Guest Column | January 11, 2021

New Communication Methods Can Help Ring In New Year Of Greater Patient Engagement

By Josh Weiner, SR Health by Solutionreach

Doctor Remove Telehealth Clinical

The 2021 party confetti has barely hit the floor and already the new year is abuzz with promising developments and momentum in healthcare. Ongoing distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine means that tens of millions of Americans will be vaccinated over the next few months, helping to turn the tide in the pandemic. As more people are vaccinated, patients will increasingly feel more at ease resuming care visits, both in-person and virtually. And if there was one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that it spurred the arrival of telehealth as a new standard of care for patients and providers.

Telemedicine has allowed providers to extend care to more people while helping keep down costs and increasing patient convenience. The telehealth market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 30 percent between 2020-2025, and that’s likely a conservative estimate based on its surge since March 2020.

At the same time, healthcare organizations, including hospitals and medical centers, are still recovering from the revenue hit they took due to COVID-19. The American Hospital Association estimates that between March and June of 2020 alone, American hospitals and health systems lost $202.6 billion.

Telehealth will continue to prove valuable, but it’s not enough. Though we’ve seen rapid adoption of telehealth platforms over the last year, our end goal is sustainable patient satisfaction. That means across the entire health interaction—not just at the point of care. To develop greater hospital-patient engagement, organizations need to view telehealth as only one piece of the entire puzzle.

Healthcare needs to think larger when it comes to the patient’s behalf and create an exhaustive virtual care environment to strengthen engagement. Patients not only anticipate a variety of modern remote monitoring, care, and communication options from providers, but they’re also demanding it. For example, 40 percent of millennials said that the telemedicine option was “extremely or very important.” That’s significant in that millennials number 83 million and are the largest segment of today’s workforce.

Similarly, elderly patients are increasingly embracing virtual health technologies like telehealth as a means to access care and to manage chronic conditions. One in four older Americans had a telehealth visit in the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic as opposed to four percent who had a virtual visit in 2019.

But telehealth is now the bare minimum of what’s expected as far as virtual health offerings. To truly cultivate improved doctor-patient engagement, providers need to up their communication game. It’s time to let technological touchpoints around the physical-patient interaction (i.e., text reminders, emailed instructions, digital intake, etc.) deliver menial information to take the onus off in-person conversations.

Here’s a look at some of the crucial virtual health tools that collectively can help make communication more fluid across your organization thereby enhancing the patient experience:

Automated patient reminders. At one time or another, everyone has spaced a medical appointment in the absence of a reminder. Automated patient reminders help increase appointment confirmations and reduce patient no-shows to keep schedules full.

Automated patient recall. Since many patients don’t take time to schedule needed maintenance visits, this is a great tool to improve the patient experience with automated texts and calls that free up staff for more important tasks.

Digital patient intake. Ditch those inefficient paper forms and clipboards in favor of digital forms that let patients fill out intake forms at their convenience. Nothing streamlines the intake process like digital forms.

Two-way messaging. It’s 2021, and patient-provider phone communication has gone the way of the dodo bird. Patients much prefer to communicate with their care providers via text than by phone. Take advantage of HIPAA-compliant text messaging to reach out to patients quickly and easily, answer questions, and develop greater doctor-patient engagement.

Pre-visit instructions. Save time and avoid patients showing up unprepared for visits by scheduling automated reminders that include pre-visit instructions. That way, you’re not wasting your patients’ time and they’re not wasting yours.

Patient surveys. It’s important to get patient feedback, both on what you’re doing right and what areas of the patient experience may need some improvement. Automated electronic surveys help you track patient satisfaction while allowing them to complete the survey online at their convenience.

Patient education. The past year has shown that your ability to reach out to your patients electronically and provide timely and pertinent educational information is invaluable. A vast majority of patients feel more connected to a provider and take better care of themselves based on the digital patient education they receive.

Moving into the new year is the time for healthcare organizations to adopt new robust communications methods to bolster hospital-patient engagement. Making patient care and communication more effortless is what will make engagement more meaningful, create lasting relationships, and drive the health outcomes that both patients and providers expect.

About The Author

Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Before Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife and two children. Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.