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Building a better digital healthcare experience

People have high expectations for the products and services they consume, so why should those expectations be any lower when it comes to the critical service of healthcare?

Australia's healthcare sector has the primary focus of ensuring optimal health outcomes. As we move into an era where digital technologies enable services to be delivered in new, agile and innovative ways, we have the opportunity to positively redesign peoples' healthcare experiences.

There are many reasons for taking this important step.

We are learning that a person's healthcare experience can have a significant impact on their recovery, especially if their journey has involved pain, stress, and anxiety.

Improving patient experiences can also have commercial benefits for providers and funders, such as easy-to-use digital self-service reducing manual processing times and the risk of human error.

Indeed, according to Accenture's 2020 report, Elevating the Patient Experience to Fuel Growth, health systems that evolve to meet new consumer experience needs can increase their revenues by 5 to 10 percent above pre-COVID levels within 12-months.

Designing a better patient experience

Digital technology has already fuelled change across many industry sectors, such as entertainment, banking, and retail, resulting in improved options, personalisation, and service levels substantially.

However, healthcare has been a holdout on the total embrace of digital, evidenced by its continued use of faxed communications and manually driven paper-based systems.

Ironically, one of the key factors behind slow digital adoption in healthcare is also one of the main reasons why it would benefit greatly from a digital transformation – system complexity.

A person's healthcare journey today often involves multiple providers and intermediaries, including GPs, specialists, hospitals, and other caregivers. That journey also touches various government agencies and insurers that support and fund it.

Traditionally however the healthcare sector has relied on patients themselves to manage much of their journey, with limited linkage between services. This can lead to confusion and frustration for patients, along with inefficiencies for providers, and a high risk of errors.

Digital technologies can significantly improve this experience, starting with the leadup to engagement with healthcare, during its provision, and then in the recovery phase.

We can already see aspects of how connected healthcare might look through various trials and implementations across Australia.

One of these is a new smartphone app being deployed by NSW Health, which will enable people who opted-in to compare hospital emergency department waiting times and book specialist appointments. Its first iteration will also draw data from the state government's Park & Pay platform to advise on parking availability, while future versions are planned to incorporate a booking platform for outpatient services and be able to collect data from wearable devices to store and analyse people's exercise and sleep habits.

Finally, for those who are interested, we can start connecting a person's entire health journey, from the early indicators of impending illness through to their experience of treatment, and then closely monitor their recovery phase.

A vision for connected digital healthcare

The recent whitepaperTransforming the Patient Experience, produced by Optus and Cisco, highlighted numerous opportunities for digital technologies to enhance the patient journey.

These future digital patient experiences will have the ability to leverage high-speed hyperconnectivity services such as 5G and Wi-Fi6 to support rich, bandwidth intensive applications to empower patients through the lifecycle of their health journey, whilst also providing choice of delivery channel and a secure and scalable platform for new services deployment.

The starting point is the so-called digital front door, which provides an entry point to digital healthcare services from any location, with secure access to all the data they and their providers require to manage their healthcare journey.

A next step would see digital services easing a person's physical interactions with healthcare by enabling simplified scheduling of providers. This can be supported by rules-based automated workflows to ensure information flows smoothly as data such as test results become available.

Making these services available via the mobile network would allow a patient to access their data and services from anywhere, including from within the hospital itself. Wayfinding services could help them navigate complex hospital environments, or they could use a hospital app to pre-select their preferred meals or communicate with staff.

When used this way, digital technology could free staff from low-value or repetitive tasks so they can provide better patient-centred health outcomes, further enhancing the patient experience. Administrators can also gain a clearer picture of their facilities' utilisation, possibly in real time, to improve occupancy rates and better manage staff-to-patient ratios.

Once a patient is discharged their mobile devices, wearable technology, and in-home seniors can provide ongoing monitoring, or be used to remind them to take medicine and report their experiences in real time. Internet of Things (IoT) technology can also play a critical role in data capture and ensuring that patients remain in monitored and safe environments once they leave the hospital.

When coupled with telehealth services, these digital technologies present patients with a healthcare experience delivered on their terms. And these benefits increase significantly for people living in remote locations, for whom visiting health providers is both costly and timely. Collaboration tools like WebEx are changing how healthcare services are delivered, with future opportunities set to incorporate AR/VR and advanced analytics.

By empowering patients, staff, and communities in this way, families and carers can gain greater insight in real-time, giving patients more control and less stressors within their healthcare journey.

And the data gathered means providers can have a more complete and up-to-date picture of their patient's condition, based on evidence and recorded as data. Furthermore, when this data is anonymised and analysed appropriately, it might yield useful public health insights which can further improve processes and boost patient outcomes.

This digital patient experience model requires an end-end-service model incorporating network connectivity, platforms, portals and automation but also importantly needs to incorporate high-quality integration and management to ensure that overall value, efficiency and optimisation is achieved.

This thinking is reflected in the work of Cisco Chair and Professor of Digital Health Systems at Flinders University, Patricia Williams, whose research into improving patient experience using information infrastructure modelling has demonstrated how a fundamental shift in thinking about the use of information infrastructure can transform the patient experience for the better.

 Bringing the benefits of digital healthcare to life

Cisco's imimobile platform, a customer interaction management solution, is bringing to life the benefits of digital healthcare by automating workflows for United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT), one of the largest acute NHS Trusts in England, caring for a large rural community. ULHT were having issues with patients missing appointments due to lost or late mail with no way to track if postal communications had been received, especially for those in rural areas where postal delivery times vary. Hospital staff were dissatisfied with the inefficient internal process and postage admin incurred high costs.

Within five months of implementing the new platform, the Did Not Attend (DNA) rate dropped from 5.8% to 4.1% which is one of the lowest in the country. This reduction of missed appointments creates potential income gains of more than £2 million per year as well as 57% cost savings through the reduction in postal correspondence.

Just as the trend towards digitalisation across society is undeniable, so too is the need to use these new capabilities to provide better healthcare experiences. Optus is working with the healthcare sector to harness the power of innovative solutions for integrated clinical care, patient engagement, cost effective delivery and smart infrastructure to meet growing healthcare demands into the future.

Cisco and Optus share a long history of enabling personalised experiences through their contact centre platform, which provides an essential component of the digital front door. This is backed by extensive capabilities in remote collaboration solutions, the role of fixed and mobile high-speed and secure networks, data security, and managing connected devices, which provides the foundations for highly effective digital healthcare solutions.

By embracing the possibilities of digital healthcare, providers can take a patient-first view of healthcare that offers better outcomes for patients and staff while reducing costs. 

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