Addressing a Hidden Danger with Unified Patient Communications

In recent years, Health IT companies have added patient communication features to their applications – automated outreach via phone, text and email. But as more applications add this capability, there is a growing danger of patient communication fatigue with too many messages being received. The solution? A unified approach to patient communications.

The Hidden Danger

Improving the patient experience is important for healthcare organizations. It not only impacts reimbursements, but also the reputation of the organization within the community as well as patient outcomes. Many Health IT companies, sensing this need/opportunity, have started to incorporate features in their applications that are designed to provide a better experience for patients.

Over the past several years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of applications that have automated patient communication features – sending alert or messages to patients via phone, text and email based on trigger criteria. In isolation, this is a positive development, but this communication feature has the potential to have a negative effect – one that most organizations are blind to.

When you consider that a typical hospital has dozens (sometimes hundreds) of applications and if each of these have independent patient outreach capabilities…well it’s not hard to see how there is the potential for a patient to be deluged with automated messages, phone calls (live or automated) and emails.

Just imagine a patient who needs to go to a healthcare facility for a lab test, see their specialist and then work with their physiotherapist. It is conceivable that the patient could receive:

  • Two text reminders for the upcoming lab test
  • An email with Instructions on how to prepare for the lab test
  • An automated phone call reminder about their specialist appointment
  • A text reminder about where to park for their appointment
  • An email with directions to their appointment
  • A phone call from a call-center agent reminding them of their physio session
  • A text reminder for their physio session

If you were on the receiving end of this series of communication, how annoyed would you be? What if this was repeated every few weeks because you had a chronic condition?

This is the potential danger – patient communication fatigue.

The solution? A unified approach.

Unified Patient Communications

“The experience in healthcare is very fragmented,” said Guillaume (Gui) de Zwirek, CEO of WELL Health in a recent on-camera interview. “The coordination of care outside the office is quite complicated and is often analog. It’s a phone call with 17 minutes on hold. It’s a letter in the mail ages after my appointment. It’s a real frustrating experience.”

To address this situation, de Zwirek suggests that healthcare organizations take the same approach to patient communications as they did for health data ten years ago.

“Ten years ago, many CIOs had an epiphany,” explained de Zwirek. “There were paper charts and data in all these pockets and different places in the hospital. They looked at their infrastructure and technology stack and realized they needed to bring all this stuff together. It’s been a long road, but today we are finally in a place where we have our data under control. What I would say to a CIO right now is that you have the same challenge and opportunity with patient communications. They probably have hundreds of vendors and they are all messaging your patients. If you mapped it out, you’d probably find that over-alerting and under-alerting are happening pervasively throughout the organization. There is an opportunity to bring everything together under one umbrella and deliver a transformative change to the patient experience. “

Consolidating patient communications across an entire organization can be a daunting challenge. It is not the technology that is difficult, but rather the need to coordinate all the different internal stakeholder departments. Getting the call center on board alongside the orthopedic department and maternity services is not easy. It’s certainly possible, but it takes a high degree of collaboration and commitment.

de Zwirek believes the payoff for patients is worth it: “For patients, getting all their information from a single source, a single place is a much more delightful experience.”

It is clear WELL Health is positioning itself as the platform for organizations that want to get patient communications “just right” and for those who recognize the hidden danger of patient communication fatigue.

Below is the full interview with de Zwirek. He offers and interesting take on how the we arrived at the current state and what the future holds for patient communications.

WELL Health is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene.

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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