Justin Schrager, MD
April 27, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the vital roles effective communication and reliable technology play in the patient journey, starting from the moment a patient is on the way to the emergency department (ED) through to discharge. There are many moving parts during an ED visit, and the process of keeping the patient, their family, and other departments within the hospital or health system informed is no small feat without the help of technology. Easily accessible software acts as an end-to-end patient loop, from booking the emergency room (ER) visit to scheduling the follow-up hospital appointments once the patient has been discharged. Here are three ways technology contributes to a seamless patient experience and ensures that each patient is a participant in their own care journey.
Enhancing the patient journey, from beginning to end
Roughly 70 percent of hospital admissions come through the ED. Studies have shown that patient satisfaction scores at hospitals are often lower for visits beginning in the emergency department, in part due to wait times, lack of information, and unclear next steps. A new Knowledge Executive survey conducted on behalf of Stericycle Communication Solutions reveals a 13 percent decrease in patient satisfaction with provider communications since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitals and health systems should use technology to help patients feel in control of their visits through simple scheduling and detailed, automatic updates that can be easily shared with loved ones. This type of technology is the industry standard throughout the U.S. – from oil changes to pizza delivery – and has become an expected part of any service industry-customer relationship.
Put simply, health care providers can never communicate enough with their patients. While it’s challenging to wait for the provider, the latest test results, and a discharge plan, increasing access to communication through a detailed, interactive roadmap can help alleviate some of the stress related to ER visits. Imagine being able to track your visit in the ER and share your status with concerned family and friends, all through a mobile web application. The use of specialized technology designed for scheduling and monitoring your visit to the ER provides patients and families with up-to-date information on the status of the visit, waiting times for providers, information on tests that may be ordered, and more. Waiting in the ER can be challenging but knowing what the next steps are and easily sharing that information with loved ones eases the stress of the process.
Keeping family and other loved ones informed
Prior to the pandemic, a family member or friend could accompany the patient to the emergency room. Now, it is common for a patient to be alone, except for certain circumstances such as the patient being a minor, while the family member awaits updates via phone. This means that after having a heart attack, stroke, car accident, or COVID-19, a patient’s partner, parent, friend, or other loved one are not in the hospital at the bedside with the patient. A medical emergency is arguably the time when the comfort of loved ones matters most. Meanwhile, loved ones are left in the dark, wondering if the provider has seen the patient, if they’ve been assigned a room, if test results have been obtained, what the next steps look like, or when the patient might be discharged. The use of a secure, encrypted, and HIPAA-compliant application is crucial to keep all relevant parties in the loop. Utilizing technology to communicate a patient’s status to loved ones ensures that the information is delivered accurately, instead of playing a game of telephone where the patient hears the medical information from a doctor and then communicates the update to the loved one. With the patient’s permission, AI technology keeps the loved one informed in real-time as the level of care progresses, so he or she doesn’t have to rely on the doctor for recent lab results, an initial diagnosis, or other updates.
Additionally, as someone who might be the patient’s ride home from the ER, it is helpful for him or her to obtain wait estimates from the comfort of their home instead of waiting in the car, not knowing when the patient will be discharged. Although the patient may be able to communicate the status on their own, an automated process takes the burden off the patient and lets them focus on their health. This also alleviates potential strain on the ER staff, who won’t have to continuously update the loved one on the patient’s status.
Alleviating strain on ER staff
The nursing and registration desks in an ER waiting area are often crowded and chaotic. In a non-COVID-19 environment, it’s common for family members to approach the desk and seek answers from ER staff on a myriad of questions about where the doctor is, if an extra blanket is available, or how to get to the cafeteria. For those unfamiliar with this space, picture the boarding desk at the airport, but imagine that every flight is delayed, and the passengers aren’t sure when their flight will board. Now, although the ER is less crowded, questions are still being asked as often, if not more, but from a telephone. The hospital staff, especially those who work in the ER, are stretched thin.
When harnessing easy-to-use technology to provide answers to frequently asked questions such as the ER wait time, or the ER’s address, for instance, patients and their families are properly informed, and clinical staff are given the time to focus on their most important job: caring for patients. The use of a secure, encrypted, and HIPAA-compliant application allows registration staff to complete their clerical work, patients can obtain the answers they need through an easy-to-use app on their phone, and triage nurses can efficiently and quickly conduct their work without interruption—it’s a win, win for all.
Technology helps patients feel connected to their health care journeys. Prioritizing patient-centric care with AI-tools enables a better experience for patients, clinicians, and care teams. Focusing on improving a patient’s journey starting from the ER creates a supported and more manageable experience for all involved, not to mention increasing patient loyalty and hospital satisfaction rates.
Justin Schrager is an emergency physician.