Leveraging technology to enhance the “human touch”

Telehealth, including remote patient monitoring, can play an important role in improving clinician-patient engagement.

Health care must reintroduce the personal model; all actors must work together to create a new system that produces better quality care.

Very often, healthcare is about the personal connection between a patient and a physician, other clinician, or general members of the healthcare team. With changing expectations and considerations about how to create that connection, enabling and implementing a strong combination of the “human touch” and the “tech touch” is critical.

The human component of health care refers to the ability of a patient and clinician to spend meaningful time together discussing problems, identifying ways to solve them, and then pursuing a treatment plan regardless time constraints or economic pressures.

But the business structure of healthcare has changed over time, prioritizing as many patient visits as possible and keeping them as short as possible. The impact of this change has been the reduction of human contact. Pressed for time, physicians often cannot fully understand the daily experiences of patients.

Impact of EMRs

The government’s adoption of electronic medical records and the explosion of digital health solutions have been touted as enabling broader interactions and engagement with physicians. But so far, EMR use has unfortunately resulted in increased screen time for doctors and perceived interference with doctor-patient interactions. According to some critics, the need to tick so many boxes in the EMR does not promote better engagement or better documentation.

According to critics, many EMRs were not designed to expand the relationship between patients and clinicians or to improve clinical knowledge. EMRs are designed more to capture and drive claims submission and billing. And systems designed for this purpose are not necessarily ideal when it comes to analyzing data or extracting new meaning from it.

The role of telehealth

But telehealth can play an important role in improving clinician/patient engagement in this new era.

Consider this example: a technology-enabled remote monitoring system extracts patient information daily using connected devices and surveys. Patient-reported data is then filtered and aggregated through analytics built into a digital platform, which can be customized by a clinician to provide alerts if readings go out of range or data is not recorded. Additionally, the technology platform can be used to send reminders or information from the clinician to the patient to encourage certain behaviors.

If concerning trends are identified, the clinician can quickly reach out to the patient to engage them, whether asynchronously, via text, audio, or video. Early intervention can have a significant impact and prevent a small problem from becoming a major problem.

As a next step, the additional real-time information can provide new insights into what is happening with the patient. This information may elicit different questions or perceptions when a patient-clinician interaction occurs.

For example, the clinician may now know to ask about environmental conditions or living conditions that impact the patient. As the clinician becomes aware of this information, new opportunities for care or support may be identified.

As this scenario shows, technology can improve the interaction between clinicians and patients.

Fee-for-service limits

One of the biggest obstacles to the described intersection of human touch and technology touch is the limitation of fee-for-service reimbursement models. These models do not pay for more comprehensive clinician-patient interactions. Because fee-for-service models make payments based on the delivery of specific services, they lack the ability to reimburse interactions that may go beyond traditional health services.

New value-based models of care are better suited to engender the full engagement needed to deliver better care. While it’s unclear if current models fully incorporate reimbursement for better patient engagement, value-based care is still in its infancy, so there’s plenty of room to tinker with models.

To some degree, we need to reintroduce the much older and very personal model of health care. But rather than trying to go back to the old days, everyone in health care must work together to create a new system that produces better care with better outcomes.

Matt Fisher is general counsel for Carium, a telehealth platform company.

Ramon J. Espinoza