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Interoperability and patient experience: A tale of two patients

by Eric Rivedal

Consider the following situations…

Patient A arrives at her hospital’s cardiology department for evaluation of heart palpitations. Understandably anxious, the patient is nonetheless asked at multiple points during the appointment to complete the same paperwork because staff cannot access it electronically. During a follow-up visit several weeks later, a physician can’t locate lab results in the electronic health record. As a result, she must undergo the same tests she underwent during her initial encounter. Fortunately, the patient learns that her symptoms can be treated by modifying her diet and getting more exercise. Nevertheless, frustrated with the duplicated paperwork and higher out-of-pocket costs because of the unnecessary test, she starts questioning the quality of her care. She expresses her irritation and concern with family and friends, leading to negative perceptions of the hospital—and potentially causing those potential patients to seek other facilities. The patient also communicates her displeasure through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS)1.

The level of interoperability within a hospital can have major effects on patients’ overall experience and perception of care quality — regardless of the actual care outcome. 

Now consider Patient B, who also visits his own hospital’s cardiology department for evaluation of heart palpitations. Also understandably anxious, but unlike Patient A, Patient B is asked just once to complete one set of electronic forms. The data, along with all other information collected during his appointment, is stored in the hospital’s electronic health record. During a follow-up visit several weeks later, the physician is able to access the test results and other data from the patient’s initial visit. He leaves his productive visit with an action plan to modify his diet and get more exercise. Happy with the quality of his care, the patient communicates his satisfaction with family and friends, leading to positive perceptions of the hospital — and potentially leading other patients to visit the hospital for their own care. The downstream benefits may multiply as the patient communicates his satisfaction through hospital and insurance company surveys.

As this hypothetical tale of two patient experiences in two hospitals clearly shows, the level of interoperability within a hospital can have major effects on patients’ overall experience and perception of care quality — regardless of the actual care outcome. It can help to review your hospital’s interoperability levels to see if they are capable of meeting the demands and expectations of today’s patients.

Improving interoperability for a better patient experience

Here are four steps you can take to begin improving your hospital’s own interoperability capabilities in order to provide your patients with a better care experience.
Step 1: Analyze. Conduct a workflow and process analysis to walk through each phase of current information management from top to bottom. This analysis can help you pinpoint bottlenecks in information flow and identify cost-saving opportunities.

Step 2: Document.
Track and document all work efforts to help you to discover where processes can be made simpler. If you have had a long-standing process in place, you might be surprised to see where your time and money is really going. Organizations often find that their processes contain many more steps, complexities and costs than they imagined.

Step 3: Find gaps and inefficiencies.
Working with partners trained in workflow analysis, you can use the results of the first two steps to help pinpoint gaps and inefficiencies and uncover opportunities for operational and financial improvement.

Step 4: Identify ways to bridge the gaps.
Whether with existing or new technology, there are many opportunities for you to improve your organization’s ability to capture, transform and manage data in real-time in a more secure manner.

These steps are just the beginning. Want to learn more about how to improve your hospital’s level of interoperability, and in turn, the experience of your patients?

Prepare for greater interoperability to improve care collaboration.

Though some interoperability challenges are dependent on technology vendors to resolve, there are several ways you can take control. By improving your ability to share information, you can lower costs and improve collaboration for better outcomes.
Eric Rivedal
Eric Rivedal, Marketing Manager for Global Healthcare Solutions, Ricoh USA, Inc., has 26 years of combined experience in bedside patient care and healthcare informatics. His product management experience includes computerized provider order entry, medication reconciliation, electronic prescriptions, emergency care and nursing workflow. Rivedal’s bedside experience is comprised of inpatient acute and critical care in pediatrics, neuro-intensive care, and labor and delivery; while outpatient experience involves emergency department, family practice and occupational health clinics, as well as flight nursing.
1Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Baltimore, MD.  http://www.hcahpsonline.org.