Guest Column | February 9, 2018

Reduce Barriers To Healthcare With 21st Century Communication Tools

By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach

Communications

While the healthcare is an industry is unlike any other, patients have similar expectations for their experiences with healthcare providers as they do for any other company they work with. Nobody would expect a customer to stick with a mechanic who is difficult to get ahold of, or a plumber who doesn’t respond to inquiries quickly. Why should people stick with a healthcare provider who makes it difficult to schedule an appointment or communicate with the doctor? Visits to the doctor are rarely a quick errand. They take time and planning to fit into the patient’s already busy schedule. Along with the time required, deciphering insurance policies, and finding covered providers, there are many inherent obstacles patients face in getting access to needed healthcare. While some of these barriers are things providers can’t do anything about, patient communication software can improve processes and make it easier for patients to connect with their provider.

Two-Way Texting

Not only is texting becoming the expected way to communicate, it’s also the most convenient. While most people keep their phones within arm’s reach, they don’t actually use their phones to make or answer calls—they use them to text. When a patient wants to connect with a healthcare practice, whether to verify a scheduled appointment, ask a question, or get directions to the office, they don’t always have time for a phone call. However, most patients do have time for a text.

Texting is quick, and it’s an easy way for patients to have a real-time conversation with their provider, whenever it’s convenient for them. It’s often difficult to make personal phone calls at work, but texting is not as intrusive. Similarly, standing in line at the post office or riding public transit aren’t ideal places for a phone call with a healthcare provider, but they are convenient places for text conversations, even those that may require personal information from the patient.

When a patient sends a text, the practice is alerted through communication software on their desktop. The software is connected to the patient database, so any member of the staff can see if the text is coming from an existing patient or a potential new one along with any previous text conversations had with the practice. In less time than it takes to pick up the phone, gather the necessary personal information to locate the patient’s account, and answer a question, the conversation can be had over text.

These conversations are also more convenient for the practice. Instead of interrupting a conversation with a patient in the office by answering a phone call, staff can finish the in-person interaction, and then respond to the text. This not only creates a better experience for the patient in the office, but the patient texting doesn’t feel frustrated by being placed on hold when calling the practice.

Online Connections

Texting isn’t the only way practices can make communication easier for their patients. Giving patients an online option for many of the tasks they would normally need to complete over the phone eases the burden on patients as well as practice staff.

One of the most frustrating aspects of a healthcare appointment is actually getting the appointment booked. Patients have to find a time when they are able to make a phone call and when the practice is open. And these phone calls aren’t short. Scheduling an appointment over the phone takes over eight minutes, with practice staff offering a few open slots at a time until the patient hears one they like. With online scheduling, patients can click a link on a website, Facebook page, or email, choose the type of appointment they need, see all available time slots, and select the time that works. The practice receives immediate notification of the requested appointment, and can confirm the appointment or contact the patient if there are any concerns.

A patient app can also allow patients to make changes to appointments, communicate securely, or pay bills online. A paper bill for an appointment can easily get lost in the shuffle of junk mail, or be set aside to pay ‘later,’ and forgotten about. The option to see an outstanding balance and make a payment online is how patients pay many of their other bills, so the process is familiar and convenient.

With the right tools in place, healthcare practices can improve communication, making the process easier for both patients and providers.