10-year challenge with a golden retriever
PHOTO: Deb Miller

Did you take the 10-year challenge on Facebook? 

Some say it’s a fun nostalgic meme. Others maintain it's an insidious ploy to get facial recognition data. 

While it might be either, or both, I think the idea of looking back at the journey of 10 years is a perfect lens through which to examine our experience in the healthcare sector.

From Patience to Patients

In the 10-year challenge, you post a photo from 10 years ago and one from today, using the caption “How did aging affect you?”

More than 5.2 million people, including many celebrities, participated. It made me wonder how our healthcare experience has changed over that same 10-year period and “How did technology affect the patient?“

It just so happens, I recently needed to get blood work done and, as I walked into the lab, I thought about how the same visit would have gone a decade ago.

10 years ago: I wait in line to sign in on a paper list on a clipboard and then sit down in a crowded room to wait.

Today: I scan my iPhone reservation app appointment code into the kiosk in the waiting room.

10 years ago: I sit in the crowded waiting room.

Today: I am called immediately to the check-in desk where my digital information is reviewed and then I am escorted to the procedure room.

10 years ago: My name gets to the top of the list and I am called up to the check-in desk; they gather all of my information, check me in, and I sit back down.

Today: My blood work procedure is completed, and I am wished a safe trip.

10 years ago: I sit in the crowded waiting room.

Related Article: How Healthcare Providers Are Looking to Improve Customer Experience

From Disconnected to Digital

With the self-service lab reservation app and check-in kiosk, I was in and out in 15 minutes, but a decade ago it took two hours — most of it waiting in multiple queues — all for a simple procedure. Clearly, my healthcare provider has implemented technology-enabled process improvements that make a world of difference in streamlining the patient experience.

And while faster is good, much more has been happening behind the scenes over the past decade that is also improving the quality of patient outcomes, much of it achieved by connecting us through the maze of our healthcare providers and insurers.

The day following my blood work procedure, my doctor’s office had the lab results and pinged me to schedule an appointment. My doctor discussed my treatment plan and ordered new meds from my e-pharmacy for delivery to my home within a week. And my three forms of insurance coverage even communicated digitally, 
so I didn’t see a single bill.

What is happening to drive this improved patient experience?

Many might point to electronic health records (EHR) as the technology that has most impacted our patient experience over the past decade. And now there are experiments with blockchain technology to create the “connective tissue” of a healthcare utility network.

In my view, we already have technology that is making a real difference: Case management and intelligent automation platforms that provide 360-degree views of patient data and help communicate across patient portals, legacy systems, and multiple provider and payer networks.

Yet there is much still to be accomplished. What might be next for patient experience?

Related Article: How Retail, Banking and Healthcare Approach the Customer Journey

From Humans to Humanoids

Reenita Das, a healthcare analyst at Frost & Sullivan, who has been writing the firm’s healthcare predictions each year for the past decade, points to the increasing debate on human empathy vs. machine intelligence in a recent Forbes column.

Ten years ago, we struggled with call center waits to talk to human representatives with repeated reminders that “Your call is important to us” or got caught in endless and confusing interactive voice response (IVR) call trees, where we were told “Your response is not recognized, please repeat” by soulless robotic voices.

Today, when we contact a healthcare call center, we .... Wait, how much has really changed?

Call centers have been dealing for decades with voice recognition and speech technology limitations. There have been some great strides: Oftentimes today we may not know when we are talking to a human or a chatbot. With speech recognition, the bottleneck on the availability of data, and the ability to process it efficiently, was lifted when it became possible to offload the processing to cloud data centers to perform the large-scale data analysis necessary. And we have machine learning AI for sentiment analysis to inform human agents to respond more empathetically.

Related Article: Call Center Employees: The Superheroes of Customer Experience

The Next 10 Years

These technology advances are promising, but I seriously doubt that call centers — now omnichannel contact centers — will meet our expectations until they too incorporate case management and intelligent automation platforms into their operations.

While the 10-year challenge looked at our exterior signs of change over the past decade, I predict the true measure of change will be in what lies beneath it all — especially for healthcare.