Better Access to Information Will Usher in a New Era of Patient Experience

If people can't find answers on a hospital website, they are likely to look elsewhere: on search engines, social media, and blogs. Often, they'll stumble on information that's outdated, inaccurate, or downright wrong.

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A couple of weeks ago, a friend was due for a colonoscopy. They wanted to know how to prepare, so they went to the hospital's website and searched for "how do I prepare for a colonoscopy?" Do you know what the website returned?

Nothing. No content. No form. No alternative search suggestions. A completely blank screen.

This is serious stuff. How you prepare for medical procedures can mean the difference between a successful test and a repeat. So the friend called the hospital and eventually reached the GI department. The nurse who took their call had to check official guidance. After some searching, they found a PDF and emailed it over. The whole process was horrendously inefficient and a terrible patient experience. And the scary thing? That's one of the good outcomes.

If people can't find answers on a hospital website, they are likely to look elsewhere: on search engines, social media, and blogs. Often, they'll stumble on information that's outdated, inaccurate, or downright wrong.

This might sound surprising. People tend to imagine the world of medicine as being sophisticated and state-of-the-art. But while hospitals are filled with gleaming MRI machines and robotic surgical equipment, their back-end administrative systems tend to lag behind.

No one wins with the status quo

The frustrating thing about search and discovery is that most answers already exist. Think back to that colonoscopy prep sheet. It existed… somewhere. The problem was that when someone searched on the hospital's website, they didn't have access to wherever that document lives. This is the case for the vast majority of patient questions. They've all been asked and answered before, there's just nothing to connect new patients to existing answers.

When people don't have good information, they make bad choices. Say you have an HMO or PPO health plan but can't find out what doctors are in your network. You might select someone outside your plan, earning you a huge bill later on.

But the broken status quo doesn't just hurt the patient.

When people resort to contacting hospitals and clinics directly, they're pulling highly trained employees off their day job to answer (usually) mundane questions. Every minute a nurse or doctor is hunting for a colonoscopy fact sheet is time they aren't spending admitting patients, diagnosing disease, running tests — whatever.

Larger healthcare systems sometimes turn to contact centers. While they can protect doctor and nursing time, they're very expensive to run. Calls typically cost between $10 and $16. At a very modest 100 calls a day, that sums to nearly half a million dollars a year.

Insurers are shelling out unnecessarily, too. Without access to high-quality information, patients make poor choices. Something we hear about often is people going to emergency rooms when an urgent care facility is more appropriate — and cheaper. It's an unnecessary expense for no improvement in care.

So what can we do?

Technology to the rescue

Overhauling legacy healthcare systems is a big lift — but it's not impossible. After all, the necessary technology (AI-powered search) already exists. Just think about how easy it is to ask Google a question: when is the next bus from New Jersey to New York? Where are the best organic bakeries near me? How do I drywall a stud wall? Whatever your query, Google will likely return an accurate, personalized answer.

There's no good reason why hospitals can't deliver a similar service.

Knowledge graphs can connect entities within organizations, helping patients access the information that already exists. The next time someone searches a hospital website for "how to prepare for a colonoscopy," the answer could be different: a link to the PDF or, better yet, a rich card within the search results.

With this technology, we can put knowledge at patients' fingertips. We can calm their fears and assuage their doubts. We can answer their questions immediately instead of after an hour-long wait on the phone. We can relieve highly trained medical employees from their additional question-answering roles. And we can save insurers from unnecessary or misguided payouts. The technology is tried and tested. The results are proven. All we need now is for hospitals to seize the opportunity with both hands.

Learn more about AI search and healthcare here.

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