Like all industries, healthcare is evolving thanks to advancements in technology, and the patient experience is evolving right along with it.
Medical professionals can now reach and treat patients in new ways, thanks to remote services like telehealth and virtual visits. In light of the social distancing that's become necessary during the coronavirus pandemic, remote care has actually become the preferred way to "see" patients, at least for the time being. The question is, how is the patient experience affected by this novel form of care?
Just one problem...
Saying healthcare professionals are stretched thin these days is probably the understatement of the decade, and it's only year one. But that's precisely why so many are staying home in the first place.
Given the circumstances, it's perfectly understandable if improving patient experience isn't priority number one. Some hospitals barely have the resources to cover their own staff, let alone every patient. But that doesn't mean it doesn't matter. In fact, during this crazy time when people are feeling especially scared and unsettled, a positive patient experience might actually make all the difference in the world.
A pioneer of modern medicine (William Osler) once said, "The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease."
Patient experience is the sum of all interactions that a patient has within the healthcare system — and the actual treatment they receive is only part of that. In addition to quality care, patients also expect convenience and compassion. They want to feel heard and understood and not have to jump through hoops to get medical attention.
But can you feel compassion through a screen?
It seems that the answer to that question is yes.
These days, a visit to the doctor (ok, a visit anywhere) requires masks, gloves and plenty of physical distance. Suddenly, we live in a world where everyone knows what PPE stands for (Personal Protective Equipment).
While totally necessary, these precautions don't just create a physical barrier between the healthcare provider and patient -- they also make it much harder to connect on a personal level. There's only so much empathy that half of your face and some muffled words can effectively communicate.
Healthcare providers at Stanford Medicine's hospitals and clinics have found that virtual care has actually increased the connection they feel with their patients. Since the coronavirus outbreak, they've stationed iPads in each hospital room so doctors and patients can "meet" freely and unencumbered by layers of PPE that constrained their ability to build rapport and trust.
Virtual care also conserves PPE and expands patient access to services. Basically, everybody wins.
When it comes to the quality care-convenience-compassion trifecta of patient experience mentioned earlier, remote care seems to make all of that possible. This could mean that even after the current crisis is over, telehealth and iPad patient visits may live on and become healthcare's new M.O.
Addressing medical needs is only one way to care for a patient. In order to take care of all patient needs, providers must also offer convenience and compassion. As remote care has become increasingly popular and necessary during the coronavirus pandemic, it's becoming clear that these needs are not neglected. In fact, virtual healthcare can even enhance compassion and care in many situations.
The other upside is that remote care helps healthcare providers too. They can see more patients, conserve PPE and protect themselves by keeping a physical distance. In a time when these people are operating under immense physical and emotional stress, relieving these burdens makes a huge difference -- and making life just a little bit easier for these real-life heroes is something we can all get behind.
Before you go...
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And to all the essential service workers who can't stay home, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for everything you do. Stay safe out there.