By Tami Greene, AIA, NCARB
Now, more than ever, the quality of Healthcare Design is measured and rewarded on the basis of patient satisfaction. As a result of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare continues to evolve into a consumer commodity; where proactive patients require facilities that integrate with today’s culture of empowerment and choice around the services we choose.
Many healthcare providers may fall short in meeting that need without considering the use of technology throughout every stage of the care continuum. Technology can greet patients at home even before their first face to face encounter with hospital staff and guide them seamlessly through their appointment or hospital stay.
In turn, investing in smart technology will not only improve the patient experience, but it also creates a more streamlined process for staff. As a healthcare designer, I often find myself asking, “why wouldn’t you?”
One rapidly growing trend that incorporates technology into the patient experience before and after visits is the use of patient portals. According to CDW’s ‘2017 Patient Engagement Perspective Study,’ there has been a 30% increase in patient signup for portals from 2016 to 2017 for a total of 74% of patients surveyed reporting that they were registered with a healthcare portal.
The success of portals depends on the proactive measures taken by hospitals to ensure patient understanding of what a portal has to offer. First, patients must be educated as to what the portal is, how it benefits them, and how to sign up. This education should start by the practice engaging the patient during an office visit; even offering a hands-on tutorial.
At that time, they can also ask the patient if they would like to enroll or schedule someone to contact them. Second, the interface must be easy to use. Finally, the information available through the portal should be appropriate and relevant to the patient.
Quickly surpassing web-based applications as the gateway to patient satisfaction is the use of mobile applications. Some common services include: navigation to and through a facility, early check-in and check-out, post discharge instructions, bill payment, and even reminders about appointments, medication, and exercise regimens.
- Inspira Health Network has an app, ‘My Inspira,’ where patients can check ER wait times, locate the closest Urgent Care, and even allows check-in prior to arrival, much like the ‘No Wait’ app for restaurants.
- Geisinger Health System has over 100 apps on their bedside tablets known as IPS, Interactive Patient System. The tool includes “games, movies/television shows, music, weather/news, social media, medical resources and local information.”
- Ochsner has even rolled out an “O Bar” at some of their larger Health Centers. A series of supervised iPad stations in a public lobby are loaded with a range of apps for managing one’s health and wellness from weight loss and smoking cessation to monitoring chronic disease.
At the Hospital
Within the healthcare facility, there is a range of opportunities to weave technology into the patient experience. The most widely-adopted application of technology is check-in kiosks, many of which go as far as taking payment for co-pay via credit card. For efficient throughput, touch screens can be used in a variety of ways to assist patients in wayfinding. During a visit, patient tracking RFID wristbands not only help staff track patients, they can provide waiting family members a sense of comfort in knowing exactly where their loved one is as they move from pre-op to procedure room or OR , to a post op room, by way of coded ID displayed on a screen in the waiting rooms. The stigma of integrating technology as a nuisance to the patient experience is the result of poor execution, not the technology itself. A change as simple as a touch screen gives control back to the patient and redirects time for staff to where it matters most: treatment.
Bedside technology in the patient room increases patient satisfaction by giving them clarity and control during what might be considered a stressful experience. Bedside “infotainment centers” allow patients to manipulate elements of their environment like room blinds, lighting and the room temperature, as well as communicate with nurses via direct message. As previously mentioned, these centers also give access to entertainment like movies, music, video games and social media. Patients may even be able to facetime family members at home during their stay. Valuable information like health records, interactive education materials, and language translators can be right at their fingertips. Most importantly, this technology is a positive distraction from their physical condition.
During a Shift
While the primary purpose behind integrating technology into your facility design might be improving the patient experience, the benefit that technology can bring to the staff experience is a notable one. By tracking specimens, equipment and patients with bar codes or RFID tags, greater efficiency, accuracy, and ultimately patient safety are realized. Smart equipment like glucose meters and those measuring vital signs transfer data directly to a facilities electronic records system eliminating the possibility of human error. The time saved by using technology also leads to faster patient throughput, less wait time for patients, and happier patients and staff overall.
New technology is only as strong as the infrastructure supporting it. Robust measures for keeping user data secure and 24-hour support must be a priority when building the support network for these platforms. The system must also be agile enough to move with rapid advancements in technology using scalable features and have the capacity for expanded services as patient and staff feedback is collected. Take time to determine the appropriate level of in-house and outsourced responsibilities for where this data will live and who will manage it depending on the size and scale of your health system. For hospitals with limited IT staff, third-party services are viable options for the ongoing development and maintenance of this system. You or your provider will also need to determine if traditional server or cloud-based storage makes the most sense for achieving your goals.
Connecting the Dots
Technology pervades nearly every decision we make about our lives from scheduling a dinner reservation, to ordering a pair of shoes online, to checking in for a flight. We cannot ignore the appeal and positive impact that technology can make on a healthcare facility for both patients and staff. Better informed patients with more convenient services and control over their experience results in greater patient satisfaction and retention. Improved workflow and staff productivity translates to increased profitability. With the AIA’s Consensus Construction Forecast projecting a 3.5% growth in the healthcare sector for 2018, integrating technology into development plans is now more a matter of “how” than “when.”
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