Once upon a time—actually, not all that long ago—patients were patients. They sought health care from a trusted provider—in most cases, from their family’s primary care physician, who referred them to a specialist if necessary—and that provider scribbled illegible notes about their care on a paper chart that took up space in an overflowing file cabinet somewhere in a cluttered office. If another provider needed to see those notes, then the physician would have to fax over the paperwork, creating yet another piece of hard-to-read paper, in another chart, in another file cabinet, in another cluttered office. Sound ineffective and ripe for error? It was—and in many cases, this process still is.

While technological advancements in other US sectors are progressing at a frenetic pace, health care is still lagging behind. And patients—who are more responsible than ever for the financial burden of their care and are thus taking a more active role in their healthcare decisions—are not willing to take it anymore. Instead, they’re demanding connected, collaborative care teams—and seamless health data exchange between members of those teams. And can you blame them? Unconnected care teams are:

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1. Inefficient

According to a 2016 survey conducted by Surescripts, 94% of patients want their medical records to be stored electronically in a central location that’s easily accessed by, and shared between, their providers. This was so important to patients that more than half reported “tak[ing] matters into their own hands” to ensure shareability: “58 percent of patients have tried to compile their own complete medical history—a task that is not just tedious, but often inaccurate and incomplete.”

The survey also found that “patients are increasingly dissatisfied with the amount of time and effort they’re spending on recounting medical information and waiting in doctors’ offices or pharmacies.” Not surprisingly, patients are also less than enthused about increasingly long wait times and the fact that they have to spend “time on paperwork rather than interacting with their providers.” According the survey, patients spend “an average of eight minutes telling their doctor their medical history (up from six minutes in 2015) and eight minutes filling out paperwork at a typical doctor visit (up from six minutes in 2015).” It appears that “these repeat scenarios often stem from a lack of patient data access and information exchange between providers.”

2. Siloed

According to the authors of this HBR article, “It’s a common patient complaint about the people involved in their care: ‘Sometimes the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing. I don’t feel everyone is working together.’ And that’s unfortunate, because in any care team—whether that be one in a hospital setting (as described in the above-cited article) or a distributed team working together as part of the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) program—teamwork really does make the dream work. And by that, I mean comprehensive, collaborative, holistic care can improve patient outcomes and satisfaction levels—which, in turn, can boost revenue. As WebPT President Heidi Jannenga wrote in this this article, with health care moving in a more patient-centric direction, many PTs, OTs, and SLPs will be in the position to partner with other practitioners (or teams) with complementary skillsets in an effort to provide enhanced patient care—“thereby minimizing the patient’s chances of experiencing further injuries and conditions that would require future clinical intervention.” And these types of collaborations only work when the providers involved are using interoperable (i.e., connected) technology.

3. Dangerous

As if being inefficient and siloed weren’t bad enough, unconnected care teams are also dangerous. According to the Surescripts survey, “patients feel that lives are at stake when their doctors don’t have access to their complete medication history.” In fact, 90% of patients believe that having their medication history stored in one location “would would make their doctor less likely to prescribe the wrong medication.” And receiving the wrong medication could be life-threatening. Just imagine a situation in which a patient with a severe allergy to a specific antibiotic ends up unresponsive in the ER. If the on-call doctors don’t have access to that patient’s medical information immediately, they could unknowingly administer the problematic antibiotic and cause irreparable harm. While this is a worst-case example, there are plenty of other problems that can arise when providers caring for the same patient aren’t on the same page.

The Next Steps

So, what’s a savvy, willing-to-collaborate provider to do to ensure his or her patients are not only well cared for, but also satisfied in this new era of connected care? I’m glad you asked. Here are a few things to consider:

  • As WebPT’s Brooke Andrus suggests here, providers should adopt technology that not only “aligns with their clinical needs and workflows,” but also “tracks patient data—including outcomes [and satisfaction] data—in a meaningful and scalable manner” and has interoperability on its roadmap.
  • Once you have the necessary technology in place, develop and adhere to a comprehensive outcomes tracking program in your clinic.
  • Participate in—or at least take the time to consider participating in—the bundled payment models that are available in your area (e.g, the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement program).
  • Explore potential partnership opportunities to bring added value to your patients.
  • Attend this year’s Ascend business summit for private practice rehab therapists, where you’ll have the opportunity to learn from—and connect with—providers across the country (and earn CEUs, to boot).

There you have it: the many reasons why patients want connected care teams. And from what I’ve heard, many providers do, too. What do you think about the shift toward more coordinated, collaborative care? Is your practice embracing the change—or resisting it? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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