Health and Human Services

What if Healthcare Were Made Simpler?

Healthcare can be complex and intimidating. There is so much for patients to navigate. As I documented in an earlier blog post, I just spent two weeks trying to identify and book an appointment with a new primary care physician. It was a significant challenge finding a physician with an open patient panel and then trying to get someone one from the practice to answer the phone or return my messages. And I work in healthcare.

So what if healthcare was as simple as operating a TV remote? Not one of those hard-to-program remotes that take multiple hours to learn how to operate, but those intuitive, easy-to-program remotes with less buttons for more convenient use.  Doesn’t that sound like a television operator’s dream? If this were applied to healthcare, what effect would it have on the current patient population? My belief is it might help to break down barriers to care and improve access.

Well, judging from a recent Time Magazine article, “Simple Design: What Health Care Can Learn from a TV Remote Control,” if healthcare could be simplified, it seems as though patients would be increasingly more receptive and engaged than they currently are.

Authors Dr. Zachary F. Meisel and Dr. Jesse M. Pines state that navigating the medical system is currently a “struggle for patients” to the point that even the simplest of tasks such as making an appointment has been considered a pain. (This certainly validates my recent experience!) One factor to the hassle factor is that inter-specialist communication within medical facilities is often weak, making the process very time-consuming and frustrating for patients. Let’s face it, care coordination generally is non-existent within most healthcare organizations. Consequently, a study by ZocDoc, discovered that more than half of the 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed admitted to delaying medical care because the process was overly difficult. Patients who are accustomed to easy, user-friendly technology to schedule their appointments find it painful when they have to rely on what they perceive to be slow receptionists and uncommunicative physicians. Frankly, most of us know what an easy and positive experience looks like. For years we’ve interacted with businesses like Amazon.com, and we know it doesn’t have to be difficult to handle transactions online. So when the online experience is more difficult or complex than necessary, or if the option is not available to schedule appointments online, it is a disappointment.

According to the authors, the problem lies in the fact that technology, while increasingly integrated into the healthcare realm, has not yet been crafted in a user-friendly fashion for the convenience of both patients and physicians.

For example, doctors have complained that tasks such as entering data into electronic medical records “pulls them away from the bedside to the computer” and requires more time than the original paper recording. (My physician is forced to turn his back to me as he enters details into the medical record. It is a work-design issue.)

The question is how can we make it easier for patients to navigate the system and for doctors to record and exchange information?  One initiative in combating this challenge is ZocDoc’s new innovative scheduling model that allows patients to “set up appointments online, from a computer or smartphone, and search for open meeting times with local doctors, even specialists.” In addition, the government has started its own effort by “encouraging entrepreneurs to develop innovative consumer-oriented applications using government data.”

Simplifying the patient’s experience and truly coordinating care should have a dramatic impact on the willingness of individuals to seek care when needed, and access diagnostic and prevention services.

For more information and to read the Time article, click here.

(Post written by Dan Dunlop with Charles Ramsey. Charles is a healthcare marketing intern at Jennings and a student at Wake Forest University. He’s learning a lot about healthcare this summer as he researches topics for blog posts.)

2 comments on “What if Healthcare Were Made Simpler?

  1. You are so right, Dan. We have to find ways to make healthcare easier for everyday people. I’m glad you brought up ZocDoc. I have been a fan since they debuted. They apply more of a retail model to appointment scheduling and I think it’s a matter of time before tools like this become the rule rather than the exception. Or maybe I should say I ‘hope’ tools like this become the standard.

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