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Digital Health: The benefits of optimizing patient journeys

The realization of how important digital solutions are for healthcare venues has caused significant changes to the way hospitals have begun to operate over the past 10 years and with a large number of healthcare providers knowing they must improve the patient experiences, the adoption of technology has allowed healthcare providers to greatly influence patients’ and visitors’ journeys.

In this blog, we’ll cover the current issues healthcare venues are facing in rapidly changing times and the ways in which digital health solutions can cut costs and ultimately change the way patients view their experiences.

If you just want to find out about the healthcare solutions straight away see how digital wayfinding is playing a crucial role in the optimization of the patient journey – Hospital mapping & digital wayfinding solutions for healthcare

A real example of patient journey optimization

Before we jump into the blog lets take a look at how Purple customer Summa Health has used Purple’s Digital Wayfinding solution.

As we changed the layout of our campus, we actually changed our main entrance, and that led to a great deal of confusion not only for our patients and visitors but even our employees, who are trying to assist patients and visitors as they entered our campus.

We partnered with a teammate [Purple] who helped us design a wayfinding system, that has 3 prongs

The first is on the website prior to arrival [Web Solution], where a patient or family member can put in the room number of the patient they’re looking to visit [or desired location on campus], the website will give them directions to the correct nearest parking lot, and not only that it will give them walking directions when they arrive.

The other prong is for your phone such as the iPhone or other platforms, that is not unlike Google Maps. You put in the destination you want at the hospital, and you put in you want to go to the cafeteria, it’ll give you Blue-dot walking directions, and it’ll walk you through the campus to get you there.

Lastly, there’s a kiosks component for those that want to use a touch screen, and you can print out walking directions, …what we’ve found is that this has been extremely satisfying for our patients, as well as our employees who still able to have the human touch but it’s also helpful to know that our patients are going to see us on time.

Dr. Custodio, President, Summa Health Akron and St. Thomas Hospitals on Beckers Hospital Review podcast

Click here to listen to the full Beckers Hospital Review podcast.

The current challenges faced during a patient’s journey

In order to keep operations running smoothly, hospitals are relying on patients and visitors to be on time every time, despite this understandable expectation, a large amount of pressure is being placed on patients to know what to do and where to go along their entire journey without assistance ahead of time. Here are the issues being faced by patients which in turn negatively affect healthcare providers:

Pre-visit

Stress and anxiety prior to any healthcare appointment is something that many of us experience, vague appointment reminders, and poor directions shouldn’t add to this distress.

Although not directly under the control of healthcare providers, unexpected delays during the patients’ journey to the healthcare facility such as traffic or late public transport extend the stress and anxiety a healthcare appointment sometimes presents as patients begin to feel pressured to try and make up for this lost time and become worried that they may be late or even miss their appointment.

Once the patient has arrived at the healthcare venue, everything they have experienced prior to their visit has led to heightened stress which leaves them feeling disoriented and overwhelmed about having to now navigate a complex campus.

During the visit

Unsure of how to find their way around patients are having to ask staff members and other patients or visitors for directions which are causing disruptions to healthcare operations. Research showed that on average nurses are having to spend 24% of their time on non-productive tasks like providing directions. On average over 800,000 sets of directions are given each year in a 400-bed hospital (1 million-square-foot medical center), and the cost of spending time on these tasks results in an annual cost of $5.56 billion across US health systems

Unexpected delays that occur after receiving directions from staff, such as broken elevators or closed corridors, lead patients and visitors to experience further anxiety and negative impressions about their visit. In addition to this as many facilities look to make changes to layouts as well as expand their campuses, ensuring that visitors don’t incur extra delays should be a top priority.

Late and missed appointments continue to build on the patient’s negative impression because once they arrive at the correct department, there is no certainty of when they can be seen. Disruptions to departmental operations such as missed appointments result cost £1 billion for the UK’s NHS and cost US healthcare providers $150 billion per year!

Post-visit

Whether the patient used the parking lot or used public transport, post-appointment departure sends patients back into a confused state of trying to navigate around the hospital for the correct exit which continues to take up the time of staff to help them not only navigate out of the building but also leave out of the correct exit.

By the time patients receive a feedback request for their experience, a negative view of the healthcare venue and their overall experience leaves a lasting impression on any future appointments meaning the emotional impact will more than likely feed into another late or missed appointment as well as a poor online review.

Additional facts about healthcare challenges

60% of patients in the U.S. are asking for their experience to become more digital

  • Digital adoption among the public has rapidly increased due to other industries such as retail having made early integrations

47% of people feel uncomfortable using their local hospital

  • Almost half of the patients are reluctant to visit their local hospital before an appointment is even set

45% of NHS venue budgets are spent on the over 65 age group

  • Each year as more and more patients enter this age group the need to allocate budget toward their care rather than solutions for care continues to grow

25% of HCAHPS reviews in U.S. healthcare are focussed on patient experiences

+13 years increase in life expectancy in the UK since the introduction of the NHS

  • An aging population is causing additional stress on healthcare systems over time

How & where to optimize the patient journey

Now that we’ve covered the ways in which patients are struggling with their experiences and hospitals are struggling to get a grip on the issues, let’s take a look at the ways in which healthcare venues can become more efficient and gain a patient-first approach.

Arranging appointments & educating patients

One of the things we have clarified is that patients and visitors feel nervous about healthcare visits even before the day of their appointment. The current approach to keeping patients informed of their appointment is often through a singular reminder with vague insights about the process.

By including multiple steps in the reminder process, healthcare providers can educate patients with bite-size pieces of information that can gradually ease their anxiety about the appointment. On top of this, being consistent and useful with the patient information provided also drastically reduces the chance of late and missed appointments. In order to increase digital adoption among healthcare visitors, Purple doesn’t include patient data in the navigation process.

Provide the best transit options to the hospital

Whether a patient misses or is late for an appointment can depend on many factors but the journey from their home to the healthcare venue is the first step. The ways in which patients travel to their appointment are heavily varied, meaning that there are a lot of things that may go wrong, such as unexpected delays in public transport, and road closures that cause traffic congestion.

However, if a patient chooses to travel to their appointment the potential for delays is always present. Just like appointment reminders allow for useful information to be shared, it is possible for patients to find out their quickest routes to the hospital right from wherever they are by using digital wayfinding, and its integrations with outdoor GPS and travel services such as Google Maps and Uber.

Arrival and navigating around the healthcare venue

Now that the patient has arrived at the healthcare facility with minimal disruptions, it’s time for them to navigate through a complex maze of floors and corridors to find the correct destination for their appointment.

Just as Purple’s digital wayfinding can assist patients from an external location such as their home, right to the correct healthcare facility entrance, wayfinding can also seamlessly begin providing accurate indoor turn-by-turn directions throughout the facility meaning there is no possibility of the patient or visitor getting lost and disorientated. 

Empowering patients to navigate healthcare facilities themselves and providing them with all the relevant information they need not only keeps them calm during their visit but also leaves nurses and other staff to continue with their relevant tasks and not be interrupted

Deliver insightful and timely visitor information

Important health and wellbeing initiatives such as getting a flu jab, and booking in with your doctor for screening aren’t always top of mind for members of the public, and even for those that work within healthcare settings. Through location-based messaging, healthcare venues can educate anyone with access to digital wayfinding on the importance of taking steps to improve wellbeing.

As well as providing useful health-related information, it’s important to mention that healthcare providers globally operate in different ways, but all rely on gaining revenue from additional sources such as concessions and cafeterias. Patients and visitors are constantly looking for these comforting areas within healthcare venues meaning it is vital for information to be shared about their opening times, offers, and other insights patients would find useful.

Incident reporting to keep visitors & staff informed and safe

Digital wayfinding is already playing a vital role in some of the world’s leading healthcare facilities because they are constantly evolving to fit new buildings and wards. An avoidable expense with digital wayfinding is the cost of updating printed materials and signage which increases substantially when a healthcare facility is expanding. Without digital wayfinding in place, navigation of large campuses becomes even more difficult, creating a domino effect inevitably slowing down operations and the rate at which patients can be seen.

Some examples that can keep visitors and staff informed are the closure of certain wards and corridors as well as the ability to move between floors with updates about elevators that are out of service.

Additionally, notifications that concern the health and safety of everyone can be quickly broadcast again using location-based messaging. Some popular examples include spill detection within certain areas which most importantly can notify staff so they can solve the problem, another example would be emergency alerts such as the evacuation of the healthcare venue.

Post appointment

Patients and visitors being able to find their way out are just as important as their need to use the correct entrance and easily navigate to their destination. Digital wayfinding again provides users with turn-by-turn directions to the best possible exit for their journey home.

If patients and visitors have journeyed by car then digital wayfinding seamlessly guides them right back to the location in which they parked. If visitors require additional assistance in leaving the campus or even journeying home the integrations for outdoor navigation can be used again.

Gathering feedback from patients & visitors – HCHAPS & CQC scores

Collecting patient & visitor feedback has never been as important for healthcare providers as it is today. With patient opinion heavily influencing the ways in which the public choose which healthcare facility to visit it’s vital that surveys allow for patients to accurately provide relevant insights.

By creating a tailored survey that can be received at the appropriate time, patients and visitors are more willing to provide honest feedback about their experiences. The feedback provided allows healthcare providers to improve their operations to meet new and developing needs, the feedback also provides the opportunity to shout about how patient-centered the healthcare venue is, setting new standards and expectations for competing facilities.

The results of optimizing the patient journey

At the start of this blog, we mentioned that C-suite executives over the past decade have realized just how important patient opinions and experiences are to the way their healthcare facilities operate, the impact a negative vs positive experience can have down the line, and in revenue.

The strain on healthcare providers has grown substantially and because of this, it has become harder to manage over time. Optimizing the patient journey not only allows for easier communication but also allows for many steps to be automated, providing patients with newfound independence in the same ways in which retail and other industries have moved into the digital age, and as a result, anxiety can be removed from almost all stages of a healthcare visit.

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