Technology can be a powerful tool as the patient role changes.
With the shifting atmosphere of value-based health and the ever-present development of new technologies, physicians are inundated with change. But health care is changing just as much, if not more, for patients as well.
I have worked in health care for the majority of my career, first as a nurse and and nurse educator for 48 years and now that I'm retired I am a patient advisor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Hospital (UAMS). And, like everyone, I've also been a patient various times in my life.
Medicine used to be a largely passive experience, at least for the patient. Your physicians would tell you your diagnosis and where to go from there, and it was expected that you trusted them. If your doctor told you everything was fine, you usually believed it. Now, however, patients are beginning to take an active role in their health care, seeking to understand some of the complexities of their diagnosis. The internet has been instrumental in this change. Patients today want to know what the next step is and what we can do about it. Having knowledge is empowering, and when you're ill and feeling helpless, you'll take whatever you can.
That's why technology is integral to humanizing the patient experience. As we move forward with new informatics tools that make data collection and the treatment process easier, we are also using this technology to aid patients in their health care journey. Patient portals, user-friendly electronic medical records, and clinical decision support tools all support quality care and open communication with patients.
Getting quick access to results gives us a voice in the conversation about our health care. Sometimes, we may not even realize we have questions until we see our results. The last time I had a colonoscopy, my physician simply told me everything was "normal" and sent me on my way. When I later met with another specialist to talk about the same test and looked at the results, she and I both had questions that would have served me well to ask in the initial consult. With access to information about my health, I can do my own research and come back with specific pertinent questions. As a result, I feel armed with knowledge that will help me on my way.
Informatics tools can also connect patients and physicians outside of office appointments. There are so many reasons speaking to a physician in person can be difficult. Often, patients are afraid that they're bothering their busy doctors with too many questions. Sometimes, they may not be comfortable with spoken English and cannot articulate their questions or concerns in the moment. Patients may need time to process their thoughts — once they get beyond the initial shell shock of their diagnosis, a host of questions may come up. Being able to connect digitally to our physicians is vastly important to feeling empowered in health care.
Although needs differ when it comes to implementing patient-facing technologies, the majority of patients are looking for the same things. Our most basic criteria are that the tool works. We need to be able to access it quickly and easily, without long outages or maintenance breaks. We need something clean and straightforward that lets us do exactly what we need to, without having to visit a bunch of extra pages. Basically, we need our tools to do the job without interrupting the flow of our daily lives.
As medicine changes, so do all its stakeholders — patients, physicians, administrators, and policymakers alike. And to move forward together, it's more important than ever that we take steps to use tools to aid each stakeholder in the patient experience.
By Elizabeth Moseley, patient advisor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Hospital