Simon Davies, Executive Director, Teen Cancer America
The health sector is paying a lot of attention to how technology can be used for improving data collection, creating efficiencies, cutting costs, and enhancing workforce performance. Less strategic attention is being given to what technology can do to improve the patient experience and outcomes. There are pockets of interest and a small amount of research but it is hardly a revolutionary approach. We need to rethink our strategies because increasingly the measurement of patient satisfaction is going to be a factor in hospital performance standards and measurement. The more hospitals can demonstrate innovative approaches to improving patient satisfaction the more successful they will be.
Online Physician services. The insurance industry is pushing this hard as an alternative to visiting a community practice. Convenient (24/7), discrete, and inexpensive. In my world of youth cancer we think it has possibilities for expansion. Whilst cancer treatments still need to be given in outpatient and inpatient settings it may be that some consultations and patient support can be given on line in much the same way as the new physician services. Trips to hospitals are time consuming and expensive. Low-income patients have been known to miss important appointments and even procedures because they can’t afford the time or the expense. Online services could improve adherence and outcomes.
Most hospitals are developing patient portals and in the era of freedom of information it makes sense to give patients access to their own medical records. However, possibly the most liberating aspect of a good quality portal is that it allows the patient time to reflect and interact in a more meaningful way with the staff that are supporting them. Questions not thought of in the time limited face-to-face appointments can be asked through the portal. More information can be communicated in a two-way exchange.
"We should explore and embrace innovations that can improve patient experience"
Patients can’t always get the support they need from busy, sometimes understaffed teams. Charities and therapeutic groups have often been their source of support. However, they don’t always suit everyone. One recent innovation designed with young people for young cancer patients is Hope Lab’s ‘Vivibot’. This is a Chatbot that strives to shift mindsets by teaching evidence-based positive psychology skills in a friendly conversational format. Its 24/7 availability and its non-judgmental anonymity are the features that young people are most responding to.
The development of patient apps is on the increase. Organizations like Stupid Cancer who developed the popular Instapeer are encouraging worldwide connections between patients providing them with unparalleled information and support. A well-informed and educated patient is more likely to make a more positive contribution to the medical team supporting them.
We are finally seeing institutions paying more attention to the impact of the built environment on patient experience. More thought is going into the design of patient areas. Teen Cancer America works with interior designers, hospital teams and young patients to design specialized facilities for young people with cancer. Technology plays a huge part in those zones. Incorporating the latest in computers, gaming, and wiring for sound in all areas. Digital lighting to create color and tone, and patient operated devices to empower the most disabled. These areas lift spirits, reduce stress, provide opportunities for interaction and attract more friends that think they are cool.
Virtual Reality is gaining traction for both clinical and psychology teams. There are three main uses that can really improve patient satisfaction and research is also being undertaken to evaluate the medical and psychological benefits.
Education: Virtual reality films are being made that can take patients to procedure rooms and explain exactly what will happen there. This really helps patients understand what is going to happen and experience the environment first.
Stress Relief: This can help to lower stress levels and lower blood pressure. During treatments that can be anxiety provoking like infusions or those under local anesthetic, VR headsets with relaxation films that patients can chose from are proving to be very successful in reducing stress. They have also been able to reduce medications because less anxious patients don’t need them and find the VR experience more helpful.
Distraction: Young people in particular find the long stays in hospital boring and depressing. VR can be a very helpful distraction to take those patients out of that world and immerse them in a completely different experience of their choice. Psychologists are now researching whether VR is sufficiently mood enhancing to prevent or at least reduce depressive episodes and mental health problems.
Some enterprising professionals are now using QR Codes to provide patients with up to date information about activities and support opportunities. Any amount of content can be given to patients who access it instantly through scanning the QR Codes. There are possibilities of developing these to update clinical information as well.
These are just a taste of how we should be strategically utilizing technology beyond the needs of the institution and professional teams. We should explore and embrace innovations that can improve patient experience. What better result can there be than happier patients?