Patient Interest in Digital Communication Is Growing

The following is a guest article by Dan Simenc, Chief Revenue Officer, SR Health by Solutionreach. Dan is one of our A-List speakers at our new Experience Series. Dan will join Ed Marx and other health IT leaders in an interactive discussion about digital transformation in healthcare and how you can develop your digital strategy amidst all the changes that are happening in the world today. Learn more about this truly unique experience here

Healthcare is slowly moving out of crisis mode. The world will be dealing with COVID for quite some time to come, but healthcare organizations aren’t scrambling to set up new technology to see patients or processes to keep patients and staff safe. Instead, healthcare is moving into the time when everyone needs to think about how to sustain some of the recent changes for the long term.

Supporting these changes is critical because revenue is down an average of 36 percent for healthcare organizations, and patients are delaying needed care. A recent MGMA study found that 87 percent of patients say safety is the reason they are reluctant to visit the doctor.

Healthcare organizations will need to do two things to get patients to come in for the care they need—communicate better and offer a seamless virtual care experience. The latest research suggests that communicating better will require more digital options and automated communication.

SR Health by Solutionreach collected some of the last known data about pre-COVID-19 patient communication preferences when it commissioned a study in early 2020 to understand patients’ communication likes and dislikes at four key parts of the patient journey: scheduling, patient care, financial, and patient outreach. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, SR Health conducted another survey to capture its impact on the same four parts of the patient journey, as well as on telehealth communication. The new analysis compares the two surveys to show unique insights into how the pandemic has affected patient communication preferences.

Overall, patient satisfaction with healthcare communication is down seven percent. When asked about the impact of specific attributes related to satisfaction today versus before the pandemic, patients were:

  • Eight percent less likely identify messages are timely
  • Seven percent less likely to say they felt their questions were answered
  • Nine percent less likely to say they felt heard

While satisfaction was higher before COVID-19, patients were still highly likely to have complaints about service and communication. In an Advisory Board study before the pandemic, 53 percent of patients said poor communication was their top complaint.

The SR Health study showed a 14 percent drop in interest in phone calls by patients. The desire for phone calls has been waning for some time as more and more patients turn to text. However, since the pandemic began, the appeal of automated communication, text messaging, and telehealth are all on the rise at a faster pace. According to the data:

  • The percentage of patients finding automated communications desirable rose from 81 percent to 84 percent.
  • Sixty-three percent of patients said they feel comfortable participating in telehealth visits.
  • Overall, patients believe text and email are highly effective during different stages of the patient journey. That belief has increased across the board for communications related to scheduling, follow-up care, financial transactions, and educational outreach.

The support for automated communications is tied directly to convenience and access. Patients were asked to explain some of their responses, and one said, “Automated systems are the way to go. It helps me ask questions at any time of day, regardless of office hours.” Many suggested the time it takes to get an answer through visits or phone calls is challenging, as shown in this comment, “Being able to get quick responses from my doctor to questions means less time in the office for something that a quick message would have answered… and [it] gives the doctor time to see the patients that need to be seen.”

During a time when patients have more questions and concerns, automated communication and text also reduce the burden on staff. A phone call takes ten times longer than a text and pulls staff away from the patients who are in the office, and a text can be answered when staff are free to do so without negatively affecting patients in the office.

Finally, automated communications can be set up and left to run with little time needed from staff. Another survey showed that when automated messaging is used:

  • 76 percent of staff spend less than two hours a day on the phone
  • 76 percent of staff spend less than an hour a day on reminders
  • 68 percent spend less an hour on recall each day

Supporting the best patient and staff experience requires creating a seamless communication workflow that supports all types of visits and patient preferences. Based on the data, now is the time to make that digital transformation.

About Dan Simenc:
Dan Simenc is the chief revenue officer at SR Health by Solutionreach, where he focuses on the growth of SR Health and its role in improving patient engagement in hospitals and health systems across the country. Dan has vast experience in interoperability, clinical and operation systems, and other process-oriented areas in enterprise healthcare. Simenc comes to Solutionreach from Lyniate, formerly Corepoint Health, which was ranked number one in KLAS for the past 11 years. Prior to that, he served in senior leadership roles with 3M Health Information Services, Picis, Eclipsys (now Allscripts), and McKesson. He’s a husband and father of two who likes to work hard and play hard.