Improving patient experience with technology: Wolters Kluwer

By Leila Hawkins
Shara Cohen from Wolters Kluwer tells us how they're solving patients' problems with innovative technology...

Shara Cohen, Vice President of Customer Experience at Clinical Effectiveness, Wolters Kluwer, Health tells Healthcare Global about telehealth and improving the patient experience. 

Wolters Kluwer Health provides tech solutions for clinicians, healthcare providers, researchers, and patients. The company was founded in the Netherlands over 180 years ago, and today operates globally, providing information and solutions to healthcare organisations all over the world. 

These include tools like Emmi, multimedia programs available in the US that help patients take an active part in their health, for instance helping to understand a diabetes diagnosis, and information on Covid-19. 

Another example is UpToDate, a solution for clinicians that provides evidence and recommendations to help answer complex medical questions; it's currently used by 2 million healthcare providers worldwide. 

Working in customer experience, Cohen explains that her role is all about how technology can improve healthcare. "I've spent the last couple of decades talking to people in hospitals and health systems of all sizes and across the world, listening to what their challenges are and thinking about ways in which we can help. There's a common theme every day where I get to think about new puzzles that healthcare organisations face, and hear about what they need to do the amazing work of caring for people." 

One of the greatest healthcare challenges of recent times is of course Covid-19, which in many ways has transformed a healthcare sector that was already undergoing drastic changes. "The speed of change has been relentless for our customers" Cohen explains. "They've dealt with a shift to value-based care, the emergence of electronic records, the constant development of regulatory frameworks, it goes on. 

"But that was nothing compared to the last nine months. The pandemic upended everything and care teams had to treat patients with a condition and symptoms they were totally unfamiliar with, under conditions that were terribly challenging in terms of volume and uncertainty. 

"For our part, we were trying to support customers as best we could. The information that we provide throughout the day was critical to frontline workers, so our customer experience team was working to make sure it was available as organisations propped up field hospitals that needed access in new ways, or physicians were called out of retirement or into new specialties they weren't used to practicing. UpToDate provided them with the information they needed."  

Additionally, Wolters Kluwer made their Covid-19 resources available for free to clinicians around the world. "We did a ton of work to make sure that as physicians were struggling to keep up, a contract wouldn't stand in the way of good patient care." 

As the pandemic continues, healthcare organisations are evaluating how coronavirus has changed the way they work. Virtual care is perhaps the best example, as hospitals and clinics need to provide safe care for people with chronic and mental health conditions, pregnancies and other care needs. 

While telemedicine already existed, adoption had so far been slow. "Some organisations and some countries were really ahead of others in their adoption of telehealth" Cohen says. "So when the pandemic hit, some were six steps ahead and didn't have to implement the technology, they just had to better leverage it. Most big institutions were already down the path, they simply needed to handle the volume. Others had to handle the influx of patients, while implementing new technologies.”

"What is interesting now is that we're seeing the next step in maturity of using these technologies. In those early stages, particularly for organisations that were not as prepared ahead of time, they were using Microsoft Teams as a way of interacting with patients. That's ok as an early adopter solution, but platforms like Teams and Zoom are going to evolve and create better interfaces that take into account medical records, or what the patient is seeing." 

A challenge that the rise in telehealth has thrown up is digital literacy. Cohen says there can be a lack of comfort on both sides, but solutions like Emmi provide an opportunity to help patients engage with their own care digitally, coaching users through the experience. 

"Once we get past that initial hesitation, there's a tremendous opportunity to create a better experience. We've all been in care experiences where it's the patient and the physician, they have a screen in front of them with the medical record and while they're talking, they are documenting and their eyes are on the screen. Even the most fantastic clinicians with the best bedside manner will swivel between the patient and the computer, and that de-personalises the interaction.”

"If we can work with platforms to improve the interface for the physician, then all of a sudden that computer is not a distraction for eye contact, so they can type things while they're talking and the patient won't feel like the doctor isn't directly interacting with them. There are ways in which we can think about the experience and improve those interactions for both sides."

Cohen believes that virtual healthcare is here to stay. "Telehealth already existed, but what the pandemic did was force payment models to appropriately reimburse for virtual services. It forced patients to adapt because they wouldn't get care otherwise. It essentially directed a mass of the population to the availability of telehealth.”  

"Consumers have always had an expectation for how they interact with healthcare providers, but it wasn't really available before. Telehealth can also help address health inequities and access to care. Now that we've made progress on regulatory and payment models, the promise of addressing these healthcare needs is exciting." 


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