Written by: Alexis Reagan Solutionreach Fall Scholarship Winner
In 2008, 39% of the population age 18-44, or approximately 44 million people, reported that they did not have a primary care physician (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 2002-2008; U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Moreover, this age group was also least likely to have at least one specific or usual form of ongoing care (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2011). Unfortunately, these same individuals were cited with having worse health outcomes, received less appropriate and lower quality care, were less likely to obtain preventative care services, and reported lower levels of patient-provider communication and trust (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2011). Thus, one of the most pertinent questions that seems to be plaguing our healthcare system is how do we encourage individuals, particularly younger and middle-aged generations, to obtain and foster beneficial patient-provider relationships?
The world we live in today is increasingly supported by technological systems that improve not only our levels of efficiency and accessibility, but also our quality of life. From smartphones, to tablets, to Smart TVs, home appliances, and security systems, it is abundantly clear that we rely on technology to be able to effectively run and monitor a large percentage of our everyday lives. Certainly, the estimated 20-25 million downloads of the gaming app Pokemon Go in its first month alone highlights a growing desire for individuals to merge the virtual world with reality, to stay plugged in and connected while simultaneously continuing to function in the real world (Lai, 2016). It should come as no surprise then that the healthcare system should, and is, beginning to capitalize on this reality.
Long gone should be the days where a yearly physical appointment, made a year in advance, is written down on a small reminder card only to be lost at the bottom of a purse or in the back of a wallet, ultimately forgotten by a patient until they are later informed they missed an appointment they never realized they had. Long gone should be the days when the timely receipt of medical records for a specialist visit, legal claim, or any other such purposes for which the patient is entitled, is hampered by stored physical files that are more at risk for natural disaster, delays in processing, and human error. Indeed, cloud-based platforms enable almost instantaneous, secure access to medical records, histories, prescriptions, referrals, and insurance and billing information, at the same time that it engages clients with rapid messaging capabilities, appointment reminders, scheduling features, and calendar integration, thereby promoting increased accessibility, interaction, and patient satisfaction (Solutionreach, n.d.). By also expanding visibility on social media, providing customized patient portals, and putting direct patient feedback into practice, providers can continue to remind busy patients with frequently demanding schedules that their office can meet their individual needs and desires in a secure, approachable, and user-friendly fashion while also seeking to acquire new patients who may otherwise currently lack an accessible, reliable healthcare provider (Solutionreach, n.d.).
Yet, as these cloud-based systems are showing us, healthcare providers can, and should, do more to foster patient relationships. As indicated in a 2011 National Healthcare Quality Report by a subdivision of The Department of Health and Human Services, the Institute of Medicine recognizes the vital importance of a patient centered system of care that strongly encourages not only quality healthcare services on the part of providers, but also “the education and support they [patients] need to make decisions and participate in their own care” (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2011). The beneficial outcomes of support, education, and an environment in which patients can become active participants are significant and varied, ranging from reduced costs to patients and providers, increased communication and more positive patient-provider relationships, and, perhaps most importantly, improved patient outcomes through an increase in “health literacy” and treatment and medication compliance (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2011). A transition to cloud-based healthcare platforms capitalizes on these advantages, allowing patients to quickly, easily, and effectively retrieve relevant, reliable healthcare information and research, either generally or on an individual scale, thus improving their levels of knowledge, satisfaction, and ability to be successful participants and communicators. In turn, providers are able to deliver more valuable, informed care and instruction, subsequently lowering rates of emergent care and rehospitalization, while also decreasing concerns that perhaps limited personal interactions with clients diminishes their relationships or ability to properly care for their patients’ wants and needs (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2011; Solutionreach, n.d.).
The future of healthcare seeks to go even further in their quest to make preventative and necessary care more easily accessible and satisfactory, utilizing cloud-based software and programs to facilitate virtual patient-provider appointments and interactions that don’t necessarily require a trip to the physician’s office, saving valuable time and money for all parties involved (Ratchinsky, 2016). Coupled with an already implemented patient portal system that enables almost instantaneous access to necessary health records both before and after the fact, patient and provider can coordinate and implement an effective healthcare strategy in a more streamlined and painless fashion. Not only will this likely encourage patients to seek care they might have otherwise forgone for time or financial reasons, but it will also likely allow providers to fit in more patients, freeing up office time and space for those necessitating in-office care.
While the security of a patient’s private and privileged healthcare information has long been a primary concern with respect to cloud-based platforms, technological advancements have continued to increase the safety of HIPAA-protected confidential information at the same time that they more thoroughly protect records that might otherwise be damaged, lost, or destroyed through accident, mistake, or misfortune. Moreover, as the population becomes increasingly reliant on technology to save them time, energy, and money, skepticism and distrust surrounding access to electronic records and cloud-based systems is giving way to a desire for healthcare providers to modernize and foster relationships based on the desires and needs of the 21st century individual. Indeed, rather than be seen as an impediment to true human interaction and relationships, technology and cloud-based systems are revitalizing the healthcare world and patient-provider communications, transforming the once sterile, frequently scary exam room into a platform by which both patient and provider can trust that the highest level of care, education, warm, personalized contact, and outreach is being given and received.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2011). National Healthcare Quality Report, 2011. Rockville: Department of Health and Human Services.
Lai, A. (2016, August 4). What Pokemon Go Reveals About Evolving Consumers. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/forrester/2016/08/04/what-pokemon-go-reveals-about-evolving-consumers/#36b191993953
Ratchinsky, K. (2016, June 27). Why the Healthcare Industry’s Move to Cloud Computing is Accelerating. Retrieved from CloudTech: http://www.cloudcomputing-news.net/news/2016/jun/27/why-healthcare-industrys-move-cloud-computing-accelerating/
Solutionreach. (n.d.). Services. Retrieved from Solutionreach: http://www.solutionreach.com
U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). Age and Sex Compositions: 2010. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
Alexis is currently an undergraduate at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire, pursing a B.A. in history while simultaneously working as a paralegal in a general litigation firm where she has seen, first-hand, clients struggle to obtain prompt access to the healthcare information they are entitled to. Following graduation, expected in May of 2018, she plans to pursue a law degree.