In a previous post, I shared with you my brain cancer diagnosis, and my observations of the way healthcare and insurance information were presented to me after brain surgery. This post continues to explore my ruminations made during chemotherapy treatment.

“Healthcare does not have a clear pathway for how one finds care. Each consumer’s story is riddled with multiple entryways, internet searches, phone calls and conversations that determine how they eventually connect to the health system.”

Healthcare Consumer Insights: The Journey to Finding Care

There’s no clear pathway to healthcare and nearly every interaction involves content

Cancer treatment revolves around a series of appointments. Just keeping track of the dates, times, and locations can be a struggle. Patients may need to visit laboratories and offices, imaging facilities, surgery centers, pharmacies, and hospitals. They also may need to attend physical fitness classes, obtain mental health services, learn how to properly use medical devices and equipment, seek advice from cancer-focused nutritionists, and communicate with their employers and with insurance companies. 

And, they may need to do some or all of these things with the assistance of caregivers (friends, neighbors, spouses, family members, and hired hands), well-intentioned people who often lack the knowledge that content strategists and information scientists put into practice daily.

Suggested reading: Viewpoint: The Disconnect Between Content Strategy, Information Science, and Healthcare

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Information is delivered in a variety of ways via an increasing multitude of channels

Nearly every interaction with a healthcare or insurance provider involves patients (and/or caregivers) interacting with content. Lots of it.

A confusing collection of signage, documents, brochures, emails, interactive voice response systems, voice-mail messages, robo-calls, telephone consultations, face-to-face conversations, and a host of data collection forms (both digital and print) may be part of the patient experience

Included in the jumble of information provided during the patient journey are warnings, risk disclosures, privacy statements, consent forms, benefit explanations, invoices, care directives, privacy policies, procedures, directions, payment agreements, dietary guidelines, and all manner of insurance documents.

Some healthcare content is provided via video (displayed on television screens in treatment and waiting rooms), while other types are displayed on traditional print and new-fangled digital signage. Specific types of information may be conveyed verbally via recordings played over a public address system, on an interactive voice system or voicemail recording, or in person by healthcare practitioners and medical facility staff. 

Some information is presented in printed form; documents handed directly to patients, or in my case, discovered in a zip-lock plastic bag taped to my body during surgery and only discovered after waking from an anesthesia-induced sleep.

Scott Abel, November 2017
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Post surgery—Scott Abel, November 11, 2017, Sutter Health California Pacific Medical Center

Increasingly, medical content is being pushed to emerging digital formats including touch screen devices, public kiosks, digital signage, and smartphone apps.  The move to digital formats is confusing in itself, as patients don’t understand the difference between electronic medical records, electronic healthcare records, and personal health records.

The attempts made by providers to push content to multiple channels are often misguided. Healthcare and insurance content providers clearly aren’t focused on the patient experience (the customer journey for patients receiving medical treatment) no matter what their marketing teams might want you to believe. They haven’t realized how to avoid the common mistakes that many content professionals in other fields acknowledge and work hard to avoid.

Suggested reading: Healthcare’s Next Frontier: The Omnichannel Patient

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The patient experience can be damaged by a lack of knowledge about information science

Unlike some other industries, the healthcare and insurance sectors have yet to recognize the need to adopt a unified omnichannel content strategy.

Suggested Reading: Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy by Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper

There are undoubtedly a variety of reasons, and, I’d wager — even more, excuses — for the challenges healthcare organizations face effectively crafting, managing, augmenting, translating, and delivering relevant, useful, and supportive patient-focused content to those who need it, when, where, and how they want to consume it.

The reasons preventing effective communication of information to patients include many of the same challenges impeding other industry sectors from effective communication:

  • The rapidly changing technology landscape
  • Increasingly stringent privacy requirements and government regulations
  • Inadequate content and data-management practices
  • System interoperability challenges
  • Increasing information technology costs

Certainly, some of these reasons are solid ones. But, I believe many of the challenges facing healthcare and insurance providers are due to a lack of focus on the patient.

Healthcare and insurance professionals spend considerable effort proclaiming their patient-centered approaches to medicine, but often fail to deliver on those promises because they aren’t focusing on the communication needs of patients.

And, while they may pride themselves on their ability to stay abreast of the latest scientific developments in their field, they appear oblivious to basic information science principles and content strategy best practices

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Information science is needed to help create a clear pathway to care

Information science is a discipline — the “professional practice and scientific inquiry addressing the effective communication of information among humans in the context of social, organizational, and individual need for and use of information. The domain of information science is the transmission of the universe of human knowledge in recorded form, centering on manipulation (representation, organization, and retrieval) of information.”

Association of Information Science and Technology

Information scientists explore the intersection of computer science, library science, neuroscience, information technology, psychology, and philosophy with a goal of better understanding how to best serve the information needs of people.

Many of the biggest challenges facing healthcare and insurance information providers stem from a lack of standardization — and the seemingly random approach used to create content. As a result, the information provided to patients suffers from a variety of quality and effectiveness challenges and inconsistencies, introducing confusion, which in turn, creates frustration, which breeds anxiety and fear.

When medical and insurance information is not focused on patient needs, patients suffer

And, more often than not, no one in the healthcare world is aware that a lack of communication mastery is to blame for the suffering.

They don’t know what they don’t know — and, they don’t know what we know

For the most part, healthcare and insurance professionals have no idea that professionals who create content for a living have rules and standards in place to help us ensure accessibility, findability, usability, understandability, translatability, and repurposability of content.

They don’t realize there is science behind the content decisions we make

Even when individual healthcare or insurance practitioners are made aware of these things, they often don’t have the support — permission, access to tools, budget, knowledge, or experience — needed to create improvements to their content.

To serve the needs of patients and caregivers, healthcare and insurance providers must find ways to adopt relevant content industry best practices and advanced information management and delivery methods, standards, and technologies. Mastering the management and distribution of healthcare content to new content delivery channels are coming online that require a deep understanding of how patients interact with content at each point during the customer journey and how and when they need to use various content delivery platforms and mediums.

When “the person sitting closest to the laser printer” — or the nurse practitioner whose experience as a “high school yearbook editor” — are criteria for determining who should create patient-facing content, it’s no wonder that such a content mess exists.