“The Patient Will See You Now” is not just the title of an excellent book by Dr. Eric Topol, it’s also the truth. The 21st century digital revolution is completely changing patient behavior and expectations. These changes will impact all of healthcare, from large hospital systems, to local urgent cares, to single physician primary care practices.
With this change also comes an amazing opportunity for nurses to make a larger impact. As nurses ourselves, we have researched consumer health behavior extensively at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab. We’ve learned the patient experience does not start when a patient walks in the clinic door. Nor does it start when they call the doctor’s office nurse triage line. It starts with Dr. Google and online searches looking for answers to health questions.
No longer are patients first contacting their doctor’s office like they did decades ago. Instead, the patient is relying on the internet, symptom checkers, WebMD, local urgent care, walk-in clinics, and any other form of information that is on-demand and provides quick, efficient, easy care. The healthcare journey today starts too early for the existing healthcare infrastructure to properly guide the patient. Which is why, so often, our patients unnecessarily end up in urgent care and emergency rooms.
This is bad care, and our patients deserve better.
So, how do we fix this? How do we get our patients back to using us as the most trusted source that they go to first?
Thankfully, healthcare has a secret weapon that ranks more trustworthy and more influential than any other profession – nurses! For 16 years running, nurses have ranked as the most trusted profession in each year’s Gallup poll. We are the trusted voice patients want.
Unfortunately, we are removed from the patient by leaps and bounds. When doing telephone triage we are overburdened with calls, which causes the patient to go through multiple barriers before they can even hear our voice. For example, let’s say a patient calls asking a simple question regarding the common cold, instead of talking to a nurse immediately, the following happens:
- They speak with the secretary, and then leave a voicemail
- We listen to the voicemail
- We record the voicemail into the patient’s chart
- We make sure their call back is placed into the queue
- We call the patient back when we have time (and hopefully get ahold of them the first time)
- We record the conversation into the patient’s electronic medical record
Only then, sometimes hours later, does the patient get to talk with us. Well, by then, there is no question they have started searching online, scared themselves silly, and probably went to a nearby emergency room. We lost our chance to connect our patients with the most trusted person they originally wanted to chat with!
That’s why we, nurses, created Nurse-1-1 for nurses. I know because I’m one of those nurses. Our text-based triage is a nurse’s dream. Text is easier, takes less time, and reduces the amount of patient callbacks that we need to do over and over again.
With text triage, the goal is to make the flow much easier. My everyday life uses text messaging, so I wanted to have the same experience with my patients. Now, if a patient wants to ask me about their cold symptoms, the workflow is:
- We answer the text message from anywhere (via HIPAA-compliant smartphone app)
- We record the text conversation into the patient’s chart with a quick, copy/paste
That’s it. 6 steps are now 2.
Happier nurses. Happier patients. And, the patient has a record of the conversation on their app that they can refer back to if they need.
This is a no brainer. We already text chat with our closest friends and family, having them send us photos of their child’s rash or bruise. So why don’t we do this with our patients too? Shouldn’t our patients get the family treatment?
Technology is rapidly changing the way we interact with patients, and sometimes it feels as if we can’t do enough to keep up with it all. But, when something comes along as easy as texting, allowing us to quickly and efficiently deliver quality healthcare while making patients happy, well, that’s something we can get on board with.