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Patients Want More Personalized Care: Here’s How Data Can Provide It

Patient experience is dynamic.

Every interaction between the patient and the healthcare system forms, shapes or alters some part of the patient experience. What happens during each touchpoint contributes to the overall experience and influences patient satisfaction.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) emphasizes “getting timely appointments, easy access to information and good communication with healthcare providers” as the things patients most highly value in a clinical experience.

Personalization through data analysis has been embraced by a number of industries in recent years, and their lessons offer insight for healthcare providers, as well. Using data to create personalized patient experiences offers a way for healthcare providers to improve quality of care and patient satisfaction.

The Rise of Personalization in Patient and Customer Experiences

Personalization as a general concept began to garner intense attention in 2014, when Yahoo released a study demonstrating that personalized advertising outperformed general advertising. Survey participants stated that personalized ads were more engaging, educational and efficient than generalized ads, Gina Wanless at the Digital Branding Institute writes.  

Customer experience is expected to outpace price and service type as the No. 1 way people choose their service providers by 2020, according to Andy Betts at Martech Today.

This trend is likely to affect healthcare, as well, since patients increasingly see healthcare quality through the lens of patient experience.

In an article for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, Chris Althoff and Andrew Walker of West Monroe Partners say that an effective system of managing and connecting data to the patient journey is essential improving the overall experience. They also note that improving the experience allows healthcare providers to differentiate themselves from competing providers. Healthcare providers gain the opportunity to improve business outcomes and healthcare delivery simultaneously.

Payers have already begun using patient data to improve patients’ experiences. For instance, Aetna has begun leveraging analytics to provide patients with personalized information regarding their health. This has resulted in lowering the number of emergency room visits for patients, which improves the patient’s experience and lowers costs, says Aetna Chief Digital Officer Firdaus Bhathena.

Patient data is an asset for healthcare providers and insurers, Bhathena says. When leveraged correctly, that data can improve patient experiences, provider performance and payer efficiency.

Data is key to improving personalized delivery of healthcare services, CX consultant Blake Morgan writes at Forbes. For instance, data analysis can help predict when patients will get sick, allowing providers to offer preventive care. The information can also be used to create personalized healthcare plans that both patients and providers can use to address health needs more effectively.  

Personalizing the patient experience doesn’t just make patients happier, says PwC Middle East Health Industries Partner Hamish Clark. It also offers “increased capacity for providers to deliver better care to a wider audience, lower operating costs, and rising employee satisfaction and retention.”

Why Do Patients Like Personalization?

The drive toward greater personalization stems from two factors: the need for control and the need to manage information overload, Erik Devaney at HubSpot says. In healthcare, these factors are often interconnected. For instance, information overload can easily make patients feel out of control, particularly when they are uncertain which information applies to their specific situation and which does not.

Personalization allows healthcare providers to provide more targeted information to patients, focusing on items that are relevant to each person’s current needs. As a result, patients experience a better sense of control over that information and how to apply it to their own situation.

A sense of control can also lead to better health outcomes. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Pain Research by Paul Campbell, Kate Hope and Kate M. Dunn found that when pain patients felt they had more control over their health, their reported pain intensity, depression and disability levels decreased.

How Personalization Supports Meaningful Use

“Customers today don’t have time to be sick, and they don’t want to wait around for services they don’t need,” Morgan says. They want the information they need to get well — fast.

To this end, Aurora Health Care prioritizes communication as a cornerstone of the personalized patient experience, says director of consumer insights Darrell Beneker. “We want to focus on getting communication to the right place, channel, device, information, message, frequency and timing.”

Technology has increasingly become part of the way organizations like Aurora improve communication and patient experiences. Patients are interested in convenience, says Jessica Davis in Healthcare IT News. Patient portals that leverage patient data to provide personalized updates, reminders and tips can offer the kind of convenience patients want and the communication providers can use to improve the overall experience.

Data analysis can improve patient portal functionality and use, as well, allowing this tool to be more effectively integrated into improving the overall patient experience, says Kirk Borne, principal data scientist for Booz Allen Hamilton. Analyzing the ways patients use the portal can also provide insights into the types of care patients may need or the information that would be most helpful to them at key stages in their healthcare journey.

Recent updates to the Meaningful Use program offer ways for healthcare providers to improve the patient experience while remaining compliant with Medicare and Medicaid requirements. For instance, the updates now cover the use of APIs to allow patients to more easily access key parts of their own electronic records, Susan Morse notes at Healthcare Finance.

For patients, personalized information doesn’t only improve their satisfaction. It can improve their health, as well. With access to personalized information, patients “can play a considerable role in improving their own care,” says Maureen Bisognano, president emerita and senior fellow at IHI.

“Many patients, especially those with chronic conditions, want to play this role; they just need the assets to participate.”

Navigating Questions of Security, Ownership and Access

Security, privacy, ownership and access are hot topics when it comes to data, particularly in the healthcare sphere. Everything from electronic health records to medical devices may become the focal point of a digital attack, Susan Hall writes at HealthTech.

Using data to provide a more personalized experience can raise security concerns. For instance, allowing patients to access more of their own electronic records via APIs also creates more opportunities for those access points to be exploited.

Balancing the need for security with the need for access in order to improve the patient experience will require new ways of thinking about both data and patients, Nancy Pratt writes at Mobile Health Matters. For instance, a focus on secure data hubs that patients can access via encrypted apps or other tools may offer a solution that improves the overall patient experience — without leaving information vulnerable to those who would exploit it.

Creating a Personalized Experience: A Summary

To improve patient personalization, start by standing in the customer’s shoes, recommends Andy Zimmerman, CMO of Evergage. Collect data on what patients need and want, then use that data to direct your efforts in improving personalization.

Patients increasingly seek control over their own healthcare and health information, says Scott Corbitt, vice president of commercial operations at AirStrip. A patient-centered approach to data and analysis can help patients manage their own health, improve communications with their providers, and address emerging concerns about patient ownership and access to their own health information.

Such an approach can help providers, as well. Healthcare providers overestimate the quality of their patient experience by 20 percent, says Kelvin Claveria at VisionCritical. Fortunately, analyzing patient data effectively can help healthcare providers visualize the patient experience they provide, build a realistic view of the situation and take active steps to provide a high-quality patient experience.

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