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 from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman’s sister company Lippincott has found that many people during the pandemic lost trust and felt increasingly disconnected from other individuals, the media and the federal government. At the same time, there’s been an upswing in connections with employers, businesses and brands, notes Amit Sabharwal, a Lippincott senior partner.

This shift creates an opportunity for hospitals and health systems to fill a void, Sabharwal explained at the recent Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit. Health care leaders, executives from health care startups and others who spoke at the conference shared ways that provider organizations can reestablish connections with patients.

3 Ways to Reconnect with Patients

1 | Create meaningful change in patients’ daily lives.

Leaders from Cityblock Health, a provider group that serves low-income populations, and Grapevine Health, a media company that works to improve health literacy, said outreach and engagement are just part of the puzzle.

Lisa Fitzpatrick, M.D., Grapevine’s CEO, is attempting to bridge a gap at one of the most fundamental levels — health literacy. Grapevine is working to deliver relevant, reliable and relatable health information to communities.

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

More pressing, one neighbor didn’t fully understand how his heart condition could lead to his being out of breath. What’s she’s learned in growing Grapevine is that the message and messenger matter. People want to hear from others who look like them and have shared experiences. Information must be authentic and developed in a manner that suits that person’s needs.

Toyin Ajayi, M.D., Cityblock’s CEO, said her group has been successful because it builds engagement with patients.

She pointed to Cityblock programs that help pregnant women navigate their health care journey during and after delivery; and working across the care continuum to ensure real-time handoffs for behavioral health patients so they don’t fall through the cracks. The company has a mobile integrated care program, which uses video and phone visits, text messaging and in-home care.

Key Takeaway

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

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

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

For instance, 5G opens a world of possibilities to extend access to rural and other underserved areas. It can result in more timely data coming in from internet-connected devices and may level the playing field for competitors across health care. But connectivity alone won’t solve the problems, he said. Data for data’s sake won’t result in better outcomes. What’s needed are solutions that translate and synthesize information.

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

Key Takeaway

The field must solve for the issue of biases that exist in data if it is going 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 creative use of technology is helping Houston Methodist build a sustainable workforce.

The first step, she said, was throwing away the regular playbook of retention bonuses and breaking the bank on travel nurses. “Innovation is the only way out,” she said.

Some examples: deploying a telenursing platform that relies on a centralized team of nurses linked to iPads in patient rooms to conduct intake and patient discharge. The program cut 30 minutes out of the time it takes to do those processes and freed bedside nurses to return to patient care.

They also use the BioButton, a wearable device, to track patient vitals in real time, eliminating the need for nurses to continually wake patients at night. And chatbots and natural language processing were deployed during COVID-19 vaccination events to automate and streamline scheduling. That effort has been expanded to other areas.

Key Takeaway

Culture change is the biggest hurdle, Schwartz said. “You need a stomach of steel and absolute dedication to say you’re not always going to get it right.”

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