Digital Conversations Power the Ultimate Patient Experience

By Greg Kefer at Lifelink Systems

For years, BMW has declared their cars the “ultimate driving machine” and for good reason. BMWs are well known for their excellent design and performance. They have even taken their slogan a step further by boldly stating if you buy a BMW, you will have “the ultimate driving experience.”  

These are beautiful cars that are exciting to drive. Like most cars, BMWs are also loaded with advanced, Silicon Valley technology features that will challenge the average person. That is a problem.

As an owner of a 2019 BMW X3, I often find myself completely distracted fiddling with the gadgetry that controls the climate, entertainment and dashboard displays.  There are buttons and paddles on the steering wheel, buttons and knobs on the dashboard, an interactive touch screen, a console touch pad and a control wheel that can be turned or pushed in five different directions. These controls allow the driver to navigate more than 20 menu options that run everything except what is most important— the engine and transmission.

If one of my back seat passengers is a little warm, I must perform an intricate sequence of moves to activate the multi-zone climate control without altering the saved master climate configuration that I previously spent an hour setting up while sitting in my driveway. 

The configuration capabilities are off the charts. For some people, the ability to dial in a car to their particular desires is worth thousands of dollars in premium upgrade package options at the dealership. But what about the rest of us? The 98 percent who just want to drive a nice car, who want to easily play their music and utilize the navigation?

For those of you old enough to remember, this situation reminds me of the VHS video tape recorders from the 1980s. Most couldn’t figure out the elaborate timer programming sequence, so they’d just throw their hands up and tolerate the non-stop blinking digital display that read 12:00 AM. Blinking VCRs were a common sight across living rooms in the 1980s. There’s actually a name for this phenomenon, called “the blinking twelve problem”.

For what it’s worth, I come from a fairly technical background and never had a problem programming my VCR, but the new BMW dashboard is at an entirely different level. I do not think I am alone in my thinking here.

Technology designers can’t expect consumers to read complicated directions or devote precious time to learning how to work something that is already complex to begin with. Even if this means forgoing added value functionality on a $50,000 car. The truth is many cars have a user interface problem. 

The Web Search Engine: The Ultimate User Experience

It’s hard to ignore the beautiful simplicity of Google. Just type anything into a simple white box, click on the search button, and thousands of “answers” appear in seconds. It’s a user interface that anyone can figure out and is what put Google on the path to becoming one of the world’s most highly valued companies. 

Take that same person who struggled with the blinking VCR clock, give them access to Google and watch them go. They’d be mesmerized for hours. No training, easy, effective, highly satisfying. Imagine yourself in 1984 being able to experience Google. I’d start with:

“What’s the best-selling album of all time?”

Google: Eagles’ Greatest Hits

“How tall is the Eiffel Tower?”

Google: It’s an iron lattice tower that stands 984 feet tall

“What does BMW stand for?”

Google: BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke

But we all know, and at times forget, that Google’s beautifully simple point of engagement is powered by a massive platform behind the scenes. The combination of algorithms, hardware, network infrastructure, global data centers, site indexing and so on is what makes Google’s search function such a valuable tool.

If Google were an iceberg, the search window would be a little white, frozen island about the size of my X3, with a below-the-waterline platform about the size of a very large mountain — like California’s 14,180′ Mt. Shasta (Shasta height courtesy of Google, BTW). 

Bringing the Ultimate User Experience to Healthcare

Healthcare lags behind other industry sectors when it comes to innovation. In the past few decades, billions of dollars have been invested in digitizing records. Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems are common today, yet they still suffer from low patient adoption and data standardization issues. Technology engagement at the patient level is weak because most healthcare technology lacks Google-like simplicity and there are too many obstacles to accessibility. 

There is hope on the horizon for patients. Thanks in part to investments by companies like Google, Apple, Facebook  and Amazon, conversational technology is advancing rapidly. Anyone that has asked Siri about the Eiffel Tower knows the days of clunky, confusing interfaces are giving way to simple, conversational digital assistants. Ask a question, get an answer. What a no brainer, right?

Unfortunately, in healthcare, direct answers are typically pretty hard to come by. Album sales and mountain statistics are interesting bits of trivia but are not in the same league as helping a patient navigate a surgical procedure or a chronic medical condition. Healthcare is incredibly complex and highly regulated. Failure is, quite literally, not an option. While it may be an unfortunate customer service issue for an online retailer to ship the wrong product, an IT mistake in healthcare could cost someone their life. 

Patient-facing healthcare technology must be as perfect as it is simple and useful.

The good news is that much of the conversational innovation that’s been developed for various consumer spaces is maturing into healthcare grade. Opinion leaders refer to it as Conversational AI. Today, there are significant investments being made to develop conversational platforms for healthcare that will be able to power simple, smart digital engagement solutions for patients that run on any smartphone, without needing to download an app.

Healthcare digital assistants also must be able to interact with IT systems and patients in the context of established, regulated workflows. To be successful, they also must be highly flexible to accommodate the broad range of care scenarios and workflows, while simultaneously walking the regulatory tightrope.

Like Google, the future of conversational engagement is in what lies below the waterline — the conversational engagement platform. For the patient, it may be an exchange of information on a mobile phone related to a simple surgical procedure. Interactive messaging via text or voice can help prepare and inform patients, while simultaneously collecting vital bits of data for the provider. 

Below the waterline, a robust platform is interacting with various systems of record from the provider ensuring proper information is being utilized. It’s surfacing tested and proven conversational workflows, it’s fast, and it’s doing it thousands of times a second in a secure, HIPAA compliant environment.

The complexity of healthcare isn’t going away, but conversational digital assistants can engage patients and help them successfully navigate healthcare without needing to master a complex user interface. That’s advanced, modern and consumer grade technology for healthcare — the ultimate patient experience.

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