How healthcare can offer patients a digital bedside manner

Published by Pharma Phorum, June 2023

Garry Hamilton, Chief Growth Officer, Co-Founder at digital transformation consultancy Equator, shares how digitisation is building positive changes in healthcare.

Healthcare is in flux.

Even before the pandemic, private and public sector organisations wrestled with multiple challenges that strained their ability to serve patients in a way that was cost-effective, but also met their expectations.


Digital transformation is hailed as a solution to this quandary. Providers recognise its value and want to buy into the promise of enabling new experiences, while also driving efficiencies. But finding this equilibrium is hard. Is it really possible to improve both elements, rather than sacrificing one for the other?


There will be times when one trumps the other, but they are too closely linked to say that one should be prioritised. A great experience can - and must - be highly efficient. While healthcare settings should be as comfortable as possible, no patient actively wants to be in one, so would choose a short treatment that works over an extended stay in a luxury facility that isn’t as effective.

In effect, organisations are seeking to show patients a ‘digital bedside manner’ - an interaction that meets the needs of caring for the individual, giving them the best experience possible, without over-stretching resources.


It’s a balancing act that will shape the future of healthcare provision for decades to come.

Positively influencing patient experiences

Patient expectations are changing. According to research, younger generations are more likely to be “dissatisfied” and “very dissatisfied” with aspects of traditional care which, as they get older, will influence the delivery of healthcare models. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re also more likely to manage their health with digital technologies than older generations.


Healthcare providers certainly think this is the way forward: a better patient experience was the top outcome of digital transformation for 92% of healthcare organisations in a recent study. They recognise that it’s no longer enough to create an effective vaccine or new medical equipment; a digital ecosystem is required to deliver exceptional, patient-centric experiences. Digital transformation must also positively impact the bottom line. 


Efficiency and experience are closely intertwined. Efficiency can directly contribute to experience. Research has found that inefficient visits were the cause of 22% of negative healthcare experiences, ahead of unhelpful medical advice (19%) and treatment not working (13%).

Healthcare providers find themselves stuck between ever-evolving expectations of a good patient experience, while also trying to manage growth in demand with fewer qualified staff.

Only through the effective deployment of digital tools, and the necessary transformation of operations and culture, can the industry meet patients’ needs efficiently, sustainably, and in a scalable manner.

It works the other way, too. For instance, a patient undergoing treatment at a fertility clinic might have many questions about the process. Their first port of call could be to speak to the clinicians and staff. Yet, they have their jobs to do, and time spent answering questions, while critical to assuring the patient, prevents intended work. A patient-centric portal with clear information and personalised, up-to-date content could answer all but the most specific and personal questions.

Effective execution of experience and efficiency

Fundamentally, the success of any transformation is built on four factors.
These are process, data, technology, and people:


  • Process
    Many healthcare organisations fixate on replacing systems with new technology, but overlook concurrent processes. This creates a situation where processes designed to work with legacy technology remain in place, but fail to suit the new system. Frustration follows.

  • Data
    Access to real-time insights allows organisations to understand what is happening, and act decisively and accurately, minimising ‘gut feel’ choices. Experts such as data scientists will always be necessary - but, ultimately, the majority of users are not technologists or data analysts. They’re doctors, nurses and scientists. They need access to easy-to-use tools and interfaces that don’t create bottlenecks.

  • Technology
    Successful tech implementation can boost efficiency across healthcare. It’s also a foundation for experience innovation. Operators can continually transform, thereby future-proofing against disruptions and market change. This can only be achieved by acknowledging the provider’s existing set-up. The right technology stack - not just a single-vendor solution claiming to do everything - should be tailored to specific business goals, and even the requirements of smaller units within the organisation.

  • People
    Any change project’s value must be sold to all stakeholders; in this case, patients and employees. A fundamental question is: what’s in it for them? Enhanced care experiences, or a faster yet more efficient resolution? This intelligence must be enhanced with systems that continually develop a deeper understanding. That way, the product or service keeps pace with changing expectations and meets needs on an ongoing basis.

Documenting processes is key

A functional approach is identified, analysed, and updated in line with the new tools it engages with. Note also every organisation has as many ‘unofficial’ processes as official ones, even in an environment as highly regulated as healthcare. These shortcuts people use for efficiency must also be recognised.

Digital bedside manner in the real world

Let’s consider an example. A leading UK cancer charity, operating an internationally renowned centre treating more than 8,000 new patients each year, needed to transform user interaction for patients, potential donors, medical professionals, media, and volunteers.


An effective website could fundraise, publicise issues, share information, and provide support - sometimes simultaneously. To be successful, all this must be done sensitively, and equally effectively.


With limited resources, investment is also needed to deliver appropriate efficiency levels for employees. Automation and integration were key to delivering an enhanced user experience. The donation journey is now easier and integrates with the charity’s CRM system, providing increased operational efficiency, such as searching for information, and the sort of service that makes users want to return.


Transformation is not a one-off; it’s an ongoing process. Healthcare providers will rightly focus on today’s needs to stay in business. But they should also have an eye on the future. Staying patient-centric, being that comforting yet capable presence to guide them through their experience of care and treatment, embeds this ethos. As patient expectations evolve, so will each organisation’s ability to fulfil them.

This article was originally published in Pharma Phorum in June 2023. 

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