Can Automation Assist The Patient/Provider Relationship When It Matters Most? – Communication Solutions Series

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
Have you had plans with friends or family that you had to cancel at the last minute? Maybe you’ve come down with a cold, maybe you’re stuck in traffic, or maybe you are caring for a sick child.  Whatever the case may be, we have all been there. We have all had to make a call or send a text and let the other party know that we won’t be able to make it.  In my case, I always feel bad about cancelling last minute, but know in the end that my friends and family will understand why I’m canceling if I let them know at my earliest convenience.

You see, for most of us in 2015 it’s easy.  Almost all of us have quick access to a phone and can easily send a message to any contact in our phone.  We can easily communicate the reason we need to cancel, thus avoiding any damage to the relationship, and avoiding conversations like, “I waited at the restaurant for 30 minutes for you to show up” or “Where were you last night? I drove all the way downtown and you were a no-show.”

But what about maintaining this same relationship within a healthcare organization? There is a lot of buzz around building a solid patient/provider relationship through communication and trust, however quite often due to many unforeseen circumstances patients don’t show up for their appointment, physician’s offices close unexpectedly, or a doctor is out sick and communicating these changes can be difficult.

In a perfect world, and hopefully in a 2018/2020 world, if my child was sick, I would be able to pick up the phone and text my doctor “Won’t be able to make it, Molly is sick.” My doctor would text me back saying “No problem, let’s reschedule for next week when she’s feeling better.”  On the contrary as I mentioned in my last blog post, my doctor may be unable to make our scheduled appointment and could send me a message saying, “Have a family emergency, Dr. Smith is covering for me.”

Unfortunately, it is not quite that easy in the healthcare world.  I do not always have the means to communicate effectively with my doctor’s office if I cannot show up.  Many doctor’s offices also may not have an easy way to communicate to all their patients of an unexpected event or closure.  Alerting each patient individually is an almost impossible task, and quite often we as patients encounter a surprise substitute provider, a closed office due to weather (that we fought to get there just to find out they’re closed), or extremely long wait times thus irritating us and potentially damaging our patient/provider relationship.

As I have said before, I think there has to be a better way.  Similarly to sending a text to a family member or a friend, implementing some simple automation solutions into a healthcare organization can strengthen communication between both the patient and the provider.  Sending an automated appointment reminder initiates the initial conversation and engagement between a patient and a physician.  It can prompt a patient to confirm or not confirm their appointment back to the physician office.  Sending out an automated mass notification to patients letting them know to stay at home during a severe snow storm goes a long way to strengthening that relationship and keeping the communication dialogue alive.

We talk about providers treating patients like consumers/customers and whether that’s good or bad. But, maybe the conversation should really be about the providers AND the patients treating each other like a friend, a neighbor, or even family. Communication and respect for time is an important aspect of those great relationships and in healthcare we still have a lot to learn from them.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Learn more about the automations solutions discussed above here. Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms

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  • Well said. Brittany’s hit on how many practice-patient relationships remain in an old paradigm.

    To improve, I think it would be useful to look at various patient portals, etc., to see which, if any, comes closer to what she’s advocating.

  • Carl,
    I think there are a number of solutions on the market to be able to move to the new paradigm. The key to me seems to be that practices need to be made aware that there’s a new paradigm that’s worth considering.

  • Communication with Dr.’s is something that needs to be improved to reach the next level. I messaged my doctor on the organizations new portal and did not get a response. When I called and asked “why” they said when I have a request I should call because it takes them 2 to 3 days to get to the messages from the portal!

  • Jim, bet your provider’s patient portal passed meaningful use.

    It would seem that all messages come to the provider via the same process. There’s only one process, phone, etc, for someone to watch vigilantly.

  • Jim,
    I think that’s a changing paradigm based on the provider. However, there are many stuck in the world you describe. It’s changing though. I’ve found it starts to change when doctors realize how much more efficient the patient portal messaging can be when compared to the phone tag they currently experience.

  • I’m happy to say that my PCP, part of the practices of a major NYC / Long Island hospital group, normally responds within a few hours during the day. She does ‘get it’!

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