Improving Patient Communication often leads to improved healthcare

I recently ran across Emmi Solutions (www.emmisolutions.com), which I was fascinated to learn was co-founded by a surgeon and a computer game designer (not exactly a common combo). What I liked about Emmi was that it facilitates physician-patient communication by providing “prescription-strength” multimedia programs to help patients understand what to expect before, during, and after a surgical or invasive medical procedure. As most of us who’ve been in this industry for a while intuitively get, the more a patient knows and understands about their care providers, their diagnoses, and their procedures, the better the patient’s overall health is likely to be.

I liked Emmi’s focus on using common-sense tech solutions so I recently invited Mark Achler, their CEO, to talk about the problem his company is solving. He indicated that whether it’s preparing for a procedure, living successfully with a medical device, or helping people manage a chronic disease, the Emmi system is designed to improve quality by helping patients, their families and caregivers take an active role in their care. While it may sound like a marketing slogan, I actually felt that their solutions could help patients directly (instead of like other technology which helps indirectly through use only by physicians or care providers).

Given Mark’s expertise in the field, I asked him the following question: “How is technology improving patient communication, which in turn, improves their overall healthcare?” Here’s what Mark said:

Technology is a vehicle that we use to help solve a problem that is not getting as much attention as it should. Here’s the problem – 90 million Americans have low health literacy. That means, that over half the country has trouble reading the directions on their pill bottles, informed consent forms, insurance information, and the majority of the written patient information in pamphlets and on the Web. And it’s well-studied that better-informed patients have shorter hospital stays, use fewer hospital resources, sue their doctors less, and have better outcomes.

So, to answer your question – how can technology help? One way is to leverage technology to extend the doctor’s reach. Doctors are crunched for time. They’d like to spend more time helping patients understand their conditions, how to care for themselves, what’s involved with a procedure, etc, but the clock is ticking and the waiting room is full. Patients want and need better, clearer, understandable and actionable information so they can get involved with their treatment.

As patients, we need to work to change what has evolved into an almost “confrontational” relationship with the healthcare world, and transform it into a true partnership. The goal is to reach a level of good communication that allows everybody in the patient care equation to share a common language and understanding.

This is where the power of technology comes into play. Today, patients and their families expect more from their physicians. But there are many challenges in properly informing, educating and managing patients’ questions and expectations. Almost everyone agrees that technology can, and should, be used to facilitate the process. And when correctly implemented, technology, in our case a Web-based platform, can offer the perfect “vehicle” to educate patients, manage their expectations and communicate more effectively.

The concept is simple: provide healthcare information to patients which will, in turn, appropriately set expectations and drive behavioral change. In order to do this, the information needs to be accessible and empathetic to be emotionally engaging. And if healthcare professionals can inform patients about what to expect from a procedure in language they can truly understand, it can help build trust, minimize misunderstanding, improve compliance and outcomes, and cut malpractice risks. This new form of communication requires flexible communication tools that can be implemented at every health interaction to document all provider-patient exchanges, and that can take difficult-to-understand information and transform it into a form that everyone can comprehend.

Today, more and more decision makers are interested in e-health tools as critical components of personal health management and healthcare reform strategies. Decision makers are seeking viable approaches to reduce healthcare costs, improve the quality of care, and increase consumers’ ability to manage their own health.

In a field where trust and good communication is critical to quality and safety, Web-based tools should be highly regarded as an intervention that can simplify complex information, encourage patient involvement and affect behavioral change. After all, better-informed patients who are engaged in their own care establish benefits that cascade across all healthcare organizations and interests.

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