Share the post "Health Innovation Beyond Statistics And Meeting Patients Where They Are"
Every day doctors advise patients to lose weight, stop smoking, take more exercise, drink less alcohol and take time off. And yet obesity, depression and alcohol abuse are set to feature among the top health care problems for some time to come.
Associated with these problems is the rising incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. There are also a number of parallel trends that aren’t obviously linked to these issues. More people are online and using smartphones. More people are having cosmetic surgery. More people are spending money on gym membership and health clubs. Common sense suggests that there must be some way to help solve the health problems by tapping into the trends.
It is contested how well doctors know their patients. But they cannot ignore these other behaviours. Doctors complain about patients who answer their phones during consultations, or those who come with questions via ‘Dr Google’. So where does this leave health innovators? The old way was to preach the message of abstinence, exercise and fruit and veg. It isn’t working. Taxing cigarettes might be a good public health policy, but it doesn’t change how young women feel about the happy side effect of appetite suppression.
Communicating statistics hasn’t enabled us to solve these problems. Far more effective is the notion that smoking and obesity might impact adversely on your appearance. Smartphones enable us to get up close and personal. Not just in order to communicate and connect with patients and their quantified self, but to add meaning, personal relevance and context. As a ‘lean medicine’ innovator you can do all this with a minimum of technical skill, but not without imagination, observation and interpretation.
No big investment required, other than the determination to make a difference for people working to solve the problem from their perspective.
Share the post "See demand in context and respond creatively"
Hello Jill, Oh, I’m sorry I have no appointments to offer you today. the doctors are all fully booked. If your son has a fever try him with some paracetamol and call back on Friday when I might be able to squeeze him in with Dr. Jones. Ok, bye.
Many years ago I overheard this conversation in my reception. Our receptionist giving medical advice without any qualifications. The surgery was over booked. She was harassed, doctors were grumpy and the patients were being turned away without being assessed by anyone.
We noticed that there was a seasonal pattern to this demand for appointments. Most doctors were aware of this trend because there were specific weeks of the year when they avoided taking holidays. Our reception staff kept meticulous colour coded records of such ‘same day’ appointments. When we entered this data on a statistical database there could be no doubt of a seasonal pattern with definite peaks and troughs. What’s more, we could predict the demand for ‘same day urgent appointments’ with reasonable confidence. At this point, it may be important to stress that doctors in the UK are paid a ‘capitation fee’ for serving patients. That means they are paid an annual fee no matter how many times they see the patient.
Understanding that people have a fundamental desire to talk to the decision maker, we settled on the notion of putting the doctor in charge of making the appointment. Patients who requested a ‘same day’ appointment were offered a telephone consultation with a general practitioner initially. Not with a nurse, as happened in some practices, but with their doctor. We believed patients wanted to speak with a medical practitioner, not because the advice they received was necessarily better than that given by another member of the team, but because people in distress want a doctor. Whatever the reason it worked. Important policy makers noticed. Doctors could deal with most requests within a couple of minutes, offer a ‘same day’ slot or something else without the need for a face-to-face appointment. We calculated a 40% reduction in demand for such appointments. Patients loved it, reception staff loved it too (no more arguments about lack of appointments with irate patients) and doctors found themselves in control of their workload. What’s more, we could prove that this simple intervention worked from the impact on longitudinal seasonal trend.
By allowing patients to speak to their doctor when they felt they couldn’t wait our practice chose to treat this small minority of patients differently to those who were happy to make a routine appointment. We acknowledged that these patients had a need that warranted a creative solution. Perhaps you have a group of patients who would benefit from being treated differently too? What is the context in which they seek help? The tired mother with a fevered child does not have the same needs as the young professional who requires a convenient appointment to obtain a prescription for the contraceptive pill. Both might seek an urgent appointment.
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Share the post "The context is often private and confidential"
The consultation between a doctor and patient is private. Innovators hoping to improve outcomes in that context can’t observe the exchange directly because some presentations are very uncommon and because neither the doctor nor the patient welcomes the intrusion. There are many outcomes of the encounter between patient and doctor that we still don’t fully understand. Why are some patients’ cancer symptoms not recognised as early warnings? Why do carers of patients with a life-limiting illness fail to have their own medical problems addressed? Why do people living with some chronic conditions continue to have problems with intimacy?
People deploy verbal and non-verbal cues to communicate. They choose when and how to disclose their ideas, concerns and expectations. However in an average consultation in my country, the patient has fifteen minutes to ‘spit it out’. Similarly, clinicians vary in their ability to pick up cues or to probe with the right question, assuming they get the right answer. Hence errors of omission and or commission.
Lean medicine is about being intuitive, creative and agile. Lean innovators, clinicians, are already on site. Therefore, they can reproduce the context in a way that can be observed and where they can be tested with other clinicians. Video technology and a fusion of skills across disciplines allow the depiction of those encounters in such a way as to present the critical decision point for close examination. Do you prescribe, refer or investigate in these circumstances? What do you say to the patient?
How do you explore hard to reach elements in your practice or business? How can you hope to innovate for encounters that are strictly private and confidential but where mistakes or misunderstanding can be very bad for business. Who has the insight to show you? How can you generate valid hypotheses? How do you test ideas without a real risk of casualties?
Picture by Urbanbohemian