Consumer / Employer, Health Tech

Has Covid-19 made healthcare more patient-centric?

At MedCity News’ INVEST conference Monday, panelists in a session on patient-centric care talked about the impact of the pandemic. While Covid-19 has sparked some improvements, like greater access to virtual care, they said more change is needed.

Chirag Shah (left), principal at Define Ventures, moderated a panel on patient-centric care at MedCity INVEST that included patient advocate and cancer survivor Wenora Johnson; Randy Klein, CEO of Vesta Healthcare; and Todd Czartoski (not pictured), chief medical technology officer and chief of telehealth for Providence, who joined virtually.

The pandemic has helped expose the flaws of a traditional provider-centered model of care and led to improvements, panelists said Monday in a session about patient-centric care at MedCity INVEST in Chicago

One of the panelists, Todd Czartoski said he spent over a decade trying to get doctors to embrace the concept of virtual care and how much easier it would be for patients. Czartoski is the chief medical technology officer and chief of telehealth for Providence, a 52-hospital multistate health system based in Renton, Washington.

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Czartoski said he made the case that with telehealth patients wouldn’t have to take off work, drive across town, pay for parking, sit in a room with other sick people to see their doctor for 15 to 20 minutes. Still he couldn’t get providers on board with virtual care, he said. That is, until the pandemic hit.

“It was very, very hard to convince people for many years until things changed in early 2020.”

Considering that example, “if you think about how we’ve set things up historically, it really was to optimize the efficiency, the experience for our care teams and our providers.” 

Today, digital-first care is an option for patients. Although demand has cooled somewhat for virtual care since the initial spike at the outset of the pandemic, that’s still an option that’s here to stay, Czartoski and other experts agreed. Healthcare has made some strides toward putting the patient at the center—including not only greater user of virtual care but providing more services to people in their home, he said. But he added that there’s still a long way to go.

Others on the panel agreed that the pandemic has forced healthcare, which has lagged behind other industries in adopting consumer-friendly technology, to make a greater shift in that direction. Tech is a critical component in making care more patient-centric, said Randy Klein, CEO of Vesta Healthcare. The New York City-based organization supports caregivers of older adults and makes them part of the care team.

Even use of more basic technology like email, chat, text and other modes of communication now makes it possible to quickly share information, Klein said, instead of having to wait for an office visit. Additionally, panelists talked about more technologically advanced ways to improve information-sharing, like making EHRs more interoperable—which remains a work in progress.

Klein saw bringing caregivers into the fold as an extension of giving patients a greater voice in their care, particularly where patients weren’t able to advocate for themselves. Caregivers are typically not clinicians, and aren’t usually medically trained. But, “what they do have is tremendous insights, access, compassion and the ability to do great things when supported and connected with a (healthcare) delivery system,” Klein said.

Panelist Wenora Johnson, a three-time cancer survivor and patient advocate, said she liked what she was hearing.

“The patient just really wants to be heard,” said Johnson, who is affiliated with Fight Colorectal Cancer, or Fight CRC, and FORCE, which has a mission of improving the lives of people with hereditary cancer.

As an advocate, Johnson said she has felt empowered and that people have listened to her concerns. But she still saw room for improvement.

In addition to systemic changes to better serve the patient, she thinks patient-centric care involves considering all aspects of the patient experience. That means considering who a patient is and how they’re faring emotionally, mentally, spiritually and financially, she said.

 “It’s about treating the whole patient,” she said.

Photo: Walter Lim, MedCity News