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Getting smart about smart hospitals

October 3, 2018

Alexa, why does my head hurt?” She doesn’t have an answer yet, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone when she does. As smart technology surrounds more and more elements of daily life, many providers look to that technology to better communicate with and ease the minds of their patients. But what does it really mean to offer a smart room?

Innovative Engagement

Adding technology such as bedside tablets equipped with EHRs, smart TVs, and digital signage to a hospital can do a lot for caregiver efficiency. Eliminating the need to read poor handwriting alone saves precious minutes on the hospital floor.

However, it’s important not to let the glamour of easy-to-read charts outshine the necessity of easy to explain charts. Because patients have easier access to their health records, they also have more questions and it’s imperative that providers understand their role in communicating medical information as well as maintaining active listening with their patients. Developing this information-based relationship does wonders for trust in the patient-provider relationship. Through these trust-based relationships, patients not only return to their providers, but also feel comfortable recommending them to loved ones.

However, just as smart technology can improve the patient experience and strengthen relationships, it can also open the door for frustration. For example, let’s say Jane the patient uses a bedside tablet to follow along with her test results. Jane gets a notification alerting her to new results from that morning’s bloodwork. She opens the app and can tell right away something is wrong; the line graph indicating her hemoglobin levels trails both off the chart and the side of the screen! Jane isn’t sure if it’s her blood or the app that’s having a problem and the screen just reads “error, please consult physician.” She calls for her doctor, who also can’t understand the error.

Technical Issues

After a quick consultation with the lab, it’s clear that it’s the app having a problem, not Jane’s blood, but the stress of uncertainty has left Jane nervous. She’s reluctant to continue using the tablet, preferring the “old fashioned way” of waiting until someone tells her what’s going on.

A scenario like this frustrates nearly everyone involved. The doctor spent precious time working with failing technology, and then the lab tech had to duplicate retrieval of Jane’s results. However, with careful planning, training, and practice, errors like these can be avoided. While technical issues might be inevitable, clever design can mitigate the stress on the user. Here, perhaps the app wouldn’t show the chart at all in the event of an error, eliminating Jane’s panic.

Using smart technology to strengthen the patient experience’s primary care through comfort, trust, and communication sounds daunting, but as healthcare pushes ahead into the mid-21st century, the technology becomes available to implement a smarter way to care and create a better patient experience—so long as we are smart enough to use it.