How artificial intelligence is transforming patient experience

AI has the potential to vastly improve how patients feel about doctors, hospitals and healthcare in general.

3 doctor surgeons in operating room on tablet
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Do you know if your hospital has a good reputation? Yelp can tell you if you are curious, and growing numbers of health care consumers are looking. That has created both a problem and an opportunity for hospitals.

To begin with, let’s establish a framework of information. Patient experience is critical in a number of ways. For starters, happier patients are typically healthier, as a report published in Academic Medicine found. So hospitals care about delivering high quality care and helping the recipient of that care to feel good about the process.

But there are compelling business reasons for hospitals to care about the issue as well. Hospitals can be penalized on their Medicare payments by as much as 2% for poor reviews from patients on a standardized exit survey. That can reflect a substantial sum of money to a hospital, as do the Medicare bonuses if they achieve high scores on those reviews.

Hospitals also have to face the music in the age of the internet where consumers have unprecedented power in guiding other consumers to make informed decisions. In the healthcare space, that translates beyond review sites like Yelp to forums and medical-specific sites dedicated to ranking doctors, hospitals, and other medical services.

“Healthcare providers understand that patients are customers, and customers can take their business elsewhere if they are unhappy about any aspect of their experience,” explains HealthLeaders Media. “To keep patients, and thus reimbursement, coming in the door, hospitals must focus on achieving strong patient satisfaction scores.”

A study published in the Journal of American Medicine found that 59% of patients viewed physician rating sites as “somewhat” or “very” important, while 37% said they avoided physicians who were ranked poorly.

“We live in a very connected world, and today consumers have platforms to express their pleasure and displeasure like never before,” says Senem Guney, PhD, CPXP, and the Chief Experience Officer at NarrativeDx. “There are certainly places like Yelp or RateMDs.com, but there are also online forums and social networks where people share their stories. Bad reviews from patients can do significant damage to a hospital’s bottom line.”

This is not necessarily a bad influence. The Manhattan Institute recently found a strong correlation between hospital ratings on Yelp and actual quality. Preventable readmissions were lower for highly ranked hospitals, suggesting a higher standard of care. Consumers who follow these reviews are arguably justified in doing so, and hospitals are scrambling to respond.

“The bold entrance of online consumer companies like Yelp and others into the healthcare sphere has made it clear that public reviews of physicians’ performance are unavoidable and inevitable,” writes Vivian Lee, M.D., CEO of University of Utah Health Care, in STAT News. “Rather than lament this trend, physicians and healthcare systems should welcome the opinions of our patients, learn from them, and share them with the public.”

Accessing and aggregating that data in an intelligent way requires sophisticated applications of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and natural language processing (N.L.P.).

Guney explains that online reviews first must be assessed by a language processing program that captures relevant phrases, processes the text, and establishes relevance. That information is then aggregated and analyzed to determine which patterns and themes are most important. In other words, it could notice a lot of reviews talking about wait times, but recognize that they are in fact positive, praising the hospital for being responsive. It would also recognize whether comments about bedside manner or cleanliness were intended positively or negatively.

Information capture can be automated in this way, preventing human error and maximizing output. Until this technology became available, hospitals relied on exit surveys with limited scope and little valuable information.

“Every industry has made a significant effort to improve customer experience in the last 10 years, healthcare has just been slow to receive the same kind of innovation,” Guney says. “But today, entrepreneurs are leveraging cutting edge technologies to modernize how hospitals manicure patient experience. The outcome is a significant competitive advantage for those hospitals that integrate it.”

A.I. can impact your next hospital stay, but it does not relieve consumers of the burden of expressing their thoughts on review sites and forums. At least now we know it might make a difference.

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