patient acquisition

Protecting Network Integrity in an Evolving Digital Landscape

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Protecting Network Integrity In an Evolving Digital Landscape

What exactly is network integrity?

According to The Advisory Board, “Network integrity is your system’s ability to keep patients within your defined network of providers who are employed, affiliated, or in some way aligned with your organization. This could include a hospital, employed medical group, an ACO, CI network, or an independent physician organization.

By this definition, network integrity is an enterprise-wide effort. Providers must be on board with a health system’s network integrity efforts to minimize patient leakage across the enterprise. One of the most important parts of network integrity is the patient experience. While patient experience involves a number of factors, including in-patient experience, communication with the provider and the care administered, an increasing component of patient experience is mobile engagement.

Mobile engagement and patient experience are both rapidly changing and increasingly important to health systems and practices. According to a July 2018 Black Box Market Research survey, consumer expectations for healthcare providers are increasing. 92% of healthcare consumers surveyed say that improving customer experience should be a top strategic priority for medical providers over the next twelve months.  

These changing expectations are changing consumer behavior at a rapid pace. To illustrate, 88% of consumers under 40 say they'll choose their next provider based on online presence. Simply put, if providers and health systems fail to meet consumer expectations, which include having provider profiles and schedules online—network integrity will diminish as patients switch to more modernized providers. The key takeaway is that provider switching and shopping is happening now—and is threatening network integrity for health systems and practices across the country.

How to Maintain Network Integrity in a Rapidly Changing Market

There are at least three things that providers can do now to invest in network integrity to achieve real benefits over the coming years:

1. Improve your digital front door and digital curb appeal

To welcome consumers and retain them, providers need a welcoming digital front door. Consumers should be able to access a practice and its providers through a variety of digital access points including search engines, maps, digital assistants and social media. Additionally, practices need to develop digital curb appeal online through a consistent brand experience that promotes the provider’s brand.

While digital front doors and curb appeal are often associated with customer acquisition, the rise of doctor shopping and switching have turned these components into core tenets of maintaining network integrity. Having poor digital curb appeal is a threat to any health system’s network integrity because loyalty is being replaced with rapid provider switching.

2. Syndicate provider profiles, location data and schedules across digital channels

While it’s clear that provider profiles need to be visible across digital access points, less literature exists on effective ways to achieve this. Fortunately, companies such as Yext syndicate provider data across digital access points. Solutions such as Yext allow for control over the brand experience, thereby promoting a health system’s brand and providers.

3. Referral management

It’s simple—broken referral processes cost the healthcare industry an estimated $150 billion each year. Therefore, referral management is a high impact piece of any network integrity initiative. While there are several ways to address referral management, including reducing lead times and sharing data across constituents, a comprehensive referral management solution should be in place to protect network integrity.

With referral management, patient-provider matching is an often overlooked component. By ensuring that patients are navigated to specialists with the right expertise, waste is reduced and the patient experience is enhanced.

Many factors including patient experience, referral management, digital front doors, patient-provider matching, patient access and patient engagement affect network integrity. At the end of the day, however, network integrity is about getting a few key things right: first, welcoming patients into your network at multiple access points; second, providing a positive experience; and third, making it convenient for consumers to return. In a rapidly evolving landscape, these core tenets can help protect a health system’s network integrity.

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.

Four cost effective marketing strategies to attract and engage more patients

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One of the key questions that marketing departments ask themselves is: how can I improve patient acquisition and retention? While there are many flashy and expensive ways to get the attention of patients such as radio ads, TV commercials, etc., not every healthcare organization has a large marketing budget but is tasked with bringing in as many patients as possible. Your organization is doing great things to help patients live healthier lives such as online scheduling, telemedicine, etc., but it’s challenging to get this message across.

Below are some cost effective ways that you can improve your patient acquisition and retention strategies while not breaking the bank.

#1: Utilize all the Google products you can for your organization.
Google has many products that you can do for free or for a decent fee. Since it’s the number one search engine, you are bound to get more bang for your buck. 

AdWords: Set up AdWords campaigns to increase the attention capture of the patient since Google is most likely where they will go first when searching for a physician or specialty. Below are some pointers to better refine your AdWords campaigns.

  • Search network only: Allow for the campaigns to be set up for only search. 
  • Location: Set location for the region of your entire health system vs. the entire United States. There may be similar names and keywords for a region that does not pertain to your health system.
  • Display ads: Enable display ads after the AdWords campaign is set up. The Cost-Per-Click (CPC) is far less and the display ad content can easily and automatically be generated from the branding from your website. To enable the display ads, go to Tools > Display Planner.
  • Ad extensions: Enable ad extensions to fit more content into your ad. General ad extensions allow you to add links below the three lines of text allowed by a simple AdWord ad. We suggest you look at all options that make sense for your health system. To enable these extensions, go to Ad Extensions > Dropdown that begins with “View” right below the Ad Groups tab.
  • Callout extensions: These are unique selling points about your health system. Include “Book Online Now” or “Set up your televisit” as one of these selling points.
  • Structured snippet extensions: These are specifics about the services your health system offers. Include “Find Specialty Doctors” and “Book an Appointment” as a couple of these services.
  • Location extension: These allow for specific locations to be showcased within your ad.
  • Conversion code: Have your webmaster paste the conversion code generated in AdWords to your website to monitor conversions. You should have this coded to the “Book an appointment” button on your website.

Google My Business Page: Create a Google My Business page to help improve the success of patients finding your health system, providers and practices when searching on Google. The entire process takes approximately five minutes to set up, and three to five business days to verify the listing. This is a free service from Google. As part of the setup, we recommend that you add images of your brand and providers to populate the photo section. 

#2: Develop ongoing engaging content across your social media channels.
You probably are already running ads and sponsored updates on all social media channels. This is great but how effective are they in causing a consumer to click to learn more? Develop your social media channels into the best curation of content. Below are some ideas on how to create a go to for information channel.

Your blog: If you aren’t doing a blog, you are missing out. Creating a 500 to 700 word blog is a piece of content that can have a lot of legs and can be spread everywhere. Use (and reuse) your blogs throughout the year. If you want to promote your blogs on Facebook, make sure you sponsor it. Facebook’s news feed algorithm will force the status update to lose prioritization in the news feed if you link to an external website such as your blog.b

Events: Another great promotion idea for engagement is not only to promote your events but other events within the community. Promoting a local farmer’s market or blood bank locations are ideas that will attract patients to not only the event but to your brand as being the promoter of this event even though it’s not being held by your organization.

#3: Be consist with your email communications.
Let’s face it: email campaigns can take some work. However, there are ways to use and reuse existing content in campaigns that run automatically on their own for 4 to 6 weeks. A marketing automation tool such as Pardot or MailChimp can make all email communications automatic. Here are our favorite ways to keep our audience engaged with important content.

Drip campaigns: Creating a drip campaign can take time but all that time is front loaded. Yes, you have to develop a series of emails prior to launching the campaign but once the content is created, you can have the campaign run for several weeks or months. How does it work? A drip campaign is an email campaign that automatically sends emails based on the activity of the recipient. Basically, it’s based on whether the recipient did or did not open the email. For example, if an email reminding patients to come in for a flu shot is ignored (i.e. not opened), the drip campaign will trigger another email about a recent blog that showed the top 5 ways to avoid a cold this season. Perhaps the patient already received a flu shot prior to the flu shot email so there was no interest in opening the email but will open the second email about avoiding a cold. Set that cadence so that the next email doesn’t go out until a week after the prior email was either opened or unopened.

Do you think that coming up with the content for a series of emails is too much work? Check out these recommendations for easily creating a series of emails with easy and replicable content for a drip campaign:

  • Use and reuse your blog content. Each blog can be its own email. After 6 blogs, you have a drip campaign.
  • Find healthy recipes and at-home workouts on Pinterest. You can easily write a summary paragraph, use a picture (either your own or from the webpage) and link to a recipe and/or at-home workout to promote wellness. After 3 recipes and 3 workouts, you have a drip campaign.
  • Ask a doctor for the best tip they give patients. After 6 doctors’ tips, you have a drip campaign.

#4: Conduct contests for patients.
Some health systems do a good job of developing campaigns on patient stories and promoting those campaigns across many verticals such as radio, television, social media, etc. Highlighting patients is a good engagement strategy because patients will relate to one another and it shows that your organization cares about its patients. Also, they will promote themselves if highlighted or showcased in a public setting. 

By holding contests, you will be able to glean a ton of content that was created by your patients. Not sure what to do a contest on? Below are some recommendations on contest ideas and incentives:

  • Ask a series of questions about the care they received, a doctor that helped them and how your organization changed their life in a small or large way.
  • Ask patients for tips and/or ways they are preventing injuries and illness.
  • Survey patients for things they want to see at your organization that don’t currently exist such as online scheduling for urgent care.

While there is a lot of noise out in the world in the form of information overload, it doesn’t hurt to do these cost effective marketing strategies to further promote your brand and wellness.