patient access

Intelligent Patient Access for a Healthier Population

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Virtual doctor visit or traditional office appointment? Urgent care clinic or hospital emergency room? Internist or specialist? And does anyone actually have a Saturday appointment available  this weekend? Patient access can be complicated for consumers.

The healthcare system is becoming more complex—creating confusion, uncertainty and anxiety for healthcare consumers. With this increased complexity, patients tend to delay their care or extend their decision-making process. These challenges undermine patient access to care as well as population health.

But when healthcare organizations use smart digital tools to navigate patients—and potential patients—to the right healthcare setting and the right medical provider at the right time, everyone wins. In this post, we discuss the digital tools that are necessary to navigate diverse patient populations to the right care.

Expanding Access Beyond Traditional Channels

Phone calls aren’t going away anytime soon, but patients expect to be able to use websites, text messages and emails to communicate with the healthcare system. Make it easy for them to access care by providing a variety of communication methods.

Must-Have Digital Tools for Intelligent Patient Access

Let patients access care via online channels they already use and trust. These channels include:

  1. Provider website - To capture and convert inbound traffic into new patients, the provider’s website is a crucial channel. To maximize this tool, websites should include find-a-doctor functionality, click-to-call CTAs to schedule an appointment, and the ability to book online appointments.

  2. Health plan websites and applications - Consumers are concerned with insurance acceptance when scheduling appointments. To meet this need, scheduling functionality should be embedded on leading health plan sites and applications.

  3. Search - There are a number of ways to extend access to the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). These options include: search engine optimization of provider profile pages; paid search ads offered by Google, Bing, and Yahoo! Gemini; or embedding scheduling functionality within a health center’s Google My Business location. We recommend a mixture of tactics to achieve greater share of voice (SOV) on the SERP.

  4. Social Media - ‘Book Now’, ‘Schedule an Appointment’, and other buttons and links can be added to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter company profiles. These provide yet another digital channel for consumers to access your providers.

  5. Accessibility - Patients with language barriers and disabilities want to communicate online, too. Make it possible by providing translation tools and voice-enabled capabilities.

  6. Virtual Visits - Consumers are demanding virtual visits according to an Accenture survey. 76% of survey respondents stated they would use virtual services for follow-up appointments. By providing virtual visits, providers can save costs while significantly expanding access.

Consumers are demanding broadened, digital methods for accessing care in a timely manner. Through digital access channels, consumers are navigated to the right care and are called to act on their healthcare needs. Healthcare organizations that deliver on these needs will reap benefits, while those who fail to keep up are putting their organization’s network integrity at risk.

Combating Physician Burnout in the Digital Era

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Physicians are burning out at alarming rates, and we should all be paying close attention.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ), provider burnout now exceeds 50%.

For physicians, the negative health effects have serious consequences. Physicians now have the highest suicide rate of any profession In real terms, one physician is lost in the U.S. every day to suicide. This is an epidemic affecting all service lines, women and men, across rural and urban settings. Stories of depression, lack of desire to perform at a high level, and chronic fatigue abound.

Obviously this is impacting patient care. This makes conceptual sense—a burnt out provider will be less effective, resulting in declining outcomes, reduced patient engagement, frustration in the ‘system’ and poorer population health. And while the human costs are highest and most important, there are also financial costs for health systems and practices. Discussed at a panel at this year’s Becker’s Hospital Review Health IT + Clinical Leadership 2018 Conference, Dr. Tim Lineberry of Aurora Health made an important statement about physician burnout: “Burnout is a business issue. If you lose one physician … that's an immediate issue from a revenue standpoint.” This makes a troubling human issue a troubling business issue for health systems and hospitals.

One industry-wide, measurable effect of physician burnout is a physician shortage. Recent research by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts a physician shortage of 100,000 by 2030. This shortage will be partially caused by physician burnout while simultaneously driving physician burnout, as efficiency and productivity expectations continue to increase for physicians. The result is an accelerating and deepening crisis.

How can we address physician burnout?

Many experts have pointed to the EMR as a primary culprit for physician burnout. This is because physicians spend roughly 50% of their day interfacing with an EMR. One solution to the EMR issue is to increase the usage of scribes. Currently underutilized, scribes are proven to improve physician satisfaction and reduce burnout by cutting the time a physician spends on documentation in half.

Scribes are certainly not the only group that can help address physician burnout. To more directly address the current physician shortage, policy and regulatory changes should be made to place more investment in Nurse Practitioners. A growing base of skilled providers, Nurse Practitioners are crucial to filling care gaps and to meet patient needs that do not require a physician. Given limited time and resources, physicians need to focus on the most urgent and crucial medical needs of the population, and leave pap smears and other procedures to other providers who are trained and able to give quality care.

The Keys to Any Physician Burnout Improvement Strategy

Most importantly, addressing physician burnout requires a clear strategy that takes into account the following components. According to Karen Weiner, CEO of Oregon Medical Group, “Best practice is to identify the sources of stress for the physicians of that particular setting, identify relevant interventions, create metrics with baselines and goals, then watch closely for improvements over time, and tweak the interventions as needed.” Following this expertise, there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits all solution to address physician burnout. The daily sources of stress for an orthopaedic surgeon will differ from the sources of stress that an urgent care provider has.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

What role can technology play in addressing physician burnout? Is technology only a hindrance? If utilized for peak performance, technology can alleviate some daily stressors for physicians:

  1. Patient intake and workflow management - for physicians who view decreasing control over their schedules as a daily source of stress, there are solutions that address patient intake and workflow management. The goal of these solutions is to replicate nuances, like intake protocols and custom workflows, within the provider’s schedule. This ensures the right patient sees the right provider at the right time.

  2. Algorithm-driven patient navigation - allows the patient to be ‘steered’ to the optimal provider. This could be closest/soonest, a member of the care team, or a Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant, all designed to alleviate the schedule stresses of the physician and her or his practice management system.

  3. Telehealth - a key component of the physician shortage issue, and by extension physician burnout, is location. There are not enough providers in certain localities. Telehealth solutions exist that take location out of the equation, allowing greater access to care for otherwise underserved communities. For these localities, greater access to telehealth translates to decreased burden on local providers.

  4. Healthcare IT compliance automation - in a highly regulated environment, physicians need automation to remain in compliance with all regulations. Solutions that automate compliance lessen the burden on physicians and support staff when it comes to compliance.

In summary, there are a multitude of methods to address the physician burnout crisis including manpower and technology. Prior to implementing any solution, however, the first and most crucial step is to listen to providers, determine their top sources of stress, implement solutions and refine them on an ongoing basis. This strategic thinking and listening should guide any and all investments in alleviating physician burnout. The human issue of physician burnout will only be solved by listening to physicians and addressing their specific needs.

What My Doctor Told Me About Online Scheduling

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When I recently told my primary care physician that my company sells online appointment scheduling, he replied with “there are a lot of those companies...we get calls from them all the time”. While I was taken aback by his comment, he isn’t wrong—there is an increasing number of companies that offer online scheduling. Despite these many choices, there is a lack of information on the topic of online scheduling, especially through publicly available, digital channels. More importantly, there isn’t an abundance of companies that provide accurate online scheduling.

I elected against explaining these nuances to my physician, as he clearly didn’t have the time (which is a separate healthcare issue that you likely already know about). Instead, I nodded in agreement, and we moved forward with the consultation.

This quick exchange stuck with me after the appointment was over. Some things that I knew about the online scheduling market, including the fierce competition and constant outreach by “cookie-cutter” solutions, were all made much more real by experiencing it first-hand. For my physician, these realities translated to a lot of noise—which he and his staff classified as such.

Winning versus cookie-cutter solutions: accurate online scheduling

Accurate online scheduling is a winning proposition. However, a majority of online scheduling solutions today do not meet the accurate qualifier.

What is accurate online scheduling?

Accurate online scheduling is an online application that intelligently navigates patients to the right provider in the right setting at the right time. It replicates your rules, workflows and protocols. The result is a solution that works for patients, providers and health systems.

What are the key benefits of accurate online scheduling?

1. Improved care quality

According to Nitin Goyal, MD, who contributed to the Forbes article “What Healthcare Technology Will Do The Most To Improve Patient Care?”, online scheduling is listed as part of improving patient care. In this article, DocASAP is called out as a top example. Conceptually, by matching patients to the right provider, proper care is delivered which improves health outcomes.

2. Improved patient satisfaction and retention

Patients are beginning to expect online scheduling, and choose their providers based on the ability to book online. According to Accenture, 77%  of patients think that the ability to book, change or cancel appointments online is important. This functionality is and will continue to be used widely by patients. By the close of 2019, 64% of patients will book appointments digitally. Moreover, patients will increasingly switch providers for the ability to schedule appointments digitally—adding online scheduling to the increasingly long equation of patient satisfaction.

3. Increased new patient acquisition

New patients are acquired via streamlined patient access. By improving patient access, health systems, hospitals and practices create a digital front door through which patients can enter. Access drives acquisition which in turn drives growth—a goal for most leading health systems and hospitals.

4. Reduced overhead costs

A newly released article by Modern Healthcare describes why online scheduling drives down costs. According to the article, “Patients might call a clinic and make an appointment by talking to a digital assistant, they might type out their request to a chatbot online, or they might self-schedule through a patient portal. Each of these methods saves money by freeing up administrative staff time.”

Accurate online scheduling enhances these cost-saving effects by ensuring that front office and call center scheduling rules are replicated accurately. This results in an automation that works effectively and more efficiently.

Why does accurate online scheduling matter?

You may be wondering—what is the big deal about accurate online scheduling? Why does it matter whether a health system implements accurate online scheduling versus a cookie-cutter solution?

It’s simple: cookie-cutter solutions are ineffective. Without the ability to replicate rules, workflows and protocols, physician schedules become filled with suboptimal appointments. This situation leads to negative experiences both for patients and providers. Moreover, inaccurate scheduling leads to losses in revenue for the provider, which, when replicated across an entire health system, can cost millions of dollars in lost revenue over time.

Implementations of cookie-cutter solutions cost a significant amount of time and money. Additionally, physicians tend to become distrusting of online scheduling once they have had one bad experience. This distrust only adds more barriers and friction to solving a health system’s access challenges.

Accurate online scheduling helps health systems, hospitals and independent practices solve their access-related challenges. Cookie-cutter solutions, which are widely available, fail to address these issues.

While many providers, including my primary care physician, may never understand the difference between accurate online scheduling and cookie-cutter solutions, those that do can benefit greatly. It’s important to remember that not all solutions are created equal—and vendor selection can determine whether or not your practice or health system solves its access challenges.

Promises, promises. How to get everything you deserve from your Online Appointment Scheduling (OAS) solution partner

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Picking a technology partner can be difficult and confusing. And it doesn’t help when your partner makes promises that they can’t keep. A good OAS solution partner should help you understand the value of their solution –  meaning, how they’ll help you meet your stated business objectives, such as a volume or percentage increase in traffic, a jump in total number of appointments or a boost in revenue. 

But don’t just take their word for it. Everything about OAS is digital and has the ability to be measured. A good OAS solution partner will show you how running analytics on your data can help you reach and report on your progress. In addition, make sure to talk about the difference between reports and insights. The key to meeting your business objectives is uncovering what the data is telling you and mapping it to your objectives in order to determine the business impact of your new OAS solution.

Below are some key metrics that an ideal OAS solution should analyze and how you can use the insights to make informed business decisions about your healthcare clinic or system. 

  1. Patient demographics: Demographics are captured at the time of booking an appointment, so you’re able to see daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly data trends. This data helps you identify trends in online scheduling such as average patient age, highest performing care center or most common visit – all reasons that could also impact your staffing, hours, locations and other business functions. 
  2. Patient booking behavior: What time of day do patients generally book appointments? Often it’s after hours when your office is closed. How many days before an appointment do they book? What devices are commonly used to book? These questions all have clear answers when we take the time to look at the data. And the insights can help you modify business processes or staff behaviors to better meet the needs of patients. 
  3. No show data: It’s important to understand the reasons behind no show appointments because they cost you money. Your OAS solution should capture information that provides visibility into why an appointment was canceled. Knowing how far in advance the appointment was scheduled, if the patient had insurance, and other data points can help you visualize behavioral trends so you can take proactive steps to reduce future no shows.

When evaluating an OAS solution partner, make sure to discuss your business objectives up front. Then, have your potential partner walk through all the ways you can positively impact your business objectives by tapping into patient behavior data and insights. Only by showing you how they can support your business over the long haul shows you how an OAS partner keeps their promises. 
 

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.