MINNEAPOLIS—When Terry Shaw's wife was still in a hospital bed recovering from a car accident, a nurse handed her a packet of discharge instructions several inches thick.
The packet included recommendations to follow up with three physicians. But finding an outpatient neurologist who would treat a car accident patient was even difficult for Shaw, CEO of Adventist Health System.
“I pulled in every favor for two straight months before I could get this figured out. It was crazy,” Shaw said at Modern Healthcare's Consumerism Symposium July 11-12 in Minneapolis. “That process frustrated me so much, I said, 'We are going to stop behaving like this as a healthcare system.' ”
That process is symptomatic of a healthcare industry that has largely been unable to meet consumers' expectations. Confusing charges fill surprise bills. Appointment wait times span weeks or even months. Nearly every part of the process is complicated.
This deters people from getting care and often ends up costing providers more in the long run. “We are really bad at making it easy for people,” Shaw said, adding that healthcare is 10 years behind other industries. “Waiting three months to see a doctor is unacceptable.”
A group of health system and physician group executives shared with symposium attendees how they plan to change that. Shaw touted Adventist's app that allows patients to quickly pull up lab results and other medical data as well as schedule appointments. The health system also assigns care navigators to the most acute patients to help figure out insurance coverage, transportation and nutrition plans—even how to combat loneliness, an often-overlooked factor in one's health, Shaw said.
What consumers do in between appointments is as important as the medical data, said Sven Gierlinger, chief experience officer of Northwell Health who has worked for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. “If we capture that information, we are truly building a lifelong relationship,” he said.
Providers should remove what doesn't add value to the consumer experience, including the tediousness of registration and booking an appointment, Gierlinger said.
Some health systems are eliminating waiting rooms. Others are waiving co-pays if consumers didn't have a good experience or offering free follow-up care after surgeries. Many are turning to telemedicine to facilitate a two-way conversation or setting up shop at old shopping malls to offer more convenient access points. More are working directly with employers to streamline the process.
If consumers have to come to an office, many providers are partnering with ride-hailing companies to cut down on missed appointments. More health systems are offering out-of-pocket price estimators to prevent sticker shock.
“How do we transform as a business that has traditionally been built around hospitals and instead create an integrated care ecosystem that has a common platform by which our patients interact with us?” asked Dr. Henry Capps, chief operating officer of Novant Health's physician network.
Some providers set up GPS wayfinding systems in their hospitals akin to Google Maps. Real-time tracking technology uses staff member badges to put a picture of the clinician on the TV when they walk in, so patients know who they are talking to. Sensors in the floor alert staff when a person is walking around or has fallen.