01/14/2014 11:19 am ET Updated Mar 16, 2014

It's Time to Increase Value and Connectivity for Patients

We're isolating patients from the care they seek. It's a fact. We, physicians, spend less and less time with them.

Why? We're doing what we have to do. New care regulations, revenue erosion, punitive measures -- these all make us focus on billing and payment and bundles and tech checklists and even patient credit risk. We're busy doing busywork. We're busy seeing as many patients as possible. At the same time, patients are paying more for services, but getting less. We're in and out of the exam rooms, and it's not because we don't care.

But care is part of the consumer experience. And, yes, our patients are our consumers. While physician practices and hospital networks are quickly becoming more aware of this, delivering a better experience is complicated by risks we face staying viable. Our consumers are looking for shorter waits, a better experience, trust in the establishment and overall value. We need to meet these consumer needs to build loyalty. Health care isn't that different from other consumer industries except that we not only need our consumers to return to our establishment, but we also need to be increasingly more integrated into their lives and we are increasingly more responsible for their health outcomes. Patients, an often vulnerable group, seek trusting and thoughtful relationships with care providers -- and it's these strong relationships that help foster better outcomes. We must not forget that our patients, their outcomes and experience, not only make our businesses of health systems survive, but help them grow. Positive patient word of mouth is perhaps our greatest asset.

So how do we give these patients, our consumers, a good experience if we find ourselves strapped for time and seeing more patients than ever before? We do so by providing value -- more bang for the buck.

We can provide value with convenience. Ease of appointments, reasonable wait times, these are things that will keep patients loyal to practices and hospitals and is exactly why some go to the after hours clinic. On our end, it requires us to have better office efficiency to make time for good customer service focus and preparedness by fielding inquiries before they even reach the office.

We can provide value with better access. Access to physicians. Access to records. Access to information. We need to remove the barriers to reaching us and prioritize accessible health care for patients. Access creates trust and transparency, a collective attitude of responsibility and will enable more timely responses to the care needs of the patient. No more lost messages or delayed consults or missing reports.

We can provide value with connectivity. Perhaps this is the greatest value we can provide. We may not be able to give patients more time, but we can stay better connected to them and the care team that services them. Patients leave offices after eight-minute visits with a $25-50 copay and feel like they don't get enough. But, if we can give them connectivity -- a way to connect for follow-up questions, clarity of management instructions or progression of a symptom, we can salvage some of that lost time and be proactive in preventing a visit to the ER. There's a way to build and maintain relationships virtually, while also keeping patients more engaged in their own health care. As doctors, we can also do a better job of connecting with our own community of primary care and specialists so that we can improve management decisions. Now we are talking surround sound care!

Yes, we are under the strain of accountability and regulation -- from ACA to Meaningful Use to HIPAA. So now we need to ask ourselves, "How can we deliver better care within this changing environment? How can we deliver better care without overburdening ourselves?" We need to appreciate the value of our networks -- both provider and patient -- and utilize technology to make our networks more efficient, more accessible, and better connected.