from industry trends that virtual visits are rapidly becoming part of the healthcare landscape. In fact more than half of all patient interactions at Kaiser Permanente are virtual ones via smartphone, kiosk, or computer. Virtual visits are now part of medicine worldwide. A healthcare management company must have virtual visits as a key component because it meets the mission of transforming the point of living into point of care.
- Aging at home. It is not a secret that people wish not to be institutionalized in their ‘golden years.’ The potential benefits of digital tech in the home of the aging have implications for societal cost savings and improved patient reported outcomes. Just as important is keeping patients with chronic diseases stable enough to avoid being hospitalized and receiving non-critical care at home. In addition, the overall benefits to society of home care should not be minimized. Healthcare management companies can best be utilized to prevent hospitalizations by encouraging and supporting self-management of chronic diseases as well as providing services which support medical care at home.
- Literacy improvement. The issue of health literacy is not a new one. However, given increasingly complex care patients need (see healthcare navigation below), expanding cultural diversity and aging populations, decreased face to face encounter time, and the epidemic of chronic diseases, the lack of health literacy has become a major barrier to better patient outcomes. Health management companies must have health literacy as a major focus, without which other initiatives are sure to fail. Literacy must e considered in human coaching interactions (explaining the diagnosis, rationale of care, and instructions for medication/device use), the type of technologies offered to patients, and in patient and caregiver educational materials provided.
- Unmet needs (navigation, rare diseases). A primary concern of many patients and caregivers today is not necessarily the quality of the healthcare provider or even getting the medicines they need but where to go to or call and when. This is known as healthcare navigation which can literally be pivotal in determining life and death of people. This is no more vividly experienced than in the case of a cancer patient and more so with a patient with a rare disease, cancer or otherwise. Home health management companies can assist with patient and caregiver navigation by providing emotional support and educational and care coordination resources.
- Empathy. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of empathy is “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” A more in depth and interesting discussion on empathy is offered by the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. Dr. Jodi Halpern in an article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine describes the concept of clinical empathy. According to Halpern, barriers to clinicians’ empathy towards patients include anxiety arising from time constraints, the inability for the physician to recognize the importance of patients’ emotional needs in the context of care, and preexisting tension between the doctor and patient. However, it has been demonstrated that physicians can learn empathy. Empathy must be part of a healthcare management company’s mission statement. Having this mindset run in both the forefront and background of operations reminds all concerned that we are dealing with people not the disease they have.
A healthcare management company in essence is acting in a patient advocacy role. The success of such companies is testimony to gaps in care that exist in the system. As we experience a growth in the deployment of digital technologies for population health management, aging at home, wellness, and preventive medicine, we must always be cognizant of the importance of human interaction. The best healthcare management companies will always be those who have the most dedicated, trained, and empathetic people.