Making Healthcare More Personable

Personalized Data offers a More Holistic Approach to Patient Care

Healthcare, like many industries across our society, is undergoing a radical, even revolutionary change right now. As the power of our software investments and information gathering starts to show itself at full force in healthcare, those of us on the inside are asking the inevitable question, “what's next”? In other words, what do we do with all this damned data to actually make healthcare better?

In numerous conversations over the last few years with practitioners, administrators, managers, and even other vendors in the healthcare space, I've not frequently heard anyone wish there was more data. Quite the opposite – on more than one occasion, I hear one or another claim that there is too much data!

And yet, if we look to other sectors in society (marketing, automotive, social media), the call for more and better data never lets up. Search engines like Google and Bing crave data in any and all forms. Companies across a broad array of sectors are constantly investing in Hadoop and other big data initiatives.

What is the big differentiator between healthcare and all these other industries? Primarily it's the nature of our interactions. More than any space in society, healthcare is a series of highly personalized and highly individualized interactions between real people!

If I buy a car from Toyota, I know they've spent millions of dollars targeting me. I've read online reviews. I've searched out comparisons between the Toyota Highlander and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I've test driven different models at my local dealer. I fit a marketing persona developed at Toyota, perfected via market research, and targeted to me in a hundred interwoven ways (ads in This Old House featuring the Muppets, billboards near the L.L. Bean store where I shop, etc.).

The data underlying the Highlander's product development (a backup camera for child safety, seating for up to 8, in-car Bluetooth streaming audio) and the marketing effort highlighting this feature set reflects an incredibly sophisticated understanding of who is buying their cars, why they buy, and how to motivate them to buy this car amongst the class of competitors.

On the healthcare side, the whole interaction is infinitely different. I have a primary care provider (PCP) that I picked because I needed a family practitioner that ‘felt right' to me. We met and I introduced him to my whole family, all of whom were his potential patients. Last year when I had a health problem, the hospital I went to was the best hospital for my specific need. My doctor does not have privileges there and I did not speak to him till AFTER I got out. I also go to an acupuncturist that helped with symptoms, and a variety of other specialized physicians, all of whom were either recommended or referred, that assisted in my care.

And from one setting to another, the primary constant is me. Doctors in affiliated systems share medical data via the Electronic Health Record (EHR). Doctors outside of this system can access a majority of my data via the local Health Information Exchange (HIE). So the health history is there. But from office to office, the driving force for each interaction is the personal relationship I've built with each doctor and each office. Even in the hospital, I came to know the nurses, the attending physicians, even the staff who brought me food.

Healthcare, at its very core, is an interpersonal affair.

Unfortunately, healthcare at its core can also be an incredibly impersonal experience. Every time I walk into a new health encounter, all of the soft information I’ve previously shared in the various health settings does not exist. What about my preference for a quiet setting as a way to calm my nerves? I have to repeat it every time I have a new RN. What about my love of hiking, kayaking and swimming? I have to mention it every time a new physician asks what I am into or if I have ways to stay fit and active. The fact that I quit smoking more than twenty years ago – I have to write that on every medical form I fill out – EVERY TIME!

Quite simply, as much as I appreciate the one-on-one relationships I have built up with the variety of healthcare providers I know, each relationship is a new instance of the proverbial “reinvention of the wheel.' I start over each and every time.

So what is the answer? From my earlier description of how Google, Bing and Toyota crave more and better data so they can improve their targeting of me, the answer I am offering should be obvious – MORE DATA! But not just any data – physician practices, hospitals, and healthcare systems need to start collecting and using what we at Tribridge are terming “personalization data,” or data on the whole person, not just the patient.

There is a huge opportunity here. With the right data collected, and the deployment of that data in the right ways, healthcare can start moving to a place where the broader needs of patients are being met. With risk/reward contracts in place such as Accountable Care Organizations, the financial incentives have never been greater from the reimbursement side. In addition, there are tremendous marketing, revenue, and donation opportunities that will result from the personalization of healthcare data. In addition, the health and wellness benefits for patients will be remarkable.

A few examples might help.

  • A patient is being treated for Type 2 Diabetes. At a PCP appointment, the patient mentions that he wished he had air conditioning. The nurse captures that the patient does not have AC in their personalization information. Because people with diabetes are at higher risk in high heat and humidity, this triggers an alert to the system's care coordination or social work group to follow up so they can find out if the patient can/will purchase an AC unit and to provide patient education on the impact of summer weather on people with diabetes. If the patient indicates he can't afford an AC unit, the system generates an automated email referral to a local agency that helps with heating and cooling needs for low income families.
  • A hospital system wants to start offering concierge level service to patients who pay an additional annual fee. These people are targets for a variety of health and wellness services, and are also of interest to the Foundation development team. While at a visit, one of the concierge patients indicates she is an avid golfer. This information is entered into their personalization information. This automatically alerts her PCP office via the scheduling system, so that at her next appointment, they provide an article on the benefits of exercise physiology for a better golf swing. In addition, she is automatically put into a marketing nurture program for the system-owned sports medicine clinic. And finally, the development office is notified that she should be specifically called and targeted for a golf fundraiser.
  • A young couple is expecting their first child. The woman has never been treated for depression, but in a depression screening the prior year, she tested positive. Her OB/GYN office is notified that she should be notified of the risks of post-partum depression, and should be offered a seat in a class on the topic. In addition, with the wife's permission, her husband is emailed links to a series of online resources focused on identifying the symptoms of post-partum depression, along with contact information for local resources. This information is all automatically added to a library in his patient portal for later retrieval. And finally, the couple is automatically scheduled to receive phone calls from an RN in their PCP's office 1 and 3 months after their hospital discharge date to do a short, follow-up depression screening.

Each of these scenarios hints into the myriad possibilities a well-developed personalization infrastructure can play in the care and well-being of patients. With Microsoft Dynamics CRM at the center, and integrations to relevant systems, this type of personalized healthcare is very much a present reality.

We are not necessarily saying that the answer is simply MORE data – we are saying that the answer is MORE MEANINGFUL AND ACTIONABLE data. And with our personalization infrastructure and design, the benefits to both patients, providers, and healthcare systems will be immediate, tangible, and deeply impactful.

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