By Nate Brogan, West
Imagine your healthcare organization is a person; what kind of person is it? Is it a caring friend who sends you text messages, checks in with you to see how you are doing and invites you to get together? Or, is your organization the friend who you appreciate seeing in person, but who you don’t hear from for long periods of time and you only get to see when you reach out and coordinate plans? According to patients, a lot of healthcare providers and organizations resemble friend #2. However, many patients say they want to receive more communication from their healthcare providers. For this reason, healthcare teams that want to improve their patient experience and strengthen relationships with patients may want to consider taking on some of the communication characteristics of the frequently in-touch friend. And they can easily do so by leveraging their patient engagement technology.
Communication can have a powerful impact on not only how valued patients feel, but also on their overall impression of healthcare experiences. When healthcare teams prioritize communication and send messages to engage patients between visits, they have opportunities to positively impact health outcomes while also making patients feel more valued. A West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S. revealed that 98 percent of patients believe that to create ideal healthcare interactions, providers need to show them they are valued. Nine in ten healthcare providers (94 percent) feel confident their organization does enough to make patients feel valued. Unfortunately, not all patients agree. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of patients say their healthcare professionals do a poor to fair job making them feel valued.
Rather than delivering support in waves (only during face-to-face interactions) healthcare teams can create more continuity for patients with strategic communication between appointments. Here are a few of the ways healthcare providers can use automated messages to improve communication and make patients feel more valued:
Send Engagement Messages More Frequently Between Visits
Periodically sending messages to patients demonstrates a commitment to helping them achieve their health goals. And it is something patients – particularly individuals with chronic conditions – feel is important. According to West’s survey, 94 percent of Americans with a chronic condition want providers to extend support between visits to help them effectively manage their health and follow treatment plans. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of chronic patients (32 percent) say their healthcare providers do not sufficiently support them between visits.
There are many opportunities for healthcare providers to engage chronic patients and offer support with between-visit communications. Sending a newsletter with disease management tips and information, texting reminders to refill or pick up medications and inviting patients to complete online health monitoring surveys are just a few examples. Many of these communications can be automated and easily sent using the same patient engagement technology healthcare teams use to send appointment reminders. Since a majority of healthcare teams already have patient engagement technology in place, it makes sense to maximize how it is used.
Tailor Healthcare Communications To Patients’ Individual Needs
When sending health management information or other communications to patients, it is important to make sure messages are relevant and tailored to patients’ needs. More than one in four patients (26 percent) say that personalization is lacking across healthcare and that the communication they receive from providers is too generic. This is despite the fact that 82 percent of healthcare providers rate their organization as being “good or excellent” when it comes to making recommendations specific to patients and their needs.
It is relatively easy for healthcare teams to proactively reach out to patients and make customized recommendations for screenings, tests and other services. For example, a provider may want to send a diabetic patient a message encouraging him to schedule a routine foot or eye exam. Or, a doctor could send a message to all the patients within his practice who have hypertension in order to share tips for adopting healthier eating habits and exercise routines. Targeted automated messages can either be sent to one patient or to a group of patients at once. Either way, by sending these types of personalized communications, providers can demonstrate their commitment to patients and their health.
Communicate Proactively About Test Results
Outside of healthcare, Americans have come to expect real-time status updates for everything from the arrival of a pizza delivery order to the location of a shipped package. So, it isn’t surprising that patients would be disappointed when they don’t receive clear information about the status of their lab test results. Unfortunately, this happens frequently. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans (67 percent) report feeling frustrated because they can’t track their lab results the way they can track a package. And, more than one-quarter of patients are unhappy with how providers handle test results, with 28 percent reporting that their healthcare providers do a poor to fair job communicating about lab results.
Providers can leverage their patient engagement technology to improve how they communicate about lab results. With simple automated messages, teams can update patients about the progress of their lab tests or notify them when results become available and provide instruction on how to retrieve their results.
Don’t Hesitate To Text
Like any good relationship, understanding and adapting to the unique communication style of patients can go a long way toward building valued partnerships. To truly show a commitment to delivering healthcare communications that fit patients’ expectations, healthcare teams need to use the communication channels that are most convenient for patients. Today, that includes texting. More patients than ever want to be contacted via text. According to West’s survey, patients’ desire to receive text messages from their healthcare providers doubled during the past seven years. However, only 25 percent of healthcare providers feel confident in their organization’s ability to communicate with patients through text messages.
Healthcare teams can text patients to encourage preventive care with a message that says “You are due for a routine health screening. Call us or log in through the patient portal to get more information and schedule your appointment.” Providers could also send text messages to share prevention and wellness tips, invite patients to complete health monitoring surveys, let patients know about schedule delays, remind patients about payment deadlines or share other important information. There are a number of possibilities for texting patients, and in most cases, all of these different text messages can be sent using the patient engagement technology teams already have in place.
There is no question that healthcare providers and organizations work hard to design positive healthcare experiences for patients. Every part of the office visit experience – from scheduling the appointment, to the waiting room experience, to face-to-face time with patients – is carefully planned with patients in mind. But, while healthcare teams put a great deal of effort into optimizing healthcare experiences that take place inside of healthcare settings, often the positive experiences end abruptly for when patients are left to manage their health on their own. It only takes a little bit of effort and some strategic communication to change that.
About The Author
Nate Brogan is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans - and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Brogan currently serves as President of Notification Services at West (www.west.com), where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.