There is no shortage of technology with the potential to transform healthcare today. But is the accumulation of these technologies truly making a difference?

In recent years, we’ve seen unprecedented innovation in healthcare technologies. For several years, the industry has used advanced robotics to deliver and manage care. We are seeing innovation in devices that sense movement, temperature and voice inflection. We are virtually monitoring and treating chronic disease, such as diabetes. And we are now well into the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning, fueled by the early stage of cloud in healthcare.

The breadth of innovation is important, but it will only have the desired impact if empathy is part of the equation. Those healthcare organizations that step into the patient’s shoes and use empathy to reshape access, experience and outcomes can emerge strongest in this new era of care.

Putting humans first in healthcare

We all know that healthcare is about helping humans, but our industry hasn’t always applied the human perspective in products and services. Through our work with healthcare organizations all over the world, we have learned that technology is not the be all and end all. However, technology is a critical enabler in making people’s lives better and healthier through improved access and affordability, great experiences  and better outcomes. Let’s take a closer look at these human expectations of our health system.

Access

Healthcare should be accessible, meaning convenient, equitable and affordable for all—including a full range of services from prevention and treatment to rehabilitation and preventative care. However, we know this isn’t always the case. Half of the world's population does not have access to the healthcare they need.1

Recent Accenture research highlights that many healthcare consumers (58%) are likely to use telehealth or virtual visits for future healthcare needs, including preventative care or diagnosis of an illness or injury, instead of going into the office or hospital. Data shows that preventive screenings have decreased during the pandemic, especially as many don’t have access to computers, smartphones or broadband internet, thus limiting their ability to use virtual services. Furthermore, hundreds of millions of people worldwide are providing unpaid caregiving to friends and family in the home. Clearly, many healthcare services that are essential today (such as virtual) are not convenient, equitable and affordable.

Experience

Our industry knows that experience matters. In fact, 92% of health executives rank delivering a highly personalized experience as a top strategic priority for their organization.2 So why aren’t healthcare organizations delivering the same types of convenient and personalized experiences that consumers have come to enjoy from other industries? For instance, hotels have become exceptional at personalizing the experience and fostering communication with guests. They are using data to understand and act on preferences, such as the desired room or pillow type. They are also communicating information to guests before, during and after their stay. This is not the case in healthcare.

Several months ago, my loved one had to undergo an appendectomy. As many do, we experienced a long wait in the emergency room before being seen and then waited several more hours before surgery was performed. Due to COVID precautions, the ability as the interested family member to engage the care team was understandably limited. Surprisingly, when the pre-op, surgery and post-op occurred, there was no communication about what was going on – only concerning “code” announcements over the hospital’s PA system. To be clear, the care team was exceptional and produced a great outcome. Yet, simple text communications from the care team during and after the operation would have put our minds at ease. And at no point during the 10 hours was there a conversation regarding the economic impact of care choices. While it would not have impacted our decisions, having a snapshot of overall costs, including extended hospitalization, would help us to understand our options or to better understand the insurance bill when it arrives weeks later.

Our soon-to-be-released research shows that less than half of insurance members say that when recommending treatment, their doctor (or staff) understands how much the insurer will cover and can explain to the patient what they will have to pay. If insurers shared this information, it could boost patient satisfaction 3.5x.

The good news is that the unprecedented access we now have to data and to analytical digital tools makes it possible to design more personalized health experiences. Connecting the dots of data allows healthcare organizations to predict what a patient might need next, and to offer self-service options.

Outcomes

When payers and providers offer access to affordable, quality treatment and they get the experience right, it can lead to better outcomes. As with my recent surgery story, we had a good outcome, but the process was broken—and technology could have helped improve it; a personalized experience could have improved it.

We have an abundance of relevant and useful data that can help providers to be more precise in their treatment. Furthermore, the industry has traditionally focused on acute care, but this is a missed opportunity. Retail-inspired interventions designed to engage consumers can help to enhance wellness and well-being. Imagine engaging with people in a multichannel fashion, delivering dynamic, just-in-time information even while they are well.

By providing recommendations and next-best actions, people can be proactive in managing their own health—perhaps preventing illness or injury before they occur.

Taking the first steps

To walk in a person’s shoes and have true empathy, healthcare organizations must think about access, experience and outcomes. They should look at these areas holistically and through a human lens to unlock the potential of emerging technology and human ingenuity. There is tremendous opportunity to make care better than it ever has been. These are some of the things we can do to respond to human needs:

  • Give people access to their full set of health data and the tools to understand it.
  • Consider the health disparity data across marginalized populations and ask why that data exists and how can services evolve to make health and wellbeing truly equitable.
  • Be creative about using technology to replace clunky and disjointed health experiences with personalized and convenient care delivered how and where people want it.
  • Marry digital care with physical care to provide effective, trusted and reliable services, both physically and at-a-distance, to improve healthcare outcomes.
  • Don’t go it alone. Collaborate within and outside of industry lines to realize the promise of the experience economy.

There is ample room to harness all of the wonderful technology around us to do good. But we have to first walk in the patient’s shoes to see how we can design processes better to be accessible, personalized and helpful for all. I’m keen to hear your views on this.

1. World Health Organization; https://www.who.int/health-topics/universal-health-coverage#tab=tab_1
2. Untapping the Potential for Virtual Care in a Pandemic and Beyond -Dr. Sonny Kohli, Practicing Physician in Internal Medicine and Critical Care and Faculty at SingularityU Canada

Rich Birhanzel

Senior Managing Director – Consulting, Global Health Lead

Subscribe to Accenture's Humanizing Healthcare Blog Subscribe to Accenture's Humanizing Healthcare Blog