Much like in the consumer world, a digital transformation is taking place in healthcare that is impacting how providers ultimately deliver care. More importantly, it’s changing the way we interact with and engage patients.
We’re well aware that, when it comes to technology, the healthcare industry tends to lag behind others. However, there’s growing forces at play that are impacting technology, consumer trends, and patient communication preferences in the healthcare space—and providers may want to sit up and take notice.
As consumers, we’ve all witnessed first-hand the rapid advancement of technology in the last five to 10 years as capabilities and speed of digital devices expand at an exponential rate. Smartphones have replaced cellphones, tablet devices are supplanting desktop and laptop computers in many cases, and smart TVs have replaced our old CRT sets.
But we’re also seeing similar changes in the healthcare sector, in large part because the COVID pandemic has sped up the adoption and implementation of many of these tools. Consider for a moment telehealth. It became one of the most talked about innovations in the industry because it filled a vital care delivery gap for patients and providers when people didn’t feel safe doing in-office visits. And it doesn’t look like telehealth will be going away any time soon based on the service’s popular acceptance. It’s estimated that the average healthcare organization completed two years’ worth of digital transformation during the first two months of COVID, and telehealth was one of the tools at the center of that.
Yet the changes taking place aren’t just affecting telehealth. We’re seeing multiple types of virtual care services, such as brief, billable 10-minute virtual check-ins, along with mobile apps, and useful patient health data being made available on patient portals. Patients are actively embracing most aspects of the digital transformation—and in many instances—they’re helping drive them.
All you have to do it look at recent patient communication preference data to appreciate how COVID has acted as a “time machine” of sorts to propel technology adoption in healthcare forward. Nearly half of patients want more regular communication with their providers, and seven-in-10 want to receive text messages for things like appointment reminders, pre-visit instructions, and notifications about lab results being available on the portal.
Though patients and consumers are clamoring from more digital communication like texting, many providers have yet to update their patient engagement technology to current trends and best practices. One survey showed that while 15 percent of companies in most industries have gone digital, only seven percent of healthcare organizations have upgraded their digital capabilities.
In a post-pandemic environment, as disparities in providers’ patient communication technology and practices become wider and more apparent, consumer-savvy patients are beginning to scope out the competition to get a better, more digital experience.
Data from a recent survey showed that one-third of patients were willing to consider switching providers in order to enjoy more convenient and modern digital communication. But it’s not just the mostly millennials and Gen Xers (64 percent) who are seriously contemplating taking their business elsewhere—33 percent of those ages 50 and higher are also willing to change providers.
What does this mean for providers who want to maintain a competitive edge for retention efforts and to acquire new patients? More importantly, how can practices proceed realistically to improve their patient communication capabilities, upgrade their technology, and begin to successfully wade into the waters of digital transformation? The following are four steps to help providers achieve more meaningful communication with patients in a way that will enhance the patient experience and result in improved outcomes.
- Offer modern communication methods like text messaging— Patient-consumers want to be able to text their doctor’s office just like they can text a friend, text an Uber ride, or pickup pizza curbside. Data shows that patients overwhelmingly want to text and receive texts from providers because it’s fast, convenient and unobtrusive. Offering texting and other modern communication methods can also serve as a competitive advantage that helps you retain existing patients and attract new patients who demand a more digital patient experience.
- Align your messaging to individual patient communication preferences—You’ll be much more successful when sending reminders and other messages at getting responses and confirmations when you match your engagement type to each patient’s individual communication preferences. Whether a patient wants texts, emails, calls, or a combination of these, you’ll increase the effectiveness of your appointment workflow by connecting with patients based on how they want to interact. Ask them during intake or check-in how they want to be contacted.
- Implement a more robust appointment workflow—Workflows have become jumbled and complicated due to time-consuming phone reminder work loops and addition of short-term, makeshift workflows for telehealth. A text-first approach to the appointment workflow allows you to efficiently and effectively reach out at every point of the patient journey to ensure patients arrive prepared and on time. From appointment reminders, to pre-visit instructions, to post-care follow-ups, a single more perfect workflow helps minimize disruptions and supports both virtual and in-person visits.
- Don’t delay your digital transformation—Less effective hours spent by staff on phones and manual reminder systems simply doesn’t cut it anymore when it comes to reducing disruptions and filling your schedule. A robust, text-first digital patient engagement solution can transform your scheduling communication tasks and streamline your appointment workflow by automating interaction to help you more effectively reach patients. This will decrease costly no-shows while driving a better experience for patients. Assess your current abilities, form a strategy, start small, and take it one step at a time.
To learn more about how a text-first approach and more refined appointment workflow can help your health system or medical practice thrive, check out the guide, “The Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”