“Patient-centered health care” is a well-worn phrase that resonates so well with patients and clinicians alike that it graces hundreds of corporate mission statements. Unfortunately, and despite best intentions, the phrase represents an aspiration that is chronically unrealized in practice. While “patient-centered health care” refers to a paradigm of care that focuses on the needs, wants, concerns, expectations, and values of the patient, the practical reality of today’s health care systems is that the locus of activity is often centered elsewhere — on practitioners and/or the facilities in which they work. And as a result, the patient is often forced to navigate a system designed more for the efficiency of caregivers than for the patients themselves.
Some take the philosophy to mean putting control into the patient’s hands, personalizing treatment choices so that the patient’s wishes are prioritized in a shared decision making model. Full transparency of all aspects of their care helps to ensure that patients are in the driver’s seat to make their own decisions about their health care. Others take this phrase to mean prioritizing patient convenience. They would assure that every instruction is easy to achieve, that the patient is minimally inconvenienced by the operation of the caregivers tending to them, and that the machinations of care have minimal interruption of the patient’s life and plans.
And the right combination of control and convenience can maximize the patient’s comfort with their health care experience and also confidence in their plan of care. I would argue that getting patient-centered care right requires focus on these four things: control, convenience, comfort and confidence, with the caveat that at the end of the day, this is a user-dependent concept, with only one certainty: If despite targeting these four Cs the patient doesn’t feel they are in the center of their health care experience, then they are not.
At my company, patient centricity is the first of three principles that guide our work together. We are patient-centered, data-driven and value-based. Everything starts with the patient experience, with care being objective and analytic in each decision that’s to be made, and we aim to assure that the solutions we generate are of sufficient value to patients and providers as to drive adoption, as no one benefits from solutions that are not used.
Here are some of the ways that health-tech companies can assure their products and services provide patient-centered solutions:
When a patient is in full control of their recovery, they are more motivated. Control starts with the patient understanding why their doctor recommended the particular course of care so the patient can become fully invested in following through with the treatment. For physical therapy, this means educating the patient on why they are performing certain exercises and how it will help them recover. With our product, for example, patients receive the kit two weeks prior to their surgery with educational resources and pre-hab exercises. This enables patients to go into their doctor’s office with specific questions and a knowledge base to understand what will be happening next.
Patients should also be able to track their own progress, to stay motivated that their course of treatment is working. In physical therapy, this means providing audio-visual coaching to help patients know they are performing the exercises correctly. Motion capture and pose detection allow for careful measurement of patient’s movement and progress in recovery and provide a record of their exercise performance that can be further reviewed by their licensed physical therapist.
Health care is too often marked by inconvenience. Ask most patients about their experience going to a doctor’s appointment, and they often recall the travails of travel, the hassles of parking, the long wait times, the administrivia of document completion, and the challenges to their memory when asked to provide the names of their medicines, the different diagnoses they have had over time, the names and places and reasons for prior care, etc) — an overall unpleasant journey punctuated by a too-brief encounter with their trusted clinician.
While innovation in health care technology has dramatically improved many aspects of health care (diagnostics, procedures, surgeries), all this innovation has done little to provide greater patient convenience. You should aim to provide a convenient product that allows patients to use it in their own homes, avoiding unnecessary travel, wait times and copays.
Comfort is certainly an unexpected attribute of today’s health care experience. Defined variably as freedom from constraint or alleviation of distress, most patients probably wouldn’t describe their health care journies as comfortable. Health-related tech companies should strive to make products that allow users to be as comfortable as possible by removing unnecessary stress that’s so often associated with the health care system.
Key to keeping patients engaged and adherent is reinforcing patient confidence in all aspects of their care. The more confident a patient is about a product or their prescribed activities and their progress in performing them, the more likely they will be to continue to use that product and perform those activities.
For our remote recovery tools, since software and avatars cannot answer every question, it’s important that a licensed therapist be available to answer any questions that may arise. Patients need to know that they have ready access to an informed, empathetic expert to review their progress, answer their unique questions and manage any exceptional issues. Simply knowing that such expertise is available, even without needing to use it, helps to provide confidence in the overall approach.
Control, convenience, comfort and confidence. Patient-centered health care rests on these four Cs, and if done right, digital health care and digital therapeutics can provide all of these to return patients to the very center of their own health care experience.