By Kelly Conklin, chief clinical officer, PerfectServe.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t start this post by talking about the “unprecedented times” brought on by COVID-19, and I wanted to avoid using the words “new normal.” Both phrases are such a common part of my life these days that they almost seem trite.
Alas, I’ve clearly broken my promise. Why did I give in so easily? Because these “unprecedented times,” challenging and sad though they’ve been, are the impetus for a lot of promising change in the world of healthcare, and I’m optimistic that the “new normal” is going to be a friendlier, more convenient, and more modern experience for patients, thanks to the effective deployment of patient engagement technology. It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the pandemic by any means, but this is a positive development that — if properly nurtured — will pay dividends long into the future.
Most of us have heard about the explosion in telehealth this year. An April report from Forrester indicated that virtual visits were likely to number more than one billion in 2020, and though current use of telemedicine is still above pre-pandemic levels, it’s estimated that only 21 percent of encounters in July were virtual — down from nearly 70 percent in April.
So what’s the real story? Has COVID-19 ushered in permanent changes to the care delivery process, or has 2020 been a year of temporary workarounds that will largely disappear once the pandemic has been contained?
While many people will continue to prefer in-person visits when possible, I think one of the biggest wins to come from the glut of COVID-induced changes over the last six-plus months is that providers — and the technology vendors they depend on — were forced to “meet patients where they are” to maintain continuity of care.
This radical patient-centric focus caused many in healthcare to ask some provocative questions. Does every visit need to be in person? Can we facilitate provider-to-patient communication from a distance without asking patients to download yet another patient portal app? How can these more convenient workflows be incorporated into a post-COVID environment?
The good news is that, while telehealth may never again comprise 70 percent of all patient encounters, the drive to deploy patient engagement technology that accompanies the patient through every part of their journey is very much alive and well. This is because the pandemic has shifted patient expectations to more of a consumer-grade experience, whereby things like phone calls for appointment reminders and traditional waiting rooms have begun to look old-fashioned.
Imagine a patient experience like the following:
- Before my procedure, I receive (via text) several timely appointment reminders, along with directions to the office, payment options, and relevant clinical guidance (e.g., “Remember to fast before surgery.”).
- Upon arrival, I can check in by simply texting the office from the comfort of my vehicle, where I can sit until they notify me — again, via text — that they’re ready to see me.
- During my procedure, my caregiver or family member receives consistent and easily identifiable text updates about my progress. No more being in the dark for long stretches of time.
- Once I’m home, I receive several follow-up texts for health checks, to make sure I’m following my care plan, and to ensure that I was satisfied with my experience.
- If I indicate that something is wrong (e.g., pain is worsening, staff was rude), I am immediately connected to a staff or care team member who can address my concerns in real time.
- Thereafter, if I have questions or concerns, I can simply text the office number for assistance. If it’s a pressing medical issue, the on-call provider can seamlessly move me from a two-way text conversation to a video visit by sending a link — no app required.
In my line of work, we’ve spent years thinking of the best ways to help physicians, nurses, and other care team members communicate effectively. To be clear, that’s still a critical cog in the care delivery process, but I’ve asked myself one question more and more in recent years: Where’s the patient in all of this?
Healthcare organizations across the country are asking the same question. As more patients indicate their willingness to switch providers in search of a better experience, implementing an effective patient engagement strategy is key. Like the above scenario depicts, you need patient-centric technology that is simple, personalized, and designed to promote constant and meaningful communication between provider and patient.