The Human Touch and Digital Health: Deploying Optimal Patient Engagement Systems

Bob Abrahamson, Chief Marketing Officer pCare

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Fast Evolving AI

Have you tried ChatGPT?  It is very cool.  And fast. I played with it. The steps for making a tuna fish sandwich in the style of Shakespeare made me smile. A defense of care coordination I asked it to draft for my RN wife was spot on. Yet, it was sterile, factual without passion. Maybe my prompt was lacking.

Even more impressive, apparently ChatGPT passed the US Medical licensing exam.  Despite all that, I do not see how I could use it on the job. Folks I respect see the utility of using it for a “shitty first draft” needing heavy duty editing to add the personal voice. I don’t think I am a strong enough writer or editor to insert myself halfway into a piece and make it my own. I suppose this luddite is only ready to go as far as cobbling together content based on desktop research which is still lightyears ahead of pulling potential sources from the library stacks .

This got me thinking about the importance of maintaining the human connection in healthcare. At pCare, we have been leaning heavily into supporting our clients’ digital transformation initiatives and building the hospital of the future. It’s exciting and driving our business. Yet, the foundation of our success is our hands on customer service. A core component of our seven consecutive Best in KLAS awards is that we rate high in the Loyalty and Relationship categories.

Focus on Adding Value not Technology

But it goes deeper than that. It’s an ethos of patient-centricity and understanding healthcare operations that drives technology. Our original clients in 1950 were patients that rented televisions. More than staying out of the way, we grew to complement hospital operations and become their partners. It’s why pCare service technicians once gave out non-skid socks to support a No-Falls initiative. I don’t even know if that would be allowed today. The point is that the delivery of a new service (providing entertainment to hospitalized patients via television) was used to creatively deliver value to patients (increased safety).  This is at the heart of digital transformation – looking at new ways to deliver value.

Fast forward to today’s digital hospital. With nursing shortages, it’s a no-brainer to use advances in technology to save time. But you can’t really save time.  It marches on.  ROI calculators that show the financial value of time savings by automating tasks aren’t really ROI calculators. They are nice marketing tools. I’ve created them. They get attention. But they are not real. I’ve yet to meet the client who dropped any of those savings to the bottom line. What you can do is optimize time. In some cases, this is removing manual tasks such as automatically updating a digital whiteboard or documenting an education transaction in the EHR. In other instances, you alert the nurse to interact with the patient. Follow-up on a missed learning verification question or respond to a survey question indicating a service concern.  Quality time spent.  What you have done in both instances is optimized time.

Creating Opportunities for Connection

The pCare patient engagement system is very easy to use. The pillow speaker interfaced to the nurse call system works like a remote control. Additionally, tablets can be deployed to provide touchscreen system controls at the bedside. Despite all this technology at patients’ fingertips, we still offer a call center that handles thousands of calls monthly. Not because the system is hard to use but because sometimes a patient needs to make a human connection to help them out when they are not feeling well. During the pandemic, our call center often became a lifeline for patients in isolation who were unable to reach anyone else. No phone trees or IVR but a human voice proved to be indispensable.  A human connection.

Finally, I believe the fact remains that we are social animals and crave the human touch. Telehealth exploded during the pandemic because for a period it was the only way to access and provide care. No one can deny the convenience factor of telehealth. It’s here to stay and it’s a net positive for our healthcare system. Yet, throughout 2022, overall telehealth usage declined which I believe can be explained in part by a preference to be face-to-face with a provider.

Ensuring technology does not get in the way of meaningful care collaboration is critical as we bring on new patient engagement solutions. My nursing friends want to spend more time educating patients.  Our challenge is to help create the opportunities for connection not to try to automate or replace them. Partnering with clients to figure out the best way to implement new technologies goes a long way in ensuring this happens. So, when we can play with the latest advancements it’s important to always keep grounded on the value of the human touch.

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