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5 New Technologies for Increasing Patient Happiness

People entering a clinic or hospital are seeking more than bare-bones medical care. They’re hoping to receive a sympathetic ear, clear communication, and timely responses to their needs. Health informatics professionals are ever at work, trying to improve medical outcomes. Here are new technologies that have emerged, making for happier patients.

A Vital Role

The aim of a health informatics professional (HIP) is to streamline healthcare delivery. Such a specialist is well-versed in the language of medical coding, information technology, databases, and hospital systems. When care is provided to patients, it’s the job of an HIP to manage all the data involved. After identifying glitches in the patient experience, they suggest corrections.

HIPs work in various settings, including clinics, surgical centers, hospitals, government agencies, and consulting firms. Expert in communication, they interact with hospitalists, physicians, RNs, and other healthcare staff. You may have encountered an HIP in your work without realizing it. Other terms for an HIP are IT consultant, clinical data analyst, and health information resource manager. According to HIP findings, there are three primary ways to improve patient satisfaction. These are provider empathy, frequent communication, and patient-focused technology. Here are new developments putting smiles on patients’ faces.

1. Tech-Enabled Food Service

Working in a skilled care facility, you’ve probably heard grumblings of “This food is lousy.” Patients are often dissatisfied with meal quality and delivery. Computerized food service resolves these two problems. One vendor with the answer is Unidine. This 15-year-old company coordinates food and dining for clients under three divisions: Corporate, Healthcare, and Senior Living. Its Healthcare arm manages food service in hospitals.

Unidine staff members partner with hospital executives, designing nutrition programs that improve patient health. Unidine meal plans focus on fresh food. Menus are customized, based on the availability of in-season produce, locally sourced when possible. Imbued with delightful flavors and aromas, patients look forward to these meals.

Up until 2015, Shore Medical Center in New Jersey used paper menus and scheduled delivery times for its food service. Much of the food served ended up in the garbage. Patients with dietary restrictions received unwanted food substitutions. A rigid delivery schedule resulted in untouched trays when patients were out of their rooms. Upon returning to cold or stale meals, patients refused to eat them. Since the food had already been served, it was thrown out.

However, in August 2015, with the administration of the “MyDine” program, patient satisfaction soared. Unidine staff are apprised of dietary restrictions through tablets linked to patient electronic health records. Then, they offer appealing menu options suited to restricted diets. Patients can choose what to eat and when. Unidine tablets automatically update every 30 seconds, so a patient’s dietary status remains current.

Since the institution of MyDine, less food is wasted, resulting in hospital savings of $25,000 over the last year. In an atmosphere where most decisions are made for a patient, MyDine gives them a sense of control. People may not understand all the medical procedures involved in their care, but they appreciate compassionate treatment.

Each Unidine representative is assigned to a hospital floor and responsible for 30 patients. Reps spend most of their time interacting with and observing patients, noting whether meals are eaten. Then they report back to doctors, nurses, or dieticians with their findings and concerns.

Aramark is a similar provider. Through its “Patient Connect” program, representatives record patient food orders using mobile devices. In addition to food preferences, Aramark reps discuss any other concerns patients have. Resolving issues before discharge yields higher patient satisfaction scores. Currently, 285 facilities subscribe to Patient Connect.

2. Patient-Controlled Rooms

In addition to poor quality food, patients also find the hospital environment disconcerting regarding noise, temperature, and comfort. A new innovation termed the “cognitive hospital room” gives patients more control over these factors. Patients issue voice commands to speakers to change room temperature, operate window blinds, request information, and set reminders to get up and walk.

IBM Watson markets the patient-friendly service under the name “Internet of Things” (IoT). The system minimizes call button use to summon hospital staff. IoT helps patients relax, expediting their recovery. It also frees up doctors and nurses to focus on clinical care.

In an October 2016 article, IBM reports on the IoT experience at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. In-room speakers connect with the IoT platform and IBM’s cognitive program. The system also links to hospital data that patients can access regarding their care.

Patients can pose questions such as “When can my sister visit me on Wednesday?” and “Tell me about the doctor overseeing my care.” They can make specific requests like “Make the room warmer,” and “Play classical music.” They can tell the system “Please remind me to get up and walk around every two hours.”

3. Computerized Patient Engagement

GetWellNetwork offers a suite of educational and entertaining videos for specific patient populations. The four modules are termed Pediatric Experience, Adult Experience, Senior Experience, and Federal Experience, accessed from a bedside TV.

Pediatric Experience

Children receive a warm welcome from a hospital through an animated video, showing them how to use the network to improve their comfort. GetWellTown engages kids in activities that teach about health and hospital safety. The Teen Interface offers entertainment as well as critical information about adolescent health. The Emoji Gallery helps children convey their moods and needs to caregivers.

Kids can access the Internet, send emails, instant message, play music, and see movies. Parents have complete control over what their children watch. The module informs parents of hospital procedures, services, and policies. It also displays menus, food options, and meal delivery times.

  • Adult Experience. This module conveys visiting hours and staff profiles. A library of award-winning videos teaches about medical conditions, tests, procedures, and medications. Adults can learn more about their in-hospital care and discharge plan. They can also access entertainment.
  • Senior Experience. This program helps elders understand age-related changes in vision, mobility, perception, and cognition. Seniors can learn how to prevent falls, take medication, and avoid illness. Navigation is facilitated by simple menus, icons, and scrolling. Other senior-friendly features include large fonts and buttons. As with the Adult Experience, patients can learn about their hospital care and how to prepare for discharge. Entertainment helps diffuse the stress inherent in hospitalization.
  • Federal Experience. This technology educates veterans and service members about their medical conditions and how to care for themselves at home. They’re also directed to Web-based resources supporting their specific needs.

4. Virtual Reality Devices

As an alternative to pain medication, healthcare facilities are dispensing virtual reality (VR) goggles. The technology helps to relieve anxiety, pain, and depression during hospital stays. The devices are marketed by AppliedVR, with Samsung Gear as the headset manufacturer.

With Pain RelieVR, a patient dons goggles that catapult their awareness to other environments, distracting them from discomfort. In one game, a player moves their head to pitch balls at cartoon bears. The more balls they lob, the higher the score. Plus, they can’t get hurt or die as with other VR games. Patients love it!

Anxiety RelieVR escorts a patient into a beautiful virtual world, embraced by grass, trees, and water in the company of a setting sun. There, they learn mindfulness and acceptance techniques. The experience is likened to dreaming with your eyes open.

In June 2016, Cedars Sinai unveiled Pain RelieVR in its Spine Center. In July, additional hospital departments received the technology. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is also conducting studies using the VR software.

Researchers have found that after 20 minutes of VR therapy, pain decreases by an average of 24 percent. The reduction approximates that achieved by narcotic pain medication. Clinics and private practices are now using the technology when drawing blood, administering epidurals, and treating patients for post-surgical pain. VR shows promise for pediatrics, helping kids to remain still during diagnostic testing and to encourage participation in physical therapy.

5. Robotic Caregivers

Being hospitalized is especially frightening for children. Bewildered by the unfamiliar environment and procedures, they can feel lonely and timid. Now a new technology is being developed, making hospital stays more fun for kids. Designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Huggable” interacts and speaks with children. Huggable, a blue teddy bear, is operated by a nurse located nearby. While moving his arms and legs, the nurse speaks on the bear’s behalf through an implanted smartphone device.

Huggable is being studied for his ability to make injections, tests, and procedures easier to perform on kids. Research underway at Boston Children’s Hospital involves 90 participants, divided into three groups. One interacts with the animated bear, the second engages with a video version of him, and the third group receives the comfort of a plush teddy bear toy.

So far, Huggable is being well-received. Upcoming plans call for him to collect data so he can react appropriately to kids’ physiological changes. Sensors will be placed on a child, and skin-sensitive technology will measure the strength of their squeeze. Then Huggable will discern the emotional state of a child, which is valuable when they can’t communicate clearly.

Easier Care

When patients are agreeable, care becomes easier. Although being hospitalized is no picnic, new technologies are serving up delicious, healthy food. Outfitted with high-tech rooms, patients can adjust conditions, freeing you up to focus on clinical tasks. Computerized modules keep patients engaged while VR devices ease anxiety and pain. Soon, kids will have an animated companion, coaxing them through trying procedures.

While caring for others is always rewarding, it can also generate stress. New developments in healthcare delivery benefit both patients and staff. It’s worth your time and effort to investigate and prepare for these new types of technology. Your patients will be happy campers as a result!

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