My previous digital health blogs in this series here and here, shared observations and recommendations related to some inherent flaws and shortcomings that create barriers for consumers/patients and importantly, signal missed opportunities for the healthcare industry as a whole. Biopharma companies spend a considerable amount of money pursuing medications and other therapies to address unmet clinical need and help patients manage their healthcare issues (both acute and chronic). While patients benefit from today’s lifesaving therapeutic interventions, most consumer/patients and healthcare practitioners are frustrated with the healthcare system as a whole. Healthcare system leaders can and should increase their lead by making bold and meaningful strides to help fix what’s broken.

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The importance of digital health offerings and telemedicine has become apparent over the past year or so, taking great leaps forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such digital connectivity benefitted both healthcare practitioners and consumer/patients with many satisfying experiences. It is time to use the lessons learned to continue that acceleration of digital capabilities — with a sense of urgency — to further advance digital and virtual capabilities throughout healthcare. However, just launching “the next app” or the next video-conferencing option for consumer/patients isn’t going to move the needle. Rather, bold, visionary leadership is needed to identify and pursue opportunities to truly humanize the consumer/patient experience. The experiences, lessons learned and best practices that have emerged from innovators in other industries — those who have radically changed consumers’ experiences — should be explored and repurposed to humanize healthcare better.

Abandon the healthcare status quo. Today’s patients are frustrated — tomorrow’s consumer/patients will not accept the status quo and its barriers to accessing appropriate, affordable, timely care. The bureaucratic, administratively intense healthcare infrastructure delays or blocks access and provides a poor consumer experience. The end result is that many patients can’t, or don’t, access routine or preventive healthcare. When that happens, all stakeholders suffer — patients lose access to critical healthcare, physicians lose patient relationships and ‘gain’ administrative workload instead, and biopharma companies forego income, employers and the consumer/patient pay more for less access, a worse experience and likely worse outcomes. As an industry, not only can we do better — we must. Human healthcare should be humane, at every opportunity. Access to the right care anywhere and everywhere at the consumer/patients point of need,-true digital healthcare, will improve the care experience, the healthcare practitioner’s experience and the outcomes.

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Access to the right care anywhere and everywhere at the consumer/patients point of need,--true digital healthcare, will improve the care experience, the healthcare practitioner’s experience and the outcomes.

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Create transparency — in both pricing and the healthcare experience. There is perhaps no greater mystery in the universe than pricing and outcomes in healthcare. When it comes to the patient’s interactions with healthcare providers, hospital systems, diagnostic testing laboratories or pharmacies dispensing prescription medications, where is the transparency?  As consumers we expect access to information, control and choice of providers — but we are forced to accept very little flexibility and no transparency. Throughout the entire healthcare arena, patients have very little choice, voice and control.

How, as a society, have we allowed the paradigm to evolve in this way? Imagine calling a ride-share service and not knowing when a car would arrive, whether there would be room for you if and when it arrived, what the cost and destination would be, and whether this was a driver with little to no experience and a bad history of safely achieving the destination. Why do we demand transparency as consumers but meekly accept the overall lack of transparency that defines the healthcare space? Today, the consumer/patient convergence must demand greater transparency when it comes to the healthcare infrastructure.

There’s an inherent tension between patients and the healthcare infrastructure, whereby the patient must take what’s presented with very little power to improve the offering or choose a better or more competitive alternative. You have a surgical procedure scheduled for a Friday afternoon? Do you have any idea whether there will be adequate support available over the weekend, should any issues, pain or complications arise? Why — as consumers — are we forced to simply accept substandard care or an unpleasant experience with little recourse or competitive alternatives to choose from? The ability to provide greater transparency on costs and more information on what the patient can expect is essential to assuaging patients’ negative perceptions and can help to remove some of the barriers that so often lead to avoidance of routine and preventive care.

Humanize the healthcare experience. Sadly, the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want to be treated — is missing from too many healthcare experiences. Patients are made to wait long periods for appointments, then they are kept waiting in the waiting room. They don’t have access to complete information, have no idea what out-of-pocket charges will be incurred, and are not sure they’ll be able to truly connect with professional support staff before, during and after the doctor’s visit, diagnosis, or procedure. All of this creates stress and fear for patients, especially fear of the unknown — the polar opposite of the “Do no harm” mantra that is a guiding principle for all healthcare providers.

Physicians, nurses, and the many other healthcare professionals who routinely interact with patients are supremely talented, highly educated individuals who chose this line of work to make a difference in patients’ lives. But they too are caught in the maw of the machinery, trapped and guided by bureaucratic processes that place more emphasis on administrative tasks, revenue and profit margins than on humane healthcare experiences. Physicians and nurses are burning out at record rates from high administrative workloads and low patient satisfaction.

It’s no longer okay to accept the status quo — the consumer/patient will not. Healthcare benefits from bold ideas, disruptions to established dogma, and new best practices — all of which can put the human care back in healthcare and digital health. It’s time to boldly rethink and reimagine human healthcare.

Ted Boyle

Managing Director – Global Digital Health Lead

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