Technology plays 'supporting role' in optimal patient experience, survey finds

Most people view technology as an enhancement to healthcare, but still consider the doctor-patient relationship as the most important aspect of a satisfying patient experience, according to a new survey.

The survey, produced by voice-recognition software company Nuance Communications Inc., polled 3,000 patients in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. Among respondents, 97 percent said they were comfortable with the use of technology in healthcare. However, when asked about the most important factors for a positive experience with a physician, patients most valued verbal communication, privacy, eye contact, handshake/physical contact and physicians' body positioning.

The findings indicate that "while technology is a key component in the healthcare ecosystem, it should only play a supporting role. Patients need to be center stage," the report concluded.

To Bud Lawrence, M.D. (pictured), an emergency medicine physician at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, California, technological advances in the care setting make it possible for doctors to focus more on patient care. When his hospital transitioned from all-paper to all-electronic records, it ran less efficiently for the first 30 days, about the same as before for the next 30 days, then from 60 days on was "efficiency positive," he said during an exclusive interview with FierceHealthIT.

"Using this electronic medical record, and all of the gadgets and the voice recognition and all of the other stuff that we have, has allowed us to have actually have [what] I would call the luxury of more bedside time with the patient," he said.

His optimism is echoed in the survey, as 89 percent of patients said they had good relationships with their primary care physicians and 80 percent felt they were engaged in their own health.

But Lawrence has found when visiting other facilities that his hospital's experience isn't necessarily the case everywhere. He's heard some clinicians say "this electronic medical record really slows me down and takes away from our patient time," though he thinks that effect is more due to the way a hospital is run.

"What really I've noticed from site to site is that there's a lot of variation in how people implement things and how people's workflow is," he said. "A lot of the subtleties with how you implement something and what your workflow is like really impacts that patient experience."

Indeed, 40 percent of patients surveyed indicated they felt rushed during physician visits--unsurprising given that nearly half reported they spend just 10 to 20 minutes with their doctors.

Yet this efficiency isn't always bad. For Lawrence's hospital, going digital has reduced the facility's "left-without-being-seen" rate from more than 4 percent to less than 1 percent after the transition.

"We're able to even treat more patients and spend more time with them," he said.

To learn more:
- here's the survey (.pdf)
- read the statement