Healthcare technology is here to stay. The question is, how can IT make it work for everyone, from bedside nurses to their organization’s leaders?
Too often, EHRs and other HIT systems are designed by vendors who aren’t on the front lines of patient care. Try as they may, they don’t always understand the clinical workflow and the communications needs of care teams.
If the first stage of healthcare technology was to implement EHRs and become regulatory compliant, the next stage is to deliver a better customer experience for clinicians and staff — the very people who have to use these tools daily.
Employees are customers, too
What’s missing is the link between the clinicians’ experiences – working with EHRs and other healthcare technology – and the design of the systems they use. Despite the large investments in healthcare technology made in the past decade, too many systems make it unwieldy to collaborate and cumbersome to find information.
In other businesses, designers form interdisciplinary teams to study how people use their product. For example, if they’re building a self-serve kiosk, the team would want to discover what the most intuitive and easiest flow for the customer is. Why not do the same in the healthcare environment, where collaboration and communications are a matter of life and death?
Imagine a customer experience team that’s focused on improving the interface and efficiency of clinical workflows and technology. It would work directly with staff to document current activities and inflection points, identify bottlenecks and suggest ways to integrate the technology to improve the overall process.
“This team would partner with the staff, super-users, and designated department contacts, and would give the staff a sense of ownership into its use,” explains Matthew Ernst, director of training, documentation and support at Thomas Jefferson University.
The goal? Create more intuitive processes that follow clinicians’ natural thought patterns and clinical paths, rather than check off boxes.
To collect this information in healthcare’s pressured environment, customer experience teams must be respectful of clinicians’ time. A variety of methods can accomplish this, from use of electronic surveys, to shadowing and observing staff, to participating in focus groups or one-on-one interviews. The key is to involve stakeholders up, down and across the system in any way possible. Each has a different perspective and access to unique information.
Here are two examples of where a customer experience team could improve efficiencies and clinical outcomes.
Patient care planning. Creating patient care plans is often an ongoing process, with modifications made as the patient’s condition changes. Bedside clinicians often need to quickly collaborate with specialists, who may be geographically remote. A customer experience team should evaluate the steps involved in this process and how they can be streamlined. Which technology tools are helpful? Which are hindering the workflow? And what tools are available that can streamline the process?
Unified communications (UC) is one solution. Integrated with EHR, it gives clinicians the ability to see patient data from wherever they are and on any device, including laptop, desktop or mobile. A diagnosis and treatment plan can be created on-the-fly, involving all necessary parties in a virtual meeting.
Care coordination. Patient transfer from one facility to another, with coordinated communications and follow up, is always a challenge. As patients move through the healthcare system, there are simply too many opportunities for critical information to fall through the cracks. Ironically, today’s technology, although meant to improve these workflows, can often exacerbate the problem. To address that requires an analysis of communications across the system. Working with stakeholders like case managers, clinicians and administrators, a customer experience team can identify the needs of each and determine how to best support coordination.
Unified communications can connect geographically dispersed professionals through multiple channels and devices. Even if facilities and offices use different software and hardware, UC “joins” them via the cloud and a common interface. Important discussions that occur before and during patient transitions become more efficient and enable patient-centered, accountable care.
Define your metrics
Ultimately, the goal of this workflow improvement process is to improve clinical outcomes. To do that, drill down and define the specific metrics that will measure success. Consider patient satisfaction scores, discharge times, hospital readmission rates and medical errors, all of which are directly impacted by the efficiency of communications tools.
The best way to improve these metrics is not to simply install new software. Today’s clinicians need technology that gives them timely access to essential patient information and makes collaboration with other medical professionals seamless. A customer experience team ensures these tools fit with the way clinicians and their staff work — not the other way around.