Industry Voices—From millennials to boomers, digital patient care is key

Older patient using telehealth
The perception that age is a limiting factor in technology adoption has been a poor excuse in healthcare for far too long. (Agenturfotografin/Shutterstock)

Critics of the American healthcare system have said for years that healthcare has fallen behind in technology and not implemented new technologies quickly enough.

In fact, a quick Google search shows that technology adoption in healthcare (or rather the lack thereof) was a hot topic just about a year ago with numerous blogs and news outlets posting pieces about it.

While it may have been true for some time that healthcare is slow to embrace new technologies, the recent pandemic has shown the industry that—ready or not—technology was here, it was necessary, and it was time to embrace it or get left behind.

The good news—at least it seems so far that healthcare actually was ready, as were the patients of all ages who act as consumers for our healthcare system.

In the past, healthcare technology companies had often been stopped in their tracks when potential buyers (hospitals and healthcare systems) pose the question: What about older patients? Will baby boomers actually use patient-facing technologies the same way younger people do?

As total joint replacements and heart surgeries are among the most common and lucrative revenue streams in healthcare, it’s logical to align the standard age group for these procedures with what they want and expect from technology. But the idea that baby boomers or older generations will scoff at using emerging technologies is outdated.

RELATED: From telehealth visits to digital pharmacies, seniors have ramped up technology use during COVID-19: survey

Healthcare’s hesitation in embracing technology may stem from some irrational fears, misconceptions, and unfortunately the perceived price tag. But despite the fact that people of all ages use banks, maps, travel and entertainment, all of those industries have evolved significantly in the past ten years and have been unafraid of how older users may or may not adopt that technology.

People of all ages use direct deposit and pay bills electronically rather than stand in line to cash a paper check at the bank. When was the last time you saw anyone of any age pull an atlas out of the pocket of the passenger seat?

The perception that age is a limiting factor in technology adoption has been a poor excuse in healthcare for far too long.

Other industries have proven time and time again that while different age groups might consume technology differently and prefer different apps, when it makes a difference in customer service, everyone can get on board.

While it might be true that few baby boomers use TikTok and that (believe it or not), Facebook isn’t a widely used app for teens and young adults anymore, those are just fringe examples of what technology represents: an easy way for people to connect, attain products and services, and make tasks easier for themselves.

If healthcare can do that for patients, it won’t matter how old they are. They’ll be delighted to use technology if it means a better customer experience.

So what is the future of customer experience in healthcare? Patients have been voicing the desire for simple things like online scheduling for years. And it makes sense. No matter how old a patient is, nobody wants to find time in their busy day to figure out what hours their clinic is open, track down the phone number, call, and navigate through multiple menus only to be told that the staff is off for lunch until 1 p.m. and to please call back later.

RELATED: Poll: Medicare Advantage members are taking to telehealth

But COVID-19 showed us just how much more we can do digitally, and it showed us why that’s important.

While telehealth has been around for years, many people didn’t know it was an option and reimbursement was a massive obstacle for clinician adoption. Now it’s a no brainer. Why would anyone—baby boomer to Gen Z and anywhere in between—want to take off work, find transportation and childcare, and sit in a waiting room with a dozen sick people touching magazines that have been held by other sick patients, and “see the doctor” for two minutes just to get a script and leave?

Nobody has ever wanted that, and now the world has learned that we don’t have to do it.

There’s an easier way, and healthcare is ready for it.

Healthcare can be digitized in so many new ways. Even simple things like the signage in hallways or the paper clipboards hanging outside patient rooms that show precautions can be automated and “plugged in” to show up-to-date information at all times.

It doesn’t matter how old a patient is; those technologies might be patient facing, but they require zero technological know-how for patients. But integrating hospital campus displays with the electronic health record (EHR) and other systems can provide significantly better customer service.

RELATED: UnitedHealth execs: Patients are using telehealth for convenience, not as a necessity

Why are there still dry erase boards in patient rooms? Their manual nature means the information isn’t always trustworthy because it isn’t always updated. And certainly nowadays it’s imperative that healthcare decrease the number of touched items in patient rooms like markers and erasers. Digital whiteboards can be updated in real time with no manual intervention and no physical touching.

Finally, it’s important to give patients of all ages multiple ways to interact with technology so they can choose the most comfortable modality that’s right for them.

Give patients smartphone access to medical records and ways to control their hospital room. Prescribe them video education to be watched on their own devices. Let them use their tablet or smartphone to interact with their care team and control their own environment.

And for those few who may not have smartphones or aren’t comfortable using them, turning the patient’s TV into a digital command center is a great way to empower them with all the latest technology that’s available to them and the only “new” device they’ll need is the pillow speaker handset.

It’s a way to give everyone interactive tools as healthcare becomes the next industry to show that it truly cares about the customer (and patient) experience.

Jeff Fallon brings over 30 years of experience in healthcare technology, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostics to eVideon as Chief Executive Officer. Prior to joining eVideon, he helped distinguished organizations such as Johnson & Johnson and patient experience technology companies forge innovative strategic relationships and strategies. He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and a former member and current advisor to the Board of Directors for Western Pennsylvania HIMSS chapter.