The Patient Will Indeed See You Now – If You Really See The Patient

In the United States, the public still puts more trust in nurses and doctors than in any other two professions. But the patience of patients trying to get an appointment is wearing thin. We all know the feeling of relief upon hearing the words, “the doctor will see you now” but thought leader, physician and author Eric Topol stood those familiar words on their head in the title of his recently published book in order to make his point. The Patient Will See You Now, is a book he wrote to shed light on how the doctor-patient relationship is getting better for everyone involved, thanks to…smartphones.

Dr. Topol believes that mobile technology puts patients in the driver’s seat and can both save lives and dramatically improve lifestyles. As a physician he also knows that updating their way of doing business is very good for practice management and patient satisfaction.

There are many apps to enhance chronic care. Physician ratings sites are available at the tip of a finger. Telehealth has arrived too, bringing the exam itself right into the palm of your hand. Scheduling is joining the category and has much to contribute.

In The Patient Will See You Now, Dr. Topol acknowledges that scheduling appointments is one of many categories where a patient has long been expected to accommodate the needs and norms of a busy doctor and his or her office. Consider the original 1847 Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association, which Dr. Topol quotes from in the book’s first chapter:

“[p]atients should .. avoid calling on their medical adviser unnecessarily during the hours devoted to meals or sleep. They should always be in readiness to receive the visits of their physician, as the detention of a few minutes is often serious inconvenience for him.”

There is a growing consensus that getting a convenient appointment simply has to be made easier, given the computing and communication power most of us are holding in one hand. Serious studies including a June 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine are placing the blame for delays in access to care on scheduling systems that benefit providers more than they do patients.

Study after study about smartphones shows that almost everyone has one, and we almost always have them by our side. And smartphones may be the first technology to truly cross the digital divide, reaching equally high levels of penetration in traditionally underserved communities.

Why not tackle the challenge of scheduling appointments via smartphone if we are already using this technology to improve efficiency in so many other parts of our lives?

If you are developing a smartphone scheduling innovation agenda for your practice, clinic or institution, here are three things to think about while you finish Dr. Topol’s thoughtful book:

  1. Don’t just put an appointment booking tool on your website (even if it has a mobile format option). After all, that merely carries the same old relationship and dynamic over to the internet and fails to turn the new technology into an opportunity for real improvement.
  2. Think about allowing a patient to indicate the times she or he is available, and let your office respond rather than doing it the other way around? If the result is you are seeing more patients and seeing them at times more closely tied to the needs of their health, everyone is going to be pretty happy.
  3. Don’t go it alone. There are discussions emerging among all of your professional groups about how to tackle the future of scheduling. Get connected to the conversation.

There are many new terms for this kind of thinking. Participatory care and patient-centric care are two you will see increasingly.  Find the language that works for you and make it a part of your practice. Maybe you like the nice ring that Dr. Topol’s turn of phrase has: “the patient will see you now.”

Telehealth & mHealth for Acute Care? There’s a Bunch of Apps for That

Healthcare mobilization (mHealth) is a growing trend, and one that is beneficial for both providers and patients. Healthcare is becoming increasingly available to patients whenever and wherever they need it.  It is an important tool for many situations – for those that need to go to the doctor often, or those that can’t find the time for even their yearly checkups, or for those mishaps that sometimes happen:

There are two groups in particular that have seen a greater need for this type of service – patients with chronic conditions and those with mental health issues. Programs in Colorado, Iowa and New York have already paved the way of this new type of patient care.

Telehealth for Chronic Conditions

Health apps, monitoring systems with Bluetooth capabilities, and electronic health records have granted patients the ability to pull their health history online, or get a helpful tip for their chronic condition in the form of a text message. Chronic conditions range from having a mostly normal life to needing assistance to get through the day. Through telehealth, a doctor can offer a busy mom with a mild chronic condition the personal touch of a video chat to check in. Or, a grandfather suffering severe pain and his caretaker who needs to weight in can have a consultative video conference with his doctor. All without causing patients any of the undue pain of travel or the discomfort of a waiting room.

On March 22, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado signed a bill into law expanding telehealth services, which began in 2008. The telehealth service in Colorado provides subsidized broadband connectivity to 200 physical and behavioral healthcare sites. Providers have advocated for virtual care for patients to help with:

  • Managing chronic conditions.
  • Educating on diseases and home treatment.
  • Answering health-related maintenance advice from home.

The University of Iowa’s eHealth Extension Network began a similar initiative a year ago, after receiving a nearly $500,000 grant to bring needed equipment to rural healthcare facilities throughout Iowa. This includes telehealth carts, equipped with high quality video conferencing and cloud-based image sharing which will allow for better telehealth services to those who cannot get to their healthcare providers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vislick said this investment meant that “people who live and work in rural areas will not have to travel long distances for specialized healthcare services.”

The more access we give to these patients through the convenience of their mobile phones, the more we can bring comfort to those with chronic conditions.

mHealth Services for Mental Health

Chronic conditions are not the only group that has seen a great need for this type of technology. People with mental diseases need greater and easier access to help, such as that offered in New York City.

TXT ME is a new campaign launched in New York City for teens that struggle with ailments such as substance abuse or depression. This pilot was the brainchild of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 20-year-old daughter, Chiara, who has seen these struggles herself: “I know from personal experience that reaching out when you’re in pain can be the turning point – the first step on the road to recovery.”

Simply text “TXT ME” to the helpline and a counselor will respond via text. They provide compassionate services, actively participate in the teen’s concerns, and help them get through whatever they need. They can also look up local counselors in the teen’s area to provide more help or face-to-face encounters. Technology has often been criticized for taking away some humanity from our day-to-day, however, programs like TXT ME take advantage of technology by offering care for those that need it.

Keeping Patient Care Focused on the Patient

Patients in need of acute care can especially benefit from the growing popularity and possibility of personal care through technology. Making services more easily available to these patients can lessen the chance of chronic pain or a mental health issue going untreated. And while telehealth and mHealth are valuable for practices, healthcare and technology are pushing the focus to the convenience and comfort of the patients.

Right now, rapidly changing technology is directly affecting healthcare. Healthcare is also changing through legislation. Telehealth has been caught in the crossfire, with many people supporting covering telehealth– particularly those in defense of the elderly on Medicare – because it allows for the personal touch, without the cost or time of travel for the patient or doctor. To protect these patients, bringing technology to personal care is becoming better regulated all the time to mitigate the chances of privacy, or data errors.

As technology continues to advance, we will certainly see an increase of these trends. Hopefully, with more initiatives focusing on the specialized, ongoing needs of those with chronic conditions and those with mental health issues. mHealth and telehealth services are working towards the same goal: helping patients find the appointments and care they need faster and easier.