Creating a Pleasant Patient Experience - Cover

Creating a Pleasant Patient Experience

Once upon a time, six blind men encountered an elephant. They set out to figure out what the elephant was. One man felt the elephant’s trunk and decided it was a hose. Another felt the elephant’s tusks and called them spears. Another one felt the body and said it was a wall. The ears were called fans, and the tail was pronounced a snake. The blind men shared their conclusions, and none of them could agree on what they were seeing. While they were arguing, the elephant became startled and trampled them all to death.

Last month, at our most recent Digital Health Investment Symposium (DHIS), one keynote speaker used this well-known story as an analogy for the patient experience. The speaker was Dr. Yaa Kumah-Crystal, Clinical Director of Health IT at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Kumah-Crystal stated that she was in fact addressing the proverbial “elephant in the room,” which is that many patients feel the pain that comes from a disconnected, siloed, inefficient healthcare experience. She then proceeded to describe the ordeal end to end and pose questions and suggestions to investors and healthcare organizations about how to create a more enticing, efficient, pleasant patient journey.


“Where do you start out when you are sick?” Dr. Kumah-Crystal asked. “In this modern age, most of us go to Dr. Google.” The thing is that search engines have a lot of information, and not all of it is accurate.

“What is our responsibility and role in pointing our patients to the right information so that they can make informed decisions and self-diagnose before they get to the doctor's office?” Dr. Kumah-Crystal suggested that healthcare systems can point their patients to accurate sources of truth, perhaps even before they show up for an appointment.

Another way to self-diagnose is through a voice assistant. That opens a whole new can of worms. While a search engine might produce too much information, a voice assistant might not give users enough information. And that information can vary depending on what voice assistant is used.

To show that process in action, Dr. Kumah-Crystal proceeded to ask Siri, Google, and Alexa to “tell [her] about COVID-19.” Each voice assistant shared slightly different information.

Finding a Doctor

After the patient attempts a self-diagnosis, the next step in the patient journey is often to find a doctor. In the old days, doctors relied on their reputation in the community to get new patients. These days, getting patients in the door looks a little different.

People are evaluating potential doctors on websites like Yelp. Star ratings are not the only criteria they use to determine where to go. They look at granular information about wait times, bedside manners, and friendly staff members. One of Dr. Kumah-Crystal’s colleagues even said that she was going to pick her OB/GYN based on the office’s EHR integration capabilities.

“Even my mom, who doesn't like computers, understands that a two-star doctor is probably not as good as a five-star doctor,” said Dr. Kumah-Crystal. “So what actions are we taking to engage new patients? How can we show the world what we actually want to convey about the care that we deliver?”

Personal Doctor-to-Patient Interactions

When a patient travels to the office for their appointment, all too often, the doctor is too busy banging away at the keyboard to look that patient in the eye. Patients may almost feel like they are interrupting the doctor from their work. When the doctor is done, they turn around and rattle off important information that the patient doesn’t always understand.

Let’s say, for example, that the doctor wants the patient to get an MRI. The minute the word MRI is spoken, the patient’s brain might start to go fuzzy with worry, and they might not even hear what else the doctor has to say. The next day, the patient may attempt to explain the results of the visit to their family and fail to do so accurately.

Scribes have been around for years, but they are kind of hard to scale. Fortunately, technology has progressed to the point that it can understand human speech and generate a note. Virtual scribes or speech recognition technology frees up doctors to talk to patients while observing their facial expressions and body language. Patients may even be given a copy of the recorded conversation through their patient portal. That way, they can review it at home and go over anything they missed in the office. Unfortunately, such technology is underused in healthcare.

Avoiding Pharmacy Mishaps

Let’s say that the doctor prescribes the patient medicine for their condition. The patient goes to the pharmacy to pick it up, upon which the pharmacist informs them that insurance won’t cover the medication and that it costs $500. The patient can’t afford that. The pharmacist asks them to wait while they call the doctor to ask for an alternative or generic version of the pill. Meanwhile, there is a long line of people waiting behind that patient. Some patients might be so thrown off that they will leave right then. Others will simply be inconvenienced.

That scenario can be avoided if an organization has access to software that sends price discrepancy alerts at the point of ordering. Some systems are even smart enough to catch whether a prescription has been picked up. The doctor can use that information to follow up with the patient and close the loop.

Harnessing Technology 

Dr. Kumah-Crystal concluded her presentation by stating, “We don’t have to boil the whole ocean, but there are small opportunities to make the patient journey a little more seamless.” The pandemic has forced us to address the elephant in the room by moving to telehealth and hospital-at-home models. Doctors are starting to engage patients in their care and make the patient journey easier.

The goal is to shift the patient mentality from simply going to the doctor when sick to taking personal accountability for one’s health journey. And the easier that is for a patient to do, the more likely they will do it.

Is your organization is looking for help with patient referrals, virtual scribes, speech recognition systems, patient portals, pharmacy software, or other forms of technology to smooth the way for patients? Or are you an investor looking to help healthcare vendors expand their capabilities and enhance the patient experience? Please check out the KLAS website to find out more about the vendors you would like to engage.