You’ve heard of smart bombs and smartphones, but have you heard of a smart hospital room? As all industries embrace technology to further enhance customer service and satisfaction, it’s no wonder the healthcare industry has followed suit, not just with machinery and electronic medical records, but with telehealth as well -- the term of art for remote treatment. Some say that advancements in medical technology, although in many ways adding sophistication to the field, ultimately cause a further disconnect in the relationship between the patient and the healthcare provider. Others, however -- such as healthcare-technology developer Cerner Corporation -- say that technological innovations are a definite way to bridge the gap and increase patient satisfaction.
In 2007, Medicare created a survey -- the first of its kind -- asking participants to rank their satisfaction based on a number of questions regarding healthcare facilities and services. The results show that patients rated overall care at about a four on a zero-to-six scale. So are people only slightly satisfied when receiving medical care?
In other industries, consumers can easily shop around or make demands when it comes to goods and services they pay for. Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, a family physician and author of Sacred Trust, a book analyzing the human characteristics of modern-day doctors, describes the situation in medical care as "a very different thing than asking for help in any different profession." She continues, "In a department store, people are more comfortable asking for help than [they are] in the doctor’s office. No matter how competent someone feels in the rest of his life, he can go into a doctor’s office and feel incompetent." Hollenbeck attributes part of the unease to the healthcare provider’s lack of intrapersonal skills and increased attention to the technological aspects of treatment.
Vi Shaffer, leading healthcare analyst with industry-research firm Gartner, writes in a 2008 report that innovation to increase patient satisfaction is now a highly regarded trend, with "emerging ‘telehealth’ applications and...increasing requirements for direct [information systems] support for patients and consumers." She adds that buzz around "personal online health" -- electronic visits and medical records -- is underpinning a movement toward accommodating complexities while finding new ways to understand the customer.
The Hospital Room of the Future
Alan Latham, national sales director at Cerner, a supplier of information technology solutions for healthcare, says that providers have already grasped the need to digitize and integrate patient data, and they’re moving on to the next step: leveraging the electronic information and involving the patient. Cerner has created and is continuing to develop a "SmartRoom" -- essentially a futuristic hospital suite embedded with technologies to better serve, educate, and even entertain the patient. Latham says efforts with SmartRoom are furthering patient knowledge and bringing the conversation of wellness into the actual hospital room. "Today, as we start to digitize more and more information, it exists in the hallway on a PC," Latham says. "We want to pull more of the data into the patient room and to pull the patient into the conversation."
Among the innovations provided by SmartRoom is the myStation Dashboard -- a complicated, TV-looking console that provides a gamut of personalized information, similar to a homepage, to better inform patients. For example, the My Health Notes option allows patients to write electronic notes about their care to their physicians. My Education provides patients and family members with health information prescribed by the medical staff. My Care Team, which Latham says is perhaps the simplest but most-lauded feature, presents patients with a pictorial introduction to the individuals responsible for their care. In addition, all of the room-automation aspects are controlled from one central dashboard.
Latham admits that cost will be a factor in adapting these technologies, but he says that with the rapid pace of information innovation, consumers -- especially in the healthcare industry -- will begin demanding these advanced capabilities. Healthcare CRM simply won’t survive without them.
The Spectrum of Satisfaction
Spectrum Healthcare, a nonprofit medical system in western Michigan, has eight hospital rooms using SmartRoom tools. Even in the pilot phase, says Kris White, Spectrum’s vice president of patient affairs, the response among patients has been tremendous. White says that although the TV-entertainment part of the myStation is important to normalize patient life, more critical is what the tool does over the long term to enhance satisfaction and connectedness with the patient and family. "Being a hospital, we haven’t done a great job of putting technology into the patient’s hands that is solely for their benefit," she says. White and Latham hope that innovations such as those in SmartRoom will someday change that.
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Source: Hussain Mooraj, Healthcare & Life Sciences research director, AMR Research