Providing a great patient experience is slowly shifting from a differentiator to a survival tactic. In a world where reimbursements are tied to patient experience and where online ratings can impact patient volume, practices can’t afford not to focus on experience. But are practices investing in patient experience?
Healthcare IT Today recently sat down with Andrew Hadje, Assistant Director, Association Content at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) to find out. During our conversation Hadje shared tangible, actionable ways practices and medical groups are improving patient experience. Throughout the year, MGMA has been gathering feedback and information from its members on this important topic.
Here are 8 ways practices are working to keep and delight patients:
1. Let patients book online
Being able to book an appointment online can be the difference between a patient using your clinic and a patient using someone else’s. We all have busy lives. We want to be able to book an appointment when it is convenient for us, which may not necessarily be during your office hours.
What’s more, we don’t want to sit on hold for something as simple as booking an appointment. We can book airline tickets, cruises, dinner reservations and even plumbing services online, yet only a fraction of medical practices offer this convenience to patients. Soon, if a patient can’t book online, they will find a different practice.
“Offering the ability to book an appointment online is just the first step,” said Hadje. “Patients want to check-in and fill out paperwork while at home. Smart practices recognize how much time this saves for patients as well as their staff and are moving to adopt solutions that allow for this type of pre-appointment interaction.”
“Access to care and when, where, and in the modality the patient wants is one of the most important things for patients in 2020,” explained Hadje.
2. Giving patients access to their records
Patients want and deserve access to their medical records. The argument that patients will not understand or will misinterpret the information in their records is no longer an acceptable excuse for preventing access. In fact, the government is about to set rules that may penalize healthcare organizations and software companies that block access to medical information (see “info blocking”).
If practices don’t already have a patient portal where patients can see their records, it’s time to get one.
And that’s just the first step according to Hadje: “It’s no longer enough to put in a portal and let patients see their records. Once patients have access, they want the ability to communicate about their records. They want to be able to ask their doctors questions via the portal and receive answers there.”
Forward-thinking practices are adopting portals and/or patient communication platforms that allow for two-way conversations between patients and providers.
3. Text reminders
Let’s be honest. We’ve all taken that little appointment card from our doctor’s office and promptly stuffed it in our pockets (or purse), never to be seen again. When patients miss or are late for their appointments, it causes waiting room chaos.
Reminding patients of their appointments via text message is one of the easiest ways to eliminate this issue. This will not only provide patients with a positive experience, it will reduce stress and workload on practice staff as well.
4. Answering the phone
In addition to new online methods of communicating, patients still want to be able to call practices.
“Investing in call-handling is something that practices shouldn’t overlook,” warned Hadje. “We were pleased to learn that MGMA members still prioritize phone calls and are looking to new technologies and processes to improve how they handle calls.”
Chatbots – intelligent, natural language virtual assistants – have gotten sophisticated and affordable enough to handle many routine inquiries. A live agent is no longer needed to answer simple questions like “When is my appointment?” or “Where is your office located?”. Chatbots can even handle tasks like rescheduling appointments, requests for an EOB and updates to a patient’s contact information.
It may sound silly, but even if patients never call into a practice, knowing that they can talk to someone if they need to, goes a long way to providing a good experience.
5. Being available whenever, wherever with telehealth
Telehealth capabilities (providing virtual visits that often includes video) helps smaller practices compete with larger organizations that have multiple clinic locations. Telehealth is also extremely convenient for patients.
According to a study conducted by FAIR Health, the number of claim lines related to any type of telehealth service increased 624% between 2014 and 2018. This sustained growth over multiple years is evidence that telehealth is not a fad, but a permanent new fixture of the healthcare landscape. Insurance companies have even started to expand reimbursements for telehealth.
More and more practices are looking into telehealth not only to improve patient experience, but also to reduce costs/increase revenue. It was encouraging to hear that telehealth was a discussed technology by MGMA members.
6. Remote monitoring
New wearable and remote patient monitoring devices enter the market every day. Just in the last few years, technologies have advanced to the point where cardiologists can monitor heart patients at home, saving trips into the office for a simple check-in.
Not only does this reduce the workload and burden on already-busy practices, it also helps patients feel safer and better cared for knowing they’ve got a vigilant eye on their health through these wearable and home based devices.
Even better, there are now CPD codes for the most common devices, which means insurance companies may cover the costs.
(Editor’s Note: A great place to check out the latest in healthcare tech is the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference]
7. Embracing AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic in healthcare in recent years. Hadje was particularly excited about the promise it holds for quality and speed of care: “AI can gather, process, and share information exponentially faster than we as humans can. And while AI will never 100% replace humans in diagnosis and treatment, AI tools can certainly assist in guiding providers to the right answers more quickly.”
AI has already been successfully deployed in radiology – helping radiologists prioritize image reads based on potential abnormal scans, a significant improvement over the traditional first-in, first-out method.
Practices can adopt AI in several ways. Decision support tools, powered by AI, can assist with diagnosis. Chatbots built with smart AI algorithms can learn patient call/response patterns to provide improved customer service. AI has even helped practices improve their claims processing by detecting errors and flagging claims that were missed.
8. Planning for interoperability
Although “interoperability” is one of the most over hyped buzzwords in healthcare, it should still be a priority for practise and groups. Why? Because sooner or later medical information will need to be shared…and if you don’t have the systems capable of doing it, you may face stiff penalties or be shunned by the broader healthcare ecosystem.
“It’s encouraging to hear practices talk about the need for their systems to be interoperable,” said Hadje. “It shows that many are thinking about the future when health information flows freely, securely and easily between healthcare organizations.”
Imagine how patients will feel when they know the information from their Emergency visit to the hospital will be transferred to their family physician or when their current medication information is available to the first responder that is helping them.
With new technologies come new processes, conveniences, patient satisfiers, and automations. But new technologies also bring new challenges. Hadje had the following best practices to share for practices looking to use technology to improve their patient experience:
- Prioritize cybersecurity. If you’re building technologies internally for your practice, be sure patient confidentiality is top of mind with your tech team. And always ask potential tech vendors what safeguards they have in place for patient data.
- Be prepared for failure. Make sure you have a backup and disaster recovery plan in place. And be sure to ask any potential technology vendors how/where their solutions are hosted and what their backup systems and disaster recovery plans are.
- Be realistic. Technology is always evolving. Sometimes it works perfectly. Sometimes it needs constant tinkering. Set realistic goals and expectations when deploying new systems. Give yourself plenty of time for testing, training and adapting.
With the right tools and mindset, any practice can make changes that result in huge wins for patients and themselves.
To read more from MGMA on cost, quality, and convenience, check out their Medical Practice Leader’s Guide to 2020.