There’s no doubt we live busy lives. Access to technology fueled by smartphone ownership provides unprecedented opportunity for connection. Because of this, healthcare providers and health delivery systems have the opportunity to be connected beyond the bounds of the clinical setting in ways that would have been futuristic only a few years ago. As the acceptance of consumer technology and capabilities for better integration between EMR’s and communications platforms progresses, the opportunity for better patient engagement grows.
In a recent article in Medical Economics, West Corporation VP of Product Development, Chuck Hayes, discussed results of a recent study (download here) on best practices for patient engagement. The study revealed that 66% of Americans recall receiving a voicemail, text or email from their healthcare provider. Better yet, half of those who received a communication said that it made them feel more valued. A third said that digital communication improved their opinion of the provider and that it made them feel more likely to visit the provider again. Healthcare providers in turn overwhelmingly pointed to the use of technology as a means for improving patient experience both pre and post visit, keeping calendars filled and reducing no-shows, and aiding in wellness, chronic and post-discharge care. The study also revealed that the use of wearable devices and post discharge and follow up surveys are used more and more to keep patients on track with care protocols for medication adherence, health measurements, and for appointment callbacks.
Deliver a Customer-Centric Program: Ask for Preferences and Multiple Contacts
With all this, the promise of technology still faces many hurdles. Success centers on updating patient records and capturing all contact methods. In fact, though text is preferred by the majority of patients, most caregivers need to put an effort into updating their patient records to include text and email as it often has not been captured. One of the best ways is to initiate protocols to update records during patient encounters. This can be done while patients call in to make an appointment or while they are there for an office visit. When it becomes a habit for your team to ask to confirm or update information and preferences, caregivers can better deliver on the promise of effective communication. A word of caution. Utilizing text does involve seeking permission from the patient in order to comply with TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) standards. Failure to comply isn’t just bad customer experience, it can also result in heavy fines.
Use a Multi-Channel, Staged Communication Cadence for Best Results
It’s clear that text has become your patients’ go-to communication tool, even over phone or email. But text needs to be viewed as an add, and not a replacement for automated outbound phone and email messaging. The best practice is to utilize multiple channels over multiple days to engage with patients. Many of West’s clients who utilize multi-channel messaging obtain response rates nearly double that for text as for phone. Many successful programs are built on email confirming appointments 7 days out, 2-way text messaging 3 days out and outbound calls the day before as this recognizes the many ways people prefer to communicate. The high rate of response for 2 way text also helps to identify no-shows and cancellations early.
Another advantage of automation is that it gives caregivers the ability to reach patients at times when they are most likely to respond. Even with a limited number of appointments, using staff to make calls during office hours typically results in messages left on answering machines. Experience has shown that the odds of patients calling back based on a message left on a machine is slim, especially compared with the convenience of a two-way text, phone message or email. This makes simple automation, such as utilizing a system for appointment reminders, highly efficient even for small practices, and offers the opportunity for very high efficiency gains in larger health systems and physician groups. Also, automating messaging to make landline calls in the evening when your staff is home is far more likely to reach people when they would actually be home to answer the phone and get the message.
Automate for Patient Convenience and Staff Efficiency
Developing systems to automate communications between visits has nearly unlimited benefits for providers and patients alike. Chronic care conditions, such as glucose, diet and blood pressure can be monitored remotely by the patient with professional intervention only required should abnormal levels be reported. This has the effect of patients being responsible for their care, and only requiring professional intervention when needed. Post discharge follow ups are critical for patient care and for reimbursement, as CMS has instituted many value-driven rules and programs targeting institutions for what in many cases are the result of non-compliant patient behavior. By monitoring conditions such as vitals, medication adherence, pain levels, and other simple questions, caregivers gain more frequent insight into patient wellness and can intervene if needed. And ensuring that issues with compliance can be identified early on helps to prevent readmission.
Automation simply makes sense. It’s good for patient care. It’s keeps the appointment calendar full. It prevents no shows. It frees up staff for doing things that only people can do. More than anything, automating with patient care in mind, recognizing both technology and human factors will produce a strong return for caregivers on delivering better, more efficient, and more effective healthcare.
In order to learn more about some of the trends and best practices available to caregivers, we invite you to download our report Technology-Enabled Communications: The Key to Connected Healthcare.