How to Reconnect with Patients as the Pandemic Slows

How to reconnect with patients as the pandemic slows.  A woman in a dress, standing in an open field of grass, holds a surgical mask in her right hand.

Research by sister company Lippincott of consulting firm Oliver Wyman has found many people have lost confidence during the pandemic and felt increasingly disconnected from others, the media and the federal government. At the same time, there has been an upsurge in connections with employers, corporations and brands, notes Amit Sabharwal, senior partner at Lippincott.

This shift creates an opportunity for hospitals and healthcare systems to fill a gap, Sabharwal explained at the recent Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit. Healthcare leaders, leaders from healthcare startups and others speaking at the conference shared ways provider organizations can reconnect with patients.

3 ways to reconnect with patients

1 | Create meaningful changes in patients’ daily lives.

Executives from Cityblock Health, a provider group serving low-income populations, and Grapevine Health, a media company working to improve health literacy, said outreach and engagement are just one piece of the puzzle.

Lisa Fitzpatrick, MD, Grapevine CEO, seeks to fill a gap at one of the most fundamental levels – health literacy. Grapevine works to provide communities with relevant, reliable, and relatable health information.

Fitzpatrick has seen firsthand how many patients are not getting the information they need. She moved from her luxury apartment in Washington, DC to one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where health outcomes and health literacy lag behind. Some examples of things she’s heard on the streets in her neighborhood are: “I wasn’t sick before I went to the doctor” and “Is cancer contagious?”

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More importantly, a neighbor didn’t quite understand how his heart condition could be causing him to be out of breath. What she learned growing Grapevine is that the message and the messenger are important. People want to hear from others who look like them and have shared experiences. Information must be authentic and developed to meet that person’s needs.

Cityblock CEO Toyin Ajayi, MD said her group is successful because it builds commitment to patients.

She pointed to Cityblock programs that help pregnant women manage their health care during and after childbirth; and working across the continuum of care to ensure patients with behavioral disorders are transitioned in real time so they don’t fall through the cracks. The Company has a mobile integrated care program that utilizes video and phone visits, text messaging and home care.

key to take away

Health literacy, access and engagement are critical to restoring trust and building connections.

2 | Build solutions that translate and synthesize information for better outcomes.

Technology is critical to the field’s efforts to reconnect with patients and communities. Heiyab Tessema, Partner at Oliver Wyman, outlined some opportunities and challenges facing the field.

For example, 5G opens up a world of opportunities to expand access to rural and other underserved areas. This can result in data arriving from internet-connected devices in a more timely manner and can level the playing field for competitors across healthcare. But connectivity alone won’t solve the problems, he said. Data for the sake of data does not lead to better results. What is needed are solutions that translate and synthesize information.

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Tessema said tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning can exacerbate health inequalities. “We need more transparency about where the data is coming from and we need to generate more data points,” he said.

key to take away

The field must solve the problem of biases present in data if it wants to realize the full potential of digital tools.

3 | Use technology to build a sustainable workforce and improve patient care.

Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist, explained how the creative use of technology is helping Houston Methodist build a sustainable workforce.

The first step, she said, was to ditch the regular playbook of commitment rewards and break the bank for traveling nurses. “Innovation is the only way out,” she said.

Some examples: Deploying a telenursing platform that relies on a centralized team of nurses connected to iPads in patient rooms to manage patient admissions and discharges. The program reduced the time required for these processes by 30 minutes and freed up bedside nurses to focus on patient care.

They also use the BioButton, a wearable device, to track patients’ vital signs in real time, eliminating the need for caregivers to constantly wake patients up at night. And chatbots and natural language processing have been used during COVID-19 vaccination events to automate and streamline planning. These efforts have been extended to other areas.

key to take away

Culture change is the biggest hurdle, Schwartz said. “It takes a stomach of steel and absolute dedication to say you won’t always get it right.”

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