A recent study that asked patients what matters most when it comes to their healthcare experiences shows that 75 percent of consumers seek a partnership with their providers to determine the most effective treatment decisions. Patients want to feel connected and understood by providers who know their personal stories—the unique factors that contribute to their overall wellness and their preferences for care. Without knowing those stories, physicians can’t provide the best healthcare. It boils down to a personal connection, not necessarily defined by a traditional in-person visit but a connection where the doctor has the time to spend with the patient.
Yet, with so little time allotted to eye-to-eye patient interaction, how can we build compassionate, therapeutic relationships that lead to better patient outcomes? Time spent in physician-patient interactions, the core of any medical practice, is now being governed by insurance companies and complex billing and payment systems, federal and legal mandates, the pharmaceutical industry, and technology that was intended to improve the business of care. Providers are spending more time looking at a screen to ensure their records are compliant than engaging with their patient.
It is estimated that doctors today spend just 27 percent (Annals of Internal Medicine) of their time interacting with patients. The remaining time—far exceeding our billable hours—is whittled away on administrative duties, often serving documentation required by law. The shift from quality to quantity is affecting both those receiving care and those administering care, leaving everyone feeling burned out by this new healthcare protocol. The motivation for pursuing a medical career— helping people—is being overshadowed by scads of administrative rules and regulations that add no value to the patient or the physician. Shortages in both primary and specialty care and climbing physician burnout rates exacerbate the fact that we, as healthcare providers, are struggling to understand how we can provide quality care when we are rapidly losing control of our profession.
As physicians, our time and energy have turned instead to fulfilling the needs of health IT, something that has become more demanding than those of our patients, and in many ways, we gave away our control. We relinquished authority to peripheral entities instead of taking it upon ourselves to determine how to best serve our nation’s healthcare needs.
One of the major issues in health IT is the requirement to convert to electronic medical records (EMR) or face Medicare reimbursement penalties. With the passage of this directive, instead of a systematic conversion to electronic records, we scrambled to digitize massive files of patient records and train ourselves and our staff to change our workflow to accommodate new systems and accompanying challenges. It was during this implementation that our attention began to shift from making a personal connection with the patient to ensuring that we were logging everything properly in order to keep the practice alive. We cannot deny that managing records digitally offers numerous benefits, but it must be done in a way where we don’t sacrifice eye contact with the patient and the personal touch.
Technologies are often aimed at providing convenience, yet they have a way of road-blocking care as they are outdated and too complex. The rise in on-demand medical services, websites and retail clinics make it clear that patients are seeking more convenient care options to accommodate their increasingly demanding lives. These on-demand services offer a simple interface that allows for an easy and quick set-up and a very short learning curve.
We can continue to let others lay obstacles and mandates that impede care and tell us how to do our jobs—because they most certainly will—or we can take the lead by creating and leveraging technologies that safeguard personal interaction and create better, as well as more efficient, options for patients to access care. The choice is ours. It doesn’t have to take tremendous time. It’s here that technology can be used to enhance and even accelerate the process.
Powerful technologies like machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can help to flag signs of preventable, chronic diseases—including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer that attribute to 86 percent of our nation’s healthcare costs and are responsible for nearly 70 percent of deaths each year. These technologies can be leveraged to track and analyze complex, valuable data and empower physicians to better know our patients. Processing information beyond human capability, such as massive sets of lab test results, family history, socioeconomic factors and clinical trial data, ML and IA can assist physicians in monitoring our patients’ well-being, assess risks based on their own history and others like them, and provide clinical insights to aid in the planning and administering of care, leading to more accurate, personalized treatment.
Telemedicine, the use of video-conferencing to communicate eye-to-eye with patients and provide healthcare without barriers of distance, allows us to leverage technology to add value to the most important part of a medical practice—seeing patients. Televisits—conducted with a few clicks on a personal computer—promote continuity of care by keeping patients connected with their own doctors, and maximize billable time through a built-in mechanism that monetizes after-hours care and communications like callbacks and follow-ups, helping us operate more efficient practices.
By best leveraging technologies truly aimed at helping us serve our patients, we can take back control of our practices, the medical industry and our time.
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