Article | March 30, 2020

Patient Scheduling Isn't What It Used to Be

By Josh Weiner, Solutionreach

Janssen’s Systematic Approach To Patient Engagement

In the past few weeks, a new era has started in healthcare. The industry was already on a path driven by changing reimbursement models and patient expectations, but the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown things into high gear. It isn’t just about offering convenience for patients or coordinating more follow-ups to meet value-based payment requirements. Now, it is about using tools to provide quality care while reducing the spread of disease and effectively treating infected patients while keeping them home.

The risk of spreading COVID-19 trumps the regulatory environment. This is something no one thought would ever happen, but here we are. One of the most critical changes supporting these challenging times has been the increased focus on using telemedicine and other communication tools to offer virtual visits. The CMS has loosened restrictions on the use of telemedicine and broadened what it will pay for, and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has said that, for now, it will not assess penalties for the use of solutions that aren’t HIPAA compliant for virtual care.

Communicating these changes to patients and making it possible for them to get the best care means updating how scheduling and reminder processes operate. Moreover, some of these changes may be worth carrying on into the future.

Appointment Reminders

Because of various shifts in healthcare and state mandates for “shelter in place,” many appointments are being canceled and/or rescheduled. However, some healthcare organizations are struggling to manage the volume because they do not have the tools in place for this kind of mass communication. And, once appointments are canceled, organizations will eventually have to deal with rescheduling bringing another wave of patient communications for staff. A patient reminder service that enables mass messaging based on appointment criteria can make it easier to send out notices to the patients about appointment updates and next steps. Further, a link to online scheduling can make it easier to get them rescheduled instantly or to use in mass communication for rescheduling later.

For those patients who still need to be seen, changes can be made to reminders to support COVID-19 efforts. These include:

  • Adding information to screen for COVID-19 like, “please contact our office if you have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath.”
  • Adding an option to do the appointment via telemedicine with a link or additional directions.
  • Offering a link to reschedule if the appointment isn’t urgent.

Online Scheduling

The ability to schedule appointments online is something patients have been interested in for quite some time. Over two-thirds say they think it is important. Now, it may be the tool that helps providers get back on their feet without totally overwhelming staff and call centers. It can be used now to help patients schedule while staff manages tasks requiring personal interaction. Also, organizations can use this to reschedule patient appointments for a later date or follow up with patients who canceled and didn’t reschedule for a later date. Using an online scheduling link will significantly reduce the volume of calls when patients can get rescheduled. It is important for the online scheduling tool to:

  • Provide flexibility and control to the organization on which types of appointments can be scheduled, when, and with who.
  • Allow staff to confirm before the appointment is put on the schedule.
  • Identify existing patients versus new patients and populate existing patients’ demographic and insurance information.
  • Allow patients to upload insurance cards and identification virtually.

Use AI to Help Facilitate Appointments

Finally, there are now AI-driven solutions in healthcare that can further enhance the process of scheduling, confirming, reminding, and rescheduling appointments. In a situation like the one we have now with COVID-19, AI can respond to common questions and help route patients who are calling or texting in with questions about existing appointments, testing, and other issues. In addition, it can help reschedule patients who are receiving messages about appointments. Under normal circumstances, AI also can be used to identify open appointments and reach out to waiting patients and to analyze patient behavior to identify those who are more likely to no-show and may need additional follow up.

In a recent webinar, Kevin Pawl, senior director of patient access at Boston Children’s Hospital, said, “A time of crisis can be a catalyst for much-needed change.” This is a time of crisis, and the tools we are using to address it may be tools that can help improve the healthcare experience for patients in the long term.

About The Author

Josh Weiner is the CEO of 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. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Weiner has been recognized by Utah Business as a 2017 CXO of the Year and as a 2018 Forty Under 40 Utah Rising Star. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, daughter, and golden retriever Willow (who often makes cameos at the Solutionreach office). Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah's mountains and deserts.