The ‘tsunami’ of change in patient expectations

Laura Dyrda (Twitter) – Becker’s Hospital Review

The patient experience has elevated as a priority for health systems over the last few years as patient expectations increased and competition for healthcare dollars heats up.

Hospitals and health systems are leveraging technology and reimagining the healthcare journey to meet patient demands. Many are implementing self-scheduling, patient apps, wellness programs and more to make it easier for patients to access care, and keep them within their network. But meeting patient expectations is a moving target.

“From the time I began training decades ago to today, that change has been like a tsunami. It is unstoppable,” said David Lubarsky, MD, vice chancellor of human health sciences and CEO of UC Davis Health in Sacramento, Calif., during an interview with the “Becker’s Healthcare Podcast.” “It is an expectation of customer service number one, immediacy. People want what they want, and they want it where they want it and how they want it.”

People have become comfortable with ordering custom food delivery and having it delivered in minutes, or goods delivered within hours. They have the same expectation of healthcare, Dr. Lubarsky says, and they are rejecting the paternalistic healthcare of the past where they visit the physician’s office and the physician tells them exactly what to do.

“What they want is a valued and trusted partner who knows them, who will create a joint and shared decision-making opportunity for how aggressive they want to be in treating their diseases, balancing the side effects and the risks of treatment versus the ongoing disease, understanding how it’s going to impact their joy of living and to make a good decision for them,” Dr. Lubarsky said.

Patients also want a global view of their health. Dr. Lubarsky noted two-thirds of patients want the data they’re collecting from the Apple Watch and Fitbit to be included in their medical records, and many hospitals don’t collect that information. Physicians may not know as much about the day-to-day health of their patients as the patients do when they’re monitoring their devices.

“There is a lot of opportunity here to meet patient expectations without a whole lot of extra work just by changing our own attitudes,” he said.

There is also an opportunity to improve access to care. Healthcare is an infinite need, Dr. Lubarsky said, and as people age their need increases.

“What we really must do is create an information technology transfer capability so that patients can self-investigate, self-diagnose and self-triage, and even occasionally, self-treat themselves before they even progress to a virtual visit, let alone a brick-and-mortar visit,” he said. “We need to change the idea that I’m going to call the doctor and go to the office. We will never meet that demand. There will never be enough providers.”

For underserved populations that don’t have access to mobile devices or high speed internet, digital health navigators within the community can serve as an intermediary or coach to connect with community members and make sure they connect with healthcare providers. The digital health navigators can work with them on gaining proficiency with computers and iPhones and iPads.

“It’s not an easy task, but we can do it. We just have to set our mind to it,” Dr. Lubarsky said.