Despite a growing awareness of the move towards the consumerization of healthcare, medical practices have been somewhat slow to embrace technologies that are taken for granted in every other facet of our lives. There are many reasons for this, of course, ranging from implementation nightmares to legitimate HIPAA concerns. With the maturing of both the EHR and digital health ecosystems, however, it may be time to reconsider the next generation of patient communications systems that can modernize your practice, delight your patients, and improve your bottom line.
Over the past decade or so, a number of trends have impacted the healthcare landscape:
- High Deductible Insurance: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation , “covered workers’ average dollar contribution to family coverage has increased 78% since 2006.” It seems reasonable to conclude that this increase has at least some effect on the buyer mindset of patients.
- Bundled Payments: As programs like CMS’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) continue to roll out, risk/reward scenarios are now making their way into clinical practice. To the extent that practices believe that patient engagement is related to outcomes, one would expect programs such as CJR to provide additional incentive at the practice level to optimize patient communication.
- Concierge Medicine: While the actual numbers are still small, increasing numbers of physicians, largely in primary care, have been migrating to this model. Also known as “direct pay,” concierge practices charge patients a monthly or annual fee for a set of services.
- Medicare Advantage: This Medicare option, in which insurance benefits are paid based on a monthly capitated fee, has become increasingly popular, reaching 1 in every 3 Medicare enrollees. This reflects an increase of more than 300% since 2004. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, June 2017).
- CMS’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program: This program, in which certain hospitals are penalized for the return of high numbers of patients within 30 days after discharge for specified conditions, began in 2012. Accordingly, care coordination post discharge is a topic that has moved into the limelight.
Taken together, these changes embody a common theme towards seeing the patient, not the payer or provider, as the ultimate “customer” for healthcare services, with self-insured employers also having meaningful skin in the game.
In most consumer-centric industries, technology has typically been brought to bear to enhance the consumer experience, in an attempt to create both satisfaction and continued loyalty. Indeed, the prevalence of convenient tools is taken so much for granted that we don’t often stop to think about it. Imagine, though, just for a second, if you were no longer able to do online banking, or book a flight via your smartphone. You likely would not tolerate this, and would quickly seek alternatives.
Healthcare, though, has traditionally been a late adapter of technology. Given its conservative nature and high risk aversion, the industry has continued to cling to the good old fashioned telephone, a piece of 140-year-old technology, as the primary way that front office staff interact with patients. This means patients must interact with confusing phone menus, get called on their cell phones which they don’t answer, get voicemails which they don’t check, and leave voicemails for overworked practice staff, who may not return them for several hours or longer. For practices, this results in suffering through a myriad of snafus like higher no-show rates, lower utilization, inefficient load balancing, and more. For front-line patient service staff, it can mean frustration, and a less rewarding work environment.
The good news is that things are starting to change. Read part two to explore what your practice should be thinking about as you explore potential patient communications solutions.
Looking to learn more about the foundations of practice management? Check out AAOE’s new online course, Practice Management 101, sponsored by WELL.