By Perry Price, Revation Systems
The healthcare industry has experienced a large number of changes over the last decade. Whether it’s the transition of paper records to electronic health records (EHR) or a new emphasis on healthcare analytics as a way to improve care, technology has been the catalyst for many of the changes to the industry over the last 10 years. Most recently, digital transformation has had a rippling effect on the healthcare industry, furthering the technology framework that was laid years ago.
As digital transformation furthers the evolution of healthcare in our nation, technology continues to be the answer to providing better care and creating healthier patients. From the smartphones glued to the hands of consumers to the adoption of self-service models, instantaneous communication is quickly becoming a standard. And as the effects of digital transformation seep into more facets of everyday life, patient expectations have begun to morph.
Because so many tasks today can be performed on a smartphone or mobile device, patients have come to expect the same sense of digital ease in their experiences with healthcare communications. As a result, the focus on improving the patient experience has become a priority for healthcare organizations as a way to improve overall care outcomes.
Why Patient Experience Is Critical To Improving Care
Today’s digitally inclined patient population will often not hesitate to seek care elsewhere if their experience with a healthcare organization is less than satisfactory or if they find that communication with their care team is time-consuming or inconvenient.
So, what exactly determines a positive patient experience by today’s standards? Patients expect the ability to remain engaged with their healthcare provider through digital technology — whether that means having the convenience of scheduling an appointment online or using a mobile app for video doctor visits to treat minor ailments.
Enhancing patient experience is also good for healthcare organizations as it helps lower readmission rates. According to research by BMJ Journals, patients that reported high satisfaction scores and good communication with their providers were 39 percent less likely to be re-hospitalized.
Innovative Technology To Revamp The Patient Experience
Since digital transformation shows no signs of slowing down, it is important that healthcare providers take steps to elevate their customer interactions in today’s landscape. Healthcare systems are beginning to implement new technology in their contact centers not only to expand hours of service for patients, but also to simplify the process for engaging with a provider. More easily accessible communication leads to patients taking more active roles in their own healthcare.
So, what types of processes should healthcare systems put in place today to work toward improving the patient experience of tomorrow?
It is becoming necessary for healthcare organizations to provide multiple channels of communication for patients to choose from when engaging with a provider. Since smartphones have become the norm, patients have come to expect the ability to simply message a doctor to monitor a condition or ask a routine question.
Not only do a growing number of patients expect to text or chat with a healthcare professional through a mobile app, but many also prefer to avoid a phone call to schedule an appointment or follow up on a previous visit. Calling into a clinic or hospital usually means sitting on hold for at least 10-15 minutes before speaking to the appropriate resource.
Healthcare systems seeking to enhance the patient experience could implement innovative omni-channel/digital communication solutions so that a text or chat could easily be escalated to a phone call if needed. A large part of improving patient experience is communicating with patients in their preferred mode.
The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, which is required by the CMS for all U.S. hospitals, may pave the way for patient feedback to be acknowledged by healthcare organizations. Unfortunately, the data is retroactive, and HCAHPS data does not allow for real-time service recovery. As a result, surveys can play an important role in gauging a healthcare system’s success with patient experience, but it’s not always the best way to improve patient satisfaction.
Healthcare systems have an excellent great opportunity to improve patient experience through real-time analysis of communication and immediately create a more positive encounter. For example, many healthcare organizations are turning to unified communications solutions equipped with robust reporting so they can gain real-time insight into the performance of call center agents who are interacting with patients via voice or text.
One particular area in which healthcare systems can vastly improve the patient experience is the waiting room.
Last year’s Vitals’ 9th Annual Physician Wait Time Report found that 30 percent of patients left a doctor’s appointment because of a long wait time and that 1 in 5 patients reported switching doctors because of it. Clearly, an otherwise positive interaction with a provider can be marred by a 60-minute wait for a scheduled appointment slot. Reducing patient wait times by virtualizing the waiting room can drastically improve the overall patient experience.
According to the 2017 Consumer Healthcare Priorities Study, physicians did not believe that they needed to extend their own office hours or offer a 24-hour service line. However, patients expressed a preference for providers who make themselves available outside of the traditional business hours.
Although patients can seek care outside of their regular providers at any hour, it is clear that today’s patients value the ability to communicate with their providers through a quick text without the need for an appointment. Research has found that patients who are unable to easily communicate with their providers through technology may report a negative experience. So, in addition to offering multiple modes of communication options, it’s just as vital for physicians to leverage the technology in order to deepen their relationships with patients. After all, technology is only as useful as it is used.
Enhanced Patient Experience Holds The Key To A Successful Future
Improving the patient experience is critical for the brands of the providers themselves, as well as the healthcare sector as a whole.
As technology continues to influence the healthcare industry, the standard for positive patient experience to retain customers will only be elevated.
By offering a variety of channels for patients to communicate and deepen relationships with their physicians, as well as implementing communications solutions with easily accessible real-time data to adjust care delivery on-the-fly, healthcare organizations have the opportunity to improve patient experience — ultimately, leading to more satisfied and healthier patients.
About The Author
Perry Price is CEO/president of Revation Systems. In this role, Price builds and grows the customer base, recruits qualified talent, and streamlines internal operations. Price utilizes his deep domain expertise in IP networking and communication applications, including telephony, unified communications, call-center technologies, and messaging.