The healthcare sector has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, driven in large part by advances in digital communication technology. The adoption of digital tools and platforms has revolutionized the way healthcare professionals interact with patients, share medical information, and collaborate with colleagues. It has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery, and paved the way for innovations that continue to shape the future of the industry, including personalized medicine and advanced approaches to health data management.
If we look at the “patient journey” in healthcare, we will see how the touch points set up by industry players now encompass the entire patient experience, from learning about a provider to planning a visit and receiving care, all the way to follow-up actions. In this sense, all healthcare communication flows cannot ignore the possibilities offered by technology, which has become essential for creating seamless healthcare consumer pathways. In other words: the support of an integrated technology stack (both digital and traditional channels) is essential for a modern and efficient communication system in the Healthcare sector.
This post explores the profound impact of new technologies on communication in the Healthcare sector, highlighting their benefits, challenges, and potential.
The Evolution of Communication in the Healthcare Sector
Over the years, communication in the healthcare sector has undergone many radical transformations, primarily impacting the IT infrastructure of institutions and companies operating in the sector. The technological change brought about by digitization has rapidly affected how work is organized and the quality and quantity of services offered, where it has profoundly reshaped the patient journey: from care delivery to health data management, and from research and development to general operations.
To grasp the magnitude of this change, we will briefly retrace the main stages of how healthcare communication has evolved and investigate today’s most important innovations.
From the 1960s to the 1980s: the first computerized systems
The 1960s marked the appearance of the first computerized medical data management systems and a series of rudimentary health databases in the United States. The first attempts to digitize patients’ electronic health records (EHRs) were also made during this period. At first, EHRs were so expensive that they could only be used by governments in partnership with major healthcare organizations, and throughout the next decade they were used by larger hospitals primarily for billing and scheduling.
Also during the 1960s, a new “problem-oriented” approach to the medical record (still paper based) began to emerge, involving the addition of information to enrich the clinical picture of an individual patient. The medical record facilitates coordination of preventive care and its administration and it became an effective means of communication for members of health care teams.
Although records are still largely paper-based (and therefore must be filed and moved physically) at this time, by the 1980s electronic filing became much more common and business technology advanced enough to allow electronic faxing of records (at least in case of emergency, such as for contacting a patient’s family physician, for example). From here, the development of electronic medical records began to accelerate.
The 1990s: the spread of electronic health records
By the early 1990s, electronic technology had entered most U.S. medical offices, but the use of computers was still limited (where they were mainly used to keep records up to date). Electronic medical records were still viewed primarily at hospital medical facilities and academic outpatient clinics and they included data exchange for processing requests and image scanning for document capture. It’s only with the advent of the internet that the change gradually spread to a large scale: from that time, recording and transferring prescription history and sharing electronic medical records ceased to be sporadic activities.
It is undoubtedly one of the most significant transformations ever in the healthcare industry: electronic medical records now centralized patient data, making it accessible, searchable, and shareable among health care facilities. This resulted in a progressive rationalization of information and reduced paper records.
Electronic health records have made patient data more accurate and they have made it easier to access, update, and share vital medical information. In doing so, EHRs not only improved the quality of care, they also improved coordination among various healthcare providers, effectively imposing a new paradigm of healthcare communication.
The 2000s: from telemedicine to cloud computing
Since the 2000s, and especially since the 2010s, telemedicine services have expanded, particularly in remote patient monitoring.
The key benefit offered by the widespread adoption of telemedicine is the ability to bridge distances.
Telemedicine enables remote consultation, monitoring, and diagnosis, thus making healthcare much more accessible. The advent of telemedicine represents a turning point in health care delivery. By leveraging digital communication, providers are able to diagnose, treat, and consult with patients wherever they are. This is particularly crucial when it comes to providing care to people in remote or underserved areas or during global health crises, as happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the mid-2010s, we’ve seen significant growth in cloud computing, a key technology that facilitates data storage and sharing. Healthcare organizations are increasingly migrating their data and applications to the cloud because cloud-based systems offer scalability, flexibility, and efficiency and allow operators to securely store and analyze large volumes of data.
The number of artificial intelligence, IoT device, and blockchain applications is also growing, and there is an increasing emphasis on data analytics, which can be leveraged to improve the timely health management of large segments of patients.
Electronic health records are subject to further specialization: employing data within predictive analytics initiatives can provide insights that improve clinical decision making. The goal is to further simplify workflows, increase productivity, and improve physician-patient interactions.
Without question, the evolution of digital communication in healthcare has been transformative. From the adoption of electronic health records to the rise of telemedicine, from the integration of cloud-based solutions to the introduction of artificial intelligence applications, the health care sector has witnessed radical change. Digital communication tools have not only streamlined administrative processes, they have redesigned the patient experience: they have improved patient engagement, facilitated care coordination, and paved the way for more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Technology continues to advance and promises connectivity, accessibility, and personalized care. The story of digital communication in healthcare is a story of progress, and one that is ever evolving, with virtually unlimited potential for innovation. In reality, there are still hurdles that organizations must overcome if they are to achieve the ultimate goal: providing better, more efficient, and increasingly patient-centered care.
Challenges to implementing effective communication in the Healthcare sector
Let’s take a look at some data from a recent McKinsey study:
- A 2021 survey of more than 3,000 U.S. healthcare consumers found that satisfied patients were 28% less likely to switch providers.
- Healthcare providers who had implemented changes focused on improving the consumer experience, including through marketing efforts, had seen revenues increase by up to 20% over five years, while service costs decreased by up to 30%.
These two data points capture a situation where consumers expect increasingly transparent, predictable, and mobile-optimized experiences from healthcare providers. It also shows that health systems have the same aspirations as companies in any other industry: to create long-term relationships with their customers.
Today, however, most organizations operating in Healthcare seem to lack some fundamental capabilities, and these shortcomings end up hindering the realization of a truly personalized and comprehensive patient journey. According to McKinsey, the major limitations can be summarized in three points:
- Disconnected consumer experience and lack of personalization. Multichannel consumer touch points can lead to fragmented and impersonal experiences due to lack of integration between consumer data and digital platforms.
- Organization in silos. Silos result in a limited ability to track current and potential consumers across channels and devices, and they hinder organization-wide access to consumer data tracking tools.
- Lack of consumer-centric data. Lack of data (clinical and nonclinical) due to limited multichannel access prevents a real-time, 360-degree view of consumers’ care needs.
The common element is this: insufficient communication due to fragmented information and the lack of an omnichannel strategy for creating and distributing personalized and interactive content.
Communication in Healthcare: how to improve it to provide a more satisfying patient experience
For these problems, digital communication offers the solution.
Only digital communication can provide healthcare organizations with the tools that can reduce the imbalance of information through data sharing, strengthen collaboration among healthcare providers, and, through interactivity and personalization, improve patient engagement.
But which solutions are the most promising? Let’s look at them together.
Portals and apps: mobile health and self-service tools
Web portals and mobile health apps enable patients to access their medical records, schedule appointments, access test results, and communicate with their care teams in real time. At the same time, health care providers can interact with patients more effectively. Not only that, portals and apps take the form of self-service tools, which can strengthen the patient’s sense of autonomy and empowerment while simultaneously easing the workload on the health care organization’s service department (e.g., reducing the number of incoming phone calls to the contact center).
This “mobile health” empowers patients to actively manage their health: monitoring vital signs, keeping track of medications, and communicating with health care providers, facilitating the delivery of preventive care and timely interventions.
Interactive and personalized content: fostering a sense of connection and trust
From responsive mini-sites to personalized videos, communication in healthcare can play a crucial role in improving patient engagement and the quality of their care.
- Mini-sites, designed to be responsive on various devices, provide patients with immediate access to sensitive health information, such as appointment schedules and educational resources, and provide a seamless user experience. They enable patients to take control of their own health journey, promoting self-management and more purposeful adherence to treatment plans.
- Personalized videos take patient engagement to the next level by providing relevant, easy-to-understand medical information and targeted insights on topics of interest. Among other things, patients are more likely to interact with and memorize information presented in a visually appealing format. Whether explaining a diagnosis, surgical procedure, or treatment regimen, or communicating changes in organization policy, personalized videos can address patients’ specific needs and concerns, leading to better understanding and, consequently, better outcomes in terms of quality of care.
In general, interactive content promotes a sense of connection and trust between patients and health care providers. Both mini-sites and personalized videos not only facilitate communication but also empower patients, helping them make more informed decisions for better management of their health.
The integration of digital communication in healthcare has radically transformed the way healthcare is delivered and managed. Although it has many advantages, it also poses some problems that cannot be underestimated. As technology continues to evolve, healthcare providers and organizations must adapt quickly if they are to harness its full potential to provide higher quality, more accessible, and patient-centered care. The future of Healthcare lies in the seamless integration of digital communication tools and technologies into the healthcare delivery system. Only then will improvements to the patient experience be concrete and lasting.