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    Chris Harrop
    Chris Harrop
    I love modern conveniences.

    Movie tickets bought on an app that allow me to walk straight to my seat? Yes, please.

    Self-checkout at the grocery store? I don’t even remember the last time I talked to a cashier.

    So when the topic of keeping “the human touch” in medicine comes up, I give pause. You say I can point my smartphone camera in the general area of discomfort and some faraway physician will give me the scoop via telehealth? Where do I sign up?

    I’m also the kind of person who walks to the end of the driveway to retrieve the local print newspaper, spreads it out on the coffee table and consumes it, section by section. And, yes, sometimes I even stand in a physical line with other people to purchase concert tickets.

    We want things fast and easy except when we don’t. Our expectations are not dictated by a stereotypical understanding of personality or generation. They evolve and vary on preference or even by the day’s mood.

    Call it fickle. Call it “the customer is always right.” Call it a headache. But when you’re done calling it every name in the book and the swear jar is full, step back and call it for what it is: good business.

    Very late on a recent Sunday night I took my wife to our closest emergency room for what we worried was a stroke. By 5 a.m., it was clear that it was much less serious than initially feared and we headed home for an unexpectedly rough start to the week.

    The paperwork sent home with us listed a URL for the payment portal and little else beyond a receipt for the copay. Every few days, I would log in to check if the portal would actually work for us and display any information about the claims sent to the insurance company.

    More than two weeks later, a thick envelope from the provider arrived. I might have shuddered at the thought of a bill that physically hefty, but I knew better. It was something almost as disappointing: a paper survey to gauge patient satisfaction with the ER visit, with a postage-paid envelope enclosed to return it.

    I pondered: What year is this? Do I have any eight-tracks of anthemic Britpop suitable for this very 1985 scenario?

    Thankfully, I was never too worried about what the grand total would be, because my insurance carrier has an easy-to-use app that showed each claim, the total amount billed and how much the plan paid for each claim.

    But what about the patient who walks in without insurance or a high-deductible plan? How many of them are sweating the threat of an unknown bill from the ER without the benefit of the mobile app that updated me daily? (Tears for fears, indeed.) This wasn’t what he was singing about, but Tom Petty was right: “The waiting is the hardest part.”

    In this anecdote, “the human touch” missing from healthcare wasn’t the third-shift care providers or their ability to handle the dazed and worried state we were in during the wee hours of the morning. While some may not give a second thought to a remaining balance until the bill arrives, the promise of being able to easily handle it online was broken.

    It reminded me of the fine article penned by Anthony Leon earlier this year about how the handling of his sister’s treatment after a serious hiking accident made him rethink his own work on interoperability within healthcare IT.

    In short, Anthony’s sister missed a surgery window due to a delay in a medical records request that, for an increasing number of American healthcare consumers, could be fulfilled with an app.

    “Imagine the scenario where the records were able to be sent via Direct, or queried from the local [health information exchange], or even if my sister was given her own [personal health record]?” he wrote. “The lack of interoperability meant a worse patient outcome. ... It is time we humanize healthcare because what we do goes beyond data points, lives are being [affected] by our choices.”

    Consider the time we spend with digital media: U.S. adults devote about half of their media day — time devoted to all forms of media — consuming digital content. From 2013 to 2017, the average hours per day spent on a desktop or laptop computer decreased slightly, dropping from 2.3 to 2.1. However, during that time, the hours spent on mobile devices increased more than 78%, from 2.3 hours a day to 3.3 hours.

    This is largely responsible for the growth in total digital media consumption across all devices, which increased from 4.9 hours in 2013 to 5.9 hours in 2017.

    Much of our time is being devoted to our devices, and we’re not finding new ways to create more hours in the day. When it comes to consumers, the human touch is an unceasing string of taps and swipes on protective glass and liquid crystal displays.

    As multiple articles in this issue of MGMA Connection magazine show, the embrace of all things digital boosts our mobility, but the challenge remains to provide the agility to keep up.

    Ask yourself the question posed on the cover about your organization: Are you responsive? Either way, it’s likely that a customer somewhere will consider you responsible.
    Chris Harrop

    Written By

    Chris Harrop

    A veteran journalist, Chris Harrop serves as managing editor of MGMA Connection magazine, MGMA Insights newsletter, MGMA Stat and several other publications across MGMA. Email him.

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