Reimagining care delivery to emphasize physician-consumer relationships and the human touch

May 17, 2021 12:34 am

The healthcare industry needs to make changes that help people take charge of their own care in partnership with their physicians, says the author of a new book.

When Summer Knight, MD, MBA, launched a primary care practice in Florida, she didn’t think of herself as serving patients per se.

Knight instead preferred the term activated consumers to reflect the type of collaborative relationship that can promote a holistic focus on health and wellness as opposed to disease care.

Describing consumers as patients “puts them in a submissive role and dehumanizes them,” Knight said. “While the word patient implies what clinicians will do ‘to them,’ we prefer the terms client or activated consumer, which better describes what clinicians do ‘with them’ as proactive partners. This new definition suggests that the healthcare consumer aims to  optimize health whether one is healthy or impacted by a chronic condition.”

Knight explores that theme as part of her new book “Humanizing Healthcare: Hardwire Humanity into the Future of Health,” which was published in April, with all proceeds going to the not-for-profit organization 1Humankind. She draws on her wide-ranging leadership experience in the industry, which includes stints as chief of staff of a four-hospital system, chief medical officer for the state of Florida, a health plan executive and, currently, managing director at Deloitte.

“With the consumer in the driver’s seat, they hold themselves accountable for their lifestyle choices, and they advance past today’s episodic interactions with healthcare to continuous connectivity where consumers can reach their care team whenever and however they need,” Knight said. “This empowered approach can transform a consumer’s healthcare to focus on wellness instead of disease.”

Streamlining healthcare to emphasize partnerships with consumers

One source of motivation for Knight’s book was her feeling that the modern healthcare industry has become too convoluted to best serve its customers.

“Healthcare used to be based on a relationship between a patient and their doctor — an intimate alliance with a proven power to heal,” Knight said. “Today, people are instead vulnerable in a complex system that lacks coordination, integration or information sharing. The various players in the healthcare industry aren’t aligned around what should be a singular goal: caring for the patient.”

Results include a financial system that is untenable for many healthcare consumers, she noted, with insurance deductibles often exceeding the average household’s savings.

Citing data that indicates 30% of healthcare expenditures amount to unnecessary care — i.e., waste — Knight says there also are financial and economic incentives to improve the system.

“Shifting primary care physicians to the role of chronic condition intensivists gives them time to be thoughtful about client disposition, such as which tests are most efficacious and cost-effective, which care team members to include, and how to best manage clients to stay in their homes with a combination of virtual tools and in-home visits to significantly reduce hospitalization,” Knight said. “This additional available time will make a critical difference in reducing waste and the total cost of care.”

Incorporating technology for the benefit of consumers

Even though it may sound strange to say, artificial intelligence has a big role to play in making healthcare more human-centered.

“Digital health technology is ironically the best way to scale humanized healthcare,” Knight said. “It can help the healthcare industry serve an entire population based on individual preferences, 24/7 via mobile, in-home and on the go. With digital technology, a sense of continuous connectivity is created using AI, nudges and avatars. Healthcare professionals can communicate and coordinate with a consumer and their natural support network.”

AI can pave the way for more pervasive EI, or emotional intelligence, in healthcare.

“Machine learning coupled with artificial intelligence allows us to get smarter about how and when to intervene with the right level of care, to be more proactive about health and prevention, and to impact disease earlier,” Knight said. “With artificial intelligence assisting on all these steps, the healthcare delivery team can focus their energy on treating the person with both compassion and empathy.”


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