By Noel Felipe, revenue cycle practice leader, Firstsource.
The pandemic has created a sense of urgency around improving patient engagement. Consumers accustomed to Amazon-like retail experiences are now embracing digital across personal transactions, including healthcare. Telehealth and remote monitoring have gained rapid traction, especially for non-emergent conditions and follow-up. At the same time, outpatient visits are rapidly outpacing inpatient. Together, these two trends are resulting in patients spending very little time at hospitals receiving care and paying bills.
With more care delivered through outpatient and virtual settings, healthcare leaders are asking: how do we effectively engage patients to optimize the patient financial experience and enhance recovery?
The answer lies in understanding shifting consumer expectations and designing a patient engagement solution that best fits their evolving needs.
What do modern consumers expect?
As robo calls continue to rise, Americans are using their smartphones to screen calls, making it harder for providers to connect with patients after service. Studies show that the chance of collecting goes down by 58% once patients leave the facility, as they are less motivated to pay once the services have been rendered. This means providers must begin the patient engagement process early in the revenue cycle at the pre-service stage and maintain high levels of engagement during and after service to improve their net revenue.
The good news is consumers increasingly prefer digital channels of communication that offer the flexibility to engage with providers outside traditional business hours and in the privacy of their homes. They also want to get things done quickly and easily. Whether they are shopping for a provider or checking their health insurance coverage, they want to get the information they need, when they need it – and they are willing to use self-service to achieve this.
In 2021 patients expect a digital health experience that is on par with their favorite consumer brand. While COVID has forced many healthcare services to rapidly adopt digital services, we’re still a long way from giving patients and the organizations managing these new services a good experience.
From a patient’s, perspective being able to text, email, or video chat with their doctor is increasingly becoming a must-have for the “modern patient experiencet”. In 2019 alone, 91% of patients survey by DrFirst wanted the ability to text a care team member. 
While some organizations have either built or bought tools that allow them to meet their patient’s expectations, the result has largely resulted in an inefficient workflow for care team members given the number of tools required to complete the job. In addition to that, it provides care team members with an incomplete view of a patient given that data is often being stored in separate places.
What do patients want?
Patients want care to be convenient and personalized to them. As the common saying goes “no two people are alike”. Whether it’s their preference of how they receive care such as in-person, video, text, etc, or how thorough of an explanation they want about a diagnosis, the saying holds true.
The 2019 NRC Health Healthcare Consumer Trends report found that 51.3% of patients value convenient access to care more than anything when deciding whether or not to stay with a provider.  To meet the demand from their patients, companies have had to scramble to find viable options that make care convenient. However, this additional convenience comes at a cost for care team members managing the process.
The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed shed some light on the healthcare sector, especially in terms of how services are rendered. Even though remote care services have been around for a while, they have only now started gaining popularity.
These services continue to revolutionize the healthcare sector even beyond the pandemic, which is a welcome innovation. With the speed at which the world is moving, and with the changes that come with it, healthcare cannot remain the same since livelihoods depend on it. There is the need, however, for a more customer-centered approach when it comes to telehealth, that will be discussed in this article.
Why must telehealth focus on the customer experience?
There are a lot of benefits of telemedicine and telehealth in general, and there is evidence to prove it. It is cost-effective and speeds up the process of diagnosis, not to mention the convenience it brings. However, in conversations about the implementations, one of the things that are not at the top of the list is patient (or customer) satisfaction. This is surprising because when it comes to healthcare, patients need the reassurance of the results of the service they have paid for, and they need to reap all the benefits of the service and more.
What it means to create a patient-centered experience is to consider the patient’s satisfaction before other features, including how sophisticated the technology is, when evaluating the platforms. There are a few questions to answer in this regard. For example, how easy would patients find it to use the platform? Will they be eager to use it? Would the service be faster than when receiving care in person? And what is there any significant difference in the quality and outcomes of the service?
In creating a telehealth platform that answers these questions and many others for the benefits of the customer, there is an opportunity to reap certain benefits. For one, the financial incentive that comes from taking this initiative cannot be passed on. Facilities and organizations that go this route also get to gain new clients and hence more business.
Once COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic and states across the country began issuing shelter in place orders, one thing became very clear: there was a crucial need for healthcare providers to adopt innovative solutions to continue caring for patients.
Practices needed a way to see their patients outside the office — and they needed it fast. As a result, telehealth quickly changed from a ‘plus’ or ‘nice to have’ to a requirement to stay in business.
At a time when many patients were quarantined and canceling appointments, practices were losing a significant amount of revenue. Telehealth provided a way for physicians to continue seeing their patients and keep their offices running.
Now that patients have become accustomed to the telehealth experience with their trusted physician, which is being provided by independent practices and large health systems alike, virtual care is on track to becoming fully integrated into our healthcare system. As we look ahead, healthcare providers will need to start balancing virtual and in-office appointments – and as they do, they will continue to adopt innovative new virtual care solutions that meet changing consumer expectations. Here is a look at what’s in store.
Meeting Patient Demands
According to the survey by Updox, around half of Americans say that if they were to use telehealth services post COVID-19, convenience (51%) would be among the most important factors to them. Drilling down deeper, of patients who like using telehealth services, 65% say it’s because telehealth visits are more convenient than in-office appointments. Additionally, Americans who like using telehealth like it because it’s easier to schedule an appointment via telehealth than an in-office appointment (44%), and because follow-ups/communications post-appointment are more streamlined (38%).
In the traditional healthcare environment, patients would often have to block out hours for a doctor’s appointment. But with telehealth, a visit can take as little as 15 minutes. This is not only more convenient for patients, but it also enables physicians to “see” more patients during the day. By using virtual care solutions, physicians can reach their patients at the touch of a button.
They can collect information ahead of the visit and send follow-ups out via text and even alert their whole patient base to important updates by broadcast messages. They can safely and effectively care for patients while helping reduce exposure to staff. Additionally, by leveraging video chat vs. a phone call, they can garner a stronger, more personal connection with patients, ultimately increasing patient engagement and satisfaction.
By Mike Pietig, vice president of healthcare experience, Avtex.
Communication is core to delivering exceptional patient experiences every day. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and as patients and their providers slowly move forward, communication is as critical as ever.
Now is the time for providers to review how they’ve traditionally communicated with patients and what adjustments can be made to improve communications in the future. The deferring and cancelation of elective services has resulted in millions of lost revenue, putting even tighter constraints on marketing budgets, so a communications review is imperative.
An alarming 81% of consumers are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience, according to recent research by Prophet. When providers enhance communication as part of the patient experience (PX), the outcomes include improved patent retention, new patient acquisition, increased utilization of health system services, and more.
Well-planned and personalized communication ranks highest in importance in the patient experience, by the patients themselves. More effective communication increases patient engagement opportunities, reduces the volume of incoming calls that the organization is receiving (which helps staff focus on the highest priority items and the most critical patients), and lowers the cost to serve patients and maximize resource utilization, which is especially important now, given COVID has put intense strain on providers’ resources and finances.
To survive and thrive in the new norm, it’s time for providers to modernize their communications approach.
Learn the patients’ communication channel of choice.
Historically in healthcare, outreach has been focused on billboards, direct mail and tv/radio ads as the main communication channels in between face-to-face visits. These marketing blasts are nearly impossible to track for return on investment and do nothing for patient retention. Patients live in a digital world and expect digital outreach.
By Donna Martin, senior vice president, Healthcare Business Development, HGS.
Hospitals and health plans are competing ever more fiercely to gain and retain patient/member relationships. This means changing with the times to bring differentiators that address today’s challenges. In light of COVID-19, for example, hospitals nationwide are deploying bot, AI, IVR, and telemedicine solutions to support the growing need for patient self-guidance.
Tech adoption is fast emerging as a strategy for those in need to access quick, accurate advice and the coronavirus is only accelerating the pace. Before COVID-19 hit California, the all-time daily high for Stanford Children’s Health, as an example, was 35 televisits. But, recently, their clinicians conducted 500 in one day.
As healthcare organizations constantly work to enhance their brand adoption — first impressions are critical. With millions of healthcare calls overwhelming call centers, there’s a need to satisfy customers with a mix of digital technology and traditional service, like for example, nurse support of COVID-19 calls.
Partnering to add critically needed professionals, using an omni-channel nurse triage service, staffed with qualified registered nurses providing front-line support for COVID-19 callers, will enable healthcare providers to focus on critical case requirements. HGS recently launched a full suite of business continuity solutions designed to immediately help clients and employees manage contact center spikes during the COVID-19 crisis.
From virtual chat, to pivoting to other non-voice channels and social media management, healthcare organizations understand the lifecycle importance of these new technologies—from brand awareness to offering patient access options. Think of a patient who simply wants to schedule an appointment, ask a question about a treatment plan, or request a referral. Are they confronted with a myriad of questions, outdated legacy options or poorly automated selection menus? Are they routed endlessly among call service operators and forced to relay the same information over and over again?
Ultimately, patient contact centers should drive accuracy and efficiency with seamless patient engagement , reducing frustration and time spent by caregivers and patients fishing around for answers to their questions. If airline carriers know their customers’ preferred seating arrangement and hotels know their visitors’ preferred floor and room inclusions, then healthcare provider contact centers should strive to anticipate the needs of their patients in a much more proactive manner.
With the fourth technological revolution in full swing, more and more digital innovations are changing the world we live in. From having virtual assistants on our devices to directly transforming computer designs to objects through 3D printing, it’s safe to say that these emerging technologies have made many aspects of our lives more efficient.
This is why it’s imperative for healthcare professionals today to utilize technology to improve their practice and enhance patient experiences. Not only will it help treat patients more effectively, but it will also help streamline the numerous services in the healthcare system. With this in mind, here are technological advancements that could positively shape the state of healthcare and the patient experience:
Wearable technology first came to prominence in the healthcare industry with the development of fitness trackers. These are smart devices that are incorporated into clothing or worn as an accessory, which help patients proactively monitor their health by informing them of their heart rate, blood pressure, and physical activity statistics. Now, the data collected by wearables is becoming much more advanced, as a new design can even help detect breast cancer.
For many patients, visiting the hospital or their doctor’s clinic can be a double-edged sword. Although seeing their physicians helps keep their health in-check, some people find their visits to be a hassle, as commuting or simply moving around can be a tiring and costly activity for them. Thankfully, through virtual healthcare innovations, patients don’t have to experience such inconveniences.
Patients who perceive caregivers as working cooperatively are more likely to return to and recommend healthcare facilities. Across both emergency department and critical care unit patients, perceptions of teamwork between doctors, nurses and staff was the number one key driver impacting patient loyalty, according to new research from PRC and the Healthcare Experience Foundation.
“The patient experience is widely regarded as a top priority in healthcare. There is so much complexity in the emergency and critical care environments, and our goal was to isolate aspects of care that are most important to patients in order to give leaders, staff, and physicians clarity to support their improvement efforts,” Katie Owens, president of the Healthcare Experience Foundation, SVP of PRC Excellence Accelerator, and lead author of this study, said.
The study was completed using retrospective patient experience survey data from 2016 to 2019 for patients discharged from 441 emergency departments and 40 critical care units. On average, teamwork explained 69 percent of the variation of patient loyalty in the Emergency Department and 55 percent of the variation of patient loyalty in the ICU.
The study identified key drivers of excellence, attributes of the patient experience statistically demonstrated to influence perceptions of patient loyalty. The top four emergency department key drivers included:
1. Overall teamwork between doctors, nurses and staff
2. Doctor understanding and caring
3. Discharge instructions
4. Doctor instructions/explanations of tests
In the critical care departments, the top three key drivers included:
1. Overall teamwork between doctors, nurses and staff
2. Overall level of safety
3. Nurses understanding and caring
“When patients perceive their care as excellent in attributes such as teamwork, understanding and caring, level of safety, discharge instructions, and instructions/explanations of tests, hospitals’ efforts will be rewarded with patient loyalty in these high acuity environments,” Joe M. Inguanzo, Ph.D., president and CEO of PRC, said. The study notes that creating patient loyalty depends on relationship-building, communication skills, and working together as a care team. Improving the attributes of care identified as key drivers can positively shape the care experience for some of the most vulnerable and urgent patient populations.
By Allison Hart, vice president of marketing, West.
Americans expect customer service to be fast. Whether they’re at the bank, the airport, their doctor’s office or elsewhere, they don’t like to be kept waiting. When waits are long, consumers are disappointed – or worse. But like it or not, consumers know waiting is probable in certain situations. For example, patients have come to expect they will have to wait when visiting healthcare providers. They aren’t wrong. In the U.S., the average in-office wait time when visiting a doctor is 18 minutes and 13 seconds, according the 2018 Vitals Index report.
Despite their best efforts, healthcare providers and organizations haven’t been able to eliminate waits in healthcare offices. Doing so may not be realistic. However, healthcare teams can minimize waiting and deliver better patient experiences by being more transparent about delays and communicating proactively with patients.
A majority of Americans feel healthcare keeps them waiting more than other industries. A West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S. revealed 83 percent of patients believe healthcare organizations are more likely than companies in other industries to run behind schedule or keep them waiting. Think about that. Airlines frequently run late. When they do, passengers can be delayed for hours, or even sometimes days. So, why is healthcare the industry known for making people wait? It may be partially due to how healthcare communicates, or rather doesn’t communicate, about delays. Here are two communication strategies healthcare teams can use to repair their reputation and give patients better experiences, even when they must wait.
Binary Fountain released the findings of its second annual “Healthcare Consumer Insight and Digital Engagement” survey with the goal of getting an updated view into how patients search, evaluate and share their experiences with their physicians. The survey shows an increase in patients’ dependence and reliance on online ratings and review sites to make informed healthcare decisions.
Americans Are More Comfortable Sharing their Healthcare Experiences Online
Today, social media platforms are being used to discuss and share all elements of a person’s life, which now includes healthcare experiences. The survey results showed that consumers have become increasingly comfortable with sharing their personal healthcare experiences online. In particular, millennial consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most active over social media and are the most inclined to share their healthcare experiences online.
According to the survey, 51 percent of Americans say they share their personal healthcare experiences via social media, online ratings and review sites, a 65 percent increase from the 2017 survey results. Specifically, 70 percent of millennials have shared their physician or hospital experiences online, and 68 percent of “young millennials” between the ages of 18 to 24 said they have shared their healthcare experience online — a 94 percent increase from last year.
The survey finds that Facebook is the most used channel to share healthcare experiences for ages 25 to 54. However, unlike last year, consumers between the ages of 18 to 24 say Google is their preferred online platform to share their healthcare experiences. In 2017, survey respondents between the ages of 18 to 24 selected Twitter as their most used channel to share healthcare experiences.
Growing Dependence on Online Ratings and Review Sites
The survey shows that healthcare consumers continue to depend on online ratings and review sites. More and more, consumers are seeking online healthcare advice and relying on unfiltered, transparent patient feedback to determine whether a healthcare practitioner or practice is worth a visit. The below survey results reflect the true impact that online ratings and review sites have on consumers, as well as, the continued rise in healthcare consumerism.
Ninety-five percent of respondents find online ratings and reviews “somewhat” to “very” reliable with 100 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 find online ratings and reviews “somewhat” to “very” reliable and 97 percent of respondents between the ages of 25 to 34 do as well.
Likewise, 70 percent of Americans say online ratings and review sites have influenced their decision when selecting a physician, and even when referred by another doctor, 41 percent of consumers still check online ratings and reviews of doctors and specialists.
Of the respondents that utilized websites/platforms to choose a physician, 34 percent selected hospital and/or clinic’s website as a primary source, followed by Google (29 percent), WebMD (18 percent), Healthgrades (15 percent) and Facebook (12 percent).
Expectations Remain High for Patient Care
Patients today have high expectations for customer service and bedside manner. The survey examined, through multiple-answer questions, what factors matter most to patients when rating or evaluating a physician. The survey results revealed:
Consistent with the 2017 survey results, 48 percent of Americans across all age groups selected “a friendly and caring attitude” as the most important factor.
Whereas, 47 percent of consumers selected “ability to answer all my questions” followed by 45 percent of consumers who selected “thoroughness of the examination” as the most important factors.
Overall, 52 percent of women believe “a friendly and caring attitude” is the most important factor, while 45 percent of men believe “ability to answer all your questions” is the most important factor.