By Sean L. McCarthy
The next time you go in for your check-up, look at your doctor’s office, and see some of the little changes that have sprouted up in the past few years. Free wi-fi for moms, dads, and busy students. Nurses may be toting around tablets instead of clipboards. And once you get your prescription, you can fill it in the same building… and get a skinny, 20-ounce latte with a double shot of espresso while you’re waiting for your medication to get filled.
Either because of demands from younger patients, or from the ACA, facilities are moving into the 21st century…
The need to reduce hospital readmission rates and better coordinate patient electronic medical records (EMRs) with other facilities has forced healthcare providers to up their technology game in the 21st century. To make a healthcare visit as efficient as possible, facilities have tried to consolidate as many services as possible into one building, preventing patients from traveling to two or three different locations for things like lab work and x-rays. This has resulted in sort of a concierge-style of service. In addition, to make healthcare facilities more inviting to patients, and to make sure a patient’s day isn’t totally interrupted, some facilities are designed more like a shopping mall or an Apple store than a traditional doctor’s office.
… but many older patients are still used to the personalized touches of the mid-20th century style of healthcare…
We paid a visit to one of these newer medical facilities. A few floors of this new building housed the new medical offices for several local doctors. This proved a big change for patients, mainly because they had to drive to a new location. But patients not only had to deal with a geographic change, they had to deal with a cultural change. As a concierge setup was put in place, one patient lamented the loss of the traditional doctor-visiting ritual that they had been accustomed to for most of their life. They missed going into their old office and seeing Connie, the receptionist who’s been there since the ‘80s. Small office. Routine ritual. Unmistakable bond between patient and doctor.
… but that’s OK, because older patients are more adaptable to technology than you think…
Yes, the traditional, small neighborhood doctor’s office may be vanishing. And older patients may be experiencing some growing pains and future shock with this change, but it’s not like they’re incapable or unreceptive to change. In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 58 percent of adults 65 or older use the internet, up from 43 percent in 2010. My mom, who is close to 80 and hates the computer, prefers to contact her doctor through their patient portal because of their speedy response. And one patient we interviewed, who was in his mid-40s, stated he just assumed that when he called a doctor’s office, he’d be talking to an automated phone system before he could speak with a “real” person.
… so long as your technology shows that you know them.
In many of our focus groups, we often hear people say “I just want to talk to a real person.” It’s a universal want – to speak with someone who can help them with a problem. For bigger companies, this oftentimes can’t be accommodated if a facility receives 10,000, 3,000, or even 500 calls a day.
But designers shouldn’t despair, because people have shown they’re willing to be flexible if you meet them half way. The same people interviewed who say “they just want to talk to a live person” will grudgingly admit they’d be willing to talk to an automated system – so long as that system not only correctly routes them to where they want to go, but also saves them the annoying task of having to repeat information (date of birth, policy number) they just relayed to the last person they spoke with. In other words, they’re willing to sacrifice a bit of human interaction if the facility goes through the simple step of knowing who is on the other line, and proving that by getting them to the right place as smoothly as possible.
Sean McCarthy is a user experience designer for the West Corporation Healthcare Practice. His background includes journalism and radiology.
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