Is your patient portal failing? The story of rewarding “A” while hoping For “B”

Top five reasons why you should consider add-on solutions

Are you staring at your under utilized patient portal and asking, “how did we get here?” It’s basically the most unused healthcare technology that every health system had to have in order to meet Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use criteria for the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Health systems were incentivized through reimbursements to install patient portals to improve patient engagement and management of care. And those reimbursements were the end of the benefits that most organizations have experienced with patient portals. Patients don’t use the portal because it’s unfamiliar to them, they don’t know it exists or they view it as inconvenient because it’s not user friendly. 

According to a 2016 Grand View Research report, the patient portal market was valued over $1.1 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow by nearly 18% each year for the next 8 years. Ironically, the 5th Annual Xerox EHR Survey stated that 64% of Americans do not use patient portals. If this were any other industry, this would be considered very bad. The question is: how does a market continue to grow each year when an overwhelming majority of its target population doesn’t use it? Historically, patient engagement tools have driven more engagement from the already engaged. While add-on solutions improve patient engagement with the portal, some big EMR vendors have tried to lock out best-in-breed solutions from integrating with the EMR. But they are losing that battle because each year, more and more sophisticated solutions enter the market that integrate and provide real and true solutions. 

Step one to fixing the problem is to identify the right one. The problem to be solved is not low portal usage, but low patient engagement. How do we drive higher engagement? By using best-in-breed solutions to augment your portal. Here are the top five reasons why you should seriously consider augmenting your patient portal:

1. Add-on solutions create multiple access points
Lets face it, there is not one standard way patients engage. Engagement varies based on the persona of the patient. By using solutions that augment the portal, you can engage patients from whichever method they prefer. Google search? No problem. Some solutions such as online appointment scheduling, can integrate a scheduling widget directly into the Google search page. This is also the case for other search websites such as Yahoo, Bing, Yellow Pages, etc. With an EMR-provided patient portal, the only place you can catch the attention of the patient is the health system website. By being everywhere your patients are, particularly when they are seeking care, you are engaging them on pathways they user and trust. 

2. The Primary goal of patient engagement is better health outcomes, a close second is driving loyalty for your brand
The more you put your brand out there, the more it will become recognized and top of mind. Repetition is key for brand recall. We all know the Kaisers and Mayos of the world, and that is because they are good at spreading the word about everything they do whether it is cutting edge research, acquisitions or the utilization of breakthrough medical technology. These health systems know that the more they expose and repeat their brand across the healthcare ecosystem, patients will position their brand as synonymous with quality healthcare. Therefore, the more patients see your brand, the more that their brain will register your brand as top of mind when it comes to healthcare. It is all about repetition. Your patient portal currently doesn’t have the means to expose the brand across the consumer marketplace. It only lives within your EMR and on your health system website.

3. The name best-in-breed says it all: they are the best at what they do
The pendulum has swung way too far towards standardizing your application stack. Your EMR is probably decent across the board. It has to be. Since it has to cover all of the bases, it is spread pretty thin. This is great when trying to cover the entire IT infrastructure of an entire hospital or health system but it leaves little room for specialization. This is where add-on solutions come into the picture because they are primarily focused on one area and are expert solutions within that niche. Specialized solutions have the capacity to be the best in its space and truly optimize the department or process that needs to be focused on. Your patient portal wasn’t designed to be specialized. It was an afterthought. It was created to capitalize on a federal mandate.

To put this into perspective, let’s use surgery as an example. I bet you would not go to a general surgeon for a  quadruple bypass you  would go to a cardiothoracic surgeon. Patient engagement is complex and many have failed trying to solve it. Stakes are high - You need a specialist there. 

4. Add-on solutions can increase flexibility of your EMR
Most leading EMRs were built in the last century. They were originally designed to be downloaded to a desktop and/or installed within a network, and have been slowly trying to migrate to more innovative, cloud-based platforms. That said, the chances of patients being able to use the patient portal on any device besides a desktop is slim. Luckily, cloud-based solutions that integrate with EMRs are developed and designed to be responsive. Patients have the ability to access these solutions from any device whether it be a smart phone or a tablet. You can improve engagement by being at patients’ fingertips.

5. Integrated solutions increase the ROI of your huge EMR investment
By optimizing your EMR beyond its capabilities, you are getting more for your investment at a smidgen of the price you spent on your EMR. Why not make your EMR the best it can be? As long as the add-on solutions have live integrations with your EMR, it is a no-brainer to utilize these solutions to boost the success of the EMR across all departments who use it. Particularly, the revenue generating departments. For the past decade, health systems have been focused on removing costs to improve the bottom line. They haven’t wanted to spend any more money on IT after the big investment of its EMR. However, now is the time to implement long-term strategic solutions that will bring in previously untapped revenue. Various solutions allow you to capture this, such as having the ability to schedule appointments online 24/7, not just when the office is open during business hours. Your patient portal is part of the EMR package; without it being utilized fully for revenue generating purposes, it won’t impact your bottom line very much, if at all.
 

Top three ways Penn Medicine sparked the digital patient experience

Recognized as one of the nation’s best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report and as a prestigious academic medical institution, University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine) sought out a way to better connect their physicians to the modern patient. In coordination with Clinical Care Associates, Penn Medicine’s employed primary and specialty care physician group, the organization saw the immediate need to improve patient access, attract new patients, and increase patient retention.
 
Strategy #1 - Connect patients to their providers: Allow for accurate patient navigation through patient-provider matching based on provider scheduling protocols that are specific to operational and clinical workflows.
In working side-by-side with Penn operations and the scheduling team, DocASAP was able to develop Penn Medicine specific criteria to navigate the patient to the correct physician and appointment time during the scheduling process. “It was not only important for us to keep the experts at DocASAP accountable for developing these complex workflows for our primary care and specialty physicians, but we had to take a detailed look into our entire scheduling protocols and processes,” said Ronald Barg, MD, executive director, Clinical Care Associates.

Measurable outcome: Within less than a month, the online scheduling platform was up and running. The health system started seeing appointment bookings from the very beginning and saw the continuation of a drastic increase of appointments per physician every month. 

Strategy #2 - Increase reach: Expand and digitize access and availability for the modern patient through digital applications and websites that patients use and trust.
Penn Medicine made its EMR implementation and utilization a top priority by utilizing Epic’s scheduling module for existing patients, Epic MyChart. While this solution sufficed for existing patients through its portal, MyPennMedicine, DocASAP provided Penn Medicine, with a tool to draw in new patients and reach patients from diverse digital pathways, such as Google. An online scheduling widget was embedded into the Penn Medicine website so that once patients found the correct physician for their clinical needs, they could book an appointment instantly.

Measurable outcome: 34% of appointments were booked after-hours, adding additional appointments and incremental revenue that the health system would have not realized without the online appointment scheduling system. Additionally, 65% of patients were new patients brought to the health system through DocASAP. Penn Medicine responded to the modern “consumer-patient” by expanding online availability across more access points and more providers, better capturing patient demand.

Strategy #3 - Optimize day-to-day business: Utilize an analytics platform that enables deep insights for optimizing operational processes to better align the care delivery to patient demand.
In utilizing the DocASAP big data analytics platform, the operations team at Penn Medicine is able to measure patient behavior (demand), such as what visit reasons patients are seeking and when patients need an appointment, and match it with physician availability (supply), such as where schedules are blocked and/or showing limited availability. The robust analytics platform identifies mismatches between supply and demand or lost opportunities such as when patients were unable to schedule because the physician was booked and/or patients were unable to schedule because online booking was not offered. This comprehensive analytics tool has allowed the number of bookings to increase by at least 160% annually because the appointment per physician rate more than doubles each year.

Measurable outcome: 50% of appointments are booked within a week which helps fill the empty time slots and indicates that patients seek near term appointments. Since availability is shown three months out and patients are booking within a week, it shows that patients are opting for appointment times that may not be ideal but booking due to limited availability to get in that week. In making this holistic view into available time slots in real-time for the patient, appointment times are filled that would not be otherwise filled, resulting in missed revenue.

Want to learn more about these and other strategies that Penn Medicine used to reform patient access and engagement? Click HERE to read the full case study on how Penn Medicine and DocASAP meet the demand of the modern patient through online appointment scheduling.
 

Does your organization run a risk of patient loyalty liability?

According to a recent Accenture Study, the providers in the healthcare industry have low loyalty metrics, making them vulnerable to patients switching to competing health systems. Many patients, roughly 40% only stay with their current providers because they view switching as difficult. However, this lack of wanting to switch does not make them loyal.

As the healthcare industry explores and expands its digital capabilities and technologies, health data sharing and access has drastically improved. Health systems that digitize access (i.e. electronic health records (EHRs), online appointment scheduling, patient portals) are more attractive to the modern patient. These capabilities not only increase patient access to providers, but also make it easier for the patient to switch providers if they are unhappy with the quality of service provided. One combatant to this is the power of personal recommendations. According to the study, 44% of patients choose their provider based on personal recommendations, a percentage which is higher than any other industry. However, patients are less likely to advocate for their healthcare providers and are twice as likely to complain about their providers.

So, do you make your patients loyal?

Strategy #1: Give your patients a reason to stay. 
Implement methods that expand your brand awareness and market reach on websites that patients use and trust, such as Google. Providing an easy point of access through online appointment scheduling is a powerful tactic because it removes the hassle of booking an appointment which is the first step in getting the patient in the front door.

Strategy #2: Empower patients to be proactive in recommendations.
The traditional comment card tactic is still alive today. It’s in a more digital format but it’s still an effective method to garner feedback and incorporate it into your everyday business processes. Allowing patients to leave reviews and feedback on the provider who delivered care via a digital pathway or the more traditional comment card route will help your organization improve and become more efficient because you are hearing exactly what the patient wants.

Strategy #3: Let the road lead to you.
Making it easy for patients to find you will improve their perception of your health system. The more you can modernize the access to your organization, the easier it will be to retain patients. By streamlining one of the most hassling parts of a care visit, scheduling the appointment, patients will view your organization as forward-thinking and proactive to their needs.

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