Eventually in healthcare, there will be an app for that

As a traveling consultant, I eat at a lot of restaurants on the road and am frequently short on time when I do. I have had to learn to live with the very inefficient current model of business in restaurants. Wait to be seated, order your beverage, wait again, hear the specials, order my meal, wait some more, eat my meal, wait for the check, pay the bill, wait again, you get the picture. I love good service, but why do I have to wait to be asked and for the server to share the specials with me as if it were some big secret. Information seems to be shared only when you ask, and then only in limited amounts. Why can’t I just go online, see the menu, order, and pay when I’m done with the terminal at my table? And now … here it is – they have an app for that.

An iPad at every table to put the customer in charge of his destiny. This model has the potential to upend the current service model. The dependence on those running the restaurant is gone. Now the customer is truly in control. Although servers were concerned they would be put out of a job, the opposite has happened. They now have more time to focus on actual service and spend more time with their patrons. Customer and server satisfaction has increased and tips have actually gone up. Restaurants are still reluctant to adopt this, but are cautiously evaluating its effectiveness and are studying how this just might work.

With a bit of tweaking, it seems to me that something like this would be the perfect patient centered app for hospitalized patients. One of the biggest fears and frustrations for those in our healthcare system today is the lack of information and the lack of control. How much better would the care and outcomes be if we used this type of technology to truly put the patient in the center of their own care by providing real time, up to date information? What if the “app for that” looked something like this:

• Every morning a daily summary in laypersons terms of the physician’s orders and daily notes is shared that allows the patient to advance their care. “Good morning, Mark. The doctor has changed your diet this morning. Would you like to see a menu for lunch? Click here”

• A summary of medication changes with links to layperson information on new medication as an educational tool appears with each medication update. “Your medicine for your blood pressure has been changed. Here is a link to information on this medicine. Click here for links to the pharmacy nearest your home with the best pricing. Would you like this link sent to your physician”

• “Your doctor is running late on rounds today. He has shared with us he plans to be here around 3PM. Please let your family know.” How much more time would there be for nurses to actually care for patients if this type of communication was automatic?

• “What questions do you have for the doctor today?” “When can I take a shower?” “The doctor will be happy to discuss this with you, but in the meantime, click here for information provided to us by your doctor on what to expect after this surgery.”

• “There will be a live online hangout with others who have had your surgery. Some are still here in the hospital and some have had your surgery recently and are now home. Click here to reserve your spot.”

• And this is my favorite – “Here is a running total of your bill to date. If you have any questions about your bill, click here to speak with a live representative now.”

I understand that this type of communication would require an enormous change in culture and in systems. The creation of the “app for that” will be necessary, but not sufficient to create this change. And much like the restaurant industry, few in healthcare would be willing to jump into this with both feet. It will take a lot of momentum for something like this to occur, but many are looking for new and better ways to re-create the healthcare system every day and as the call for true patient centered care continues to grow, the “app for that” may be here sooner than we all think.

-Mark W. Browne is Principal, Pershing Yoakley & Associates and can be found on Twitter @consultdoc.

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