Lea Chatham, director of marketing programs with SR Health by Solultionreach, presented the Health Leaders webinar, “Patient Communication Strategies to Address SDOH and Chronic Conditions,” on May 26. The following is an overview of some of the key takeaways and insights from her presentation.
Chatham kicked off the session by talking about impacts of social determinants of health (SDOH) that effect a large portion of our society. Recent data indicates that SDOH accounts for 30 to 55 percent of health outcomes and that socioeconomic factors are responsible for approximately 40 percent of a patient’s health. From a providers’ perspective, 88 percent of providers see a direct impact from SDOH initiatives on chronic disease management and similarly 80 percent on population health. Based on CMS Medicaid data, half of all readmissions are from SDOH, and factors like transportation access issues or home instability significantly increased care costs.
The more providers are aware of individual patients’ SDOH needs and can effectively communicate with them to address these needs, the better providers can support these patients and improve their experience and outcomes. More effective communication with patients can help meet their transportation needs, improve health literacy, remind people about scheduling appointments, getting their medications, having lab work done, etc.
On the chronic care management side of the coin, costs are also tremendous. Chatham said that 90 percent of the U.S.’s $3.5 trillion annual healthcare expenditures are for individuals with chronic and mental health conditions.
“There’s a lot we can do to address chronic conditions when we find the best tools, the best processes, so that we’re connecting with patients all along the way,” Chatham said.
During COVID, when quick patient communication was critical, many healthcare providers simply lacked the appropriate tools to be able to reach out to SDOH and chronic condition patients fast enough. No one in healthcare, not even, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can reach out to proactively to connect with patients like healthcare providers can, she said. With tools such as text messaging, automated reminders, group messaging, and real-time two-way text messaging, providers can establish themselves as “a single great source of truth” for their patients.
“You are in a unique position to reach patients but you have to have the right tools and the communication methods that patients are looking for,” Chatham said.
When people weren’t getting timely information during the pandemic that they needed from providers because a lack of modern communication capabilities, patient satisfaction with providers dropped seven percent. Chatham said providers need to rebuild that sense of trust so that patients can rely on them to reach out quickly with important communications.
SDOH runs the gamut from financial issues to housing, food, social interaction, isolation and health care access issues. Through improved communication, providers can address some of these concerns to support better patient outcomes and satisfaction while also reducing the costs of healthcare.
Another key point is that the patient appointment shouldn’t be viewed as a single event but rather as a series of interactions across the patient journey. As providers reach out to patients with automated text messages, they can help confirm appointments, answer questions, ask about pain levels, and have related interactions with SDOH and chronic condition patients. Providers that use text messaging can connect with patients in real time and have an ongoing conversation without ever having to pick up the phone.
“I would say, automate everything that you can automate, all the mundane and tedious things,” Chatham said, such as scheduling reminders, pre-visit instructions, registration confirmations, post-visit care instructions, and surveys. For SDOH and chronic condition patients, pre-visit instruction can also be crucial for helping them with transportation, wayfinding instructions, and itinerary pages.
Why is it important that providers address SDOH and chronic conditions now at a time when they feel overwhelmed by trying to get everyone vaccinated for COVID and attempting to recover from such as difficult year and after taking such a huge revenue hit? Because now is the time to reevaluate and seek greater innovation in patient communication, Chatham said.
“If you want to rebuild and get back to previous the levels you had previously, you are going to have to take into consideration that this year has totally changed the way patients want to interact and what builds satisfaction and improved outcomes,” she said. “You can’t go on forever with cobbled-together solutions you’ve used to address all these challenges during COVID. Now is absolutely the time create a much more streamlined appointment workflow and creating better patient communication.”
To learn more about how a text-first approach to patient engagement and a more streamlined appointment workflow that supports both virtual care and in-person visits, check out the guide, “The Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”