Lea Chatham, director of marketing programs with SR Health by Solutionreach, presented the webinar, “Three Keys to Building a Perfect Appointment Workflow,” June 9. You can watch the webinar in its entirety here.
Let’s look at some of the key takeaways and insights Chatham discussed during her presentation and how healthcare organizations can greatly benefit from a more refined, single appointment workflow that supports both virtual and in-person care.
Today’s Appointment Workflow Challenges
It goes without saying that there’s plenty of hurdles facing providers in today’s post-pandemic environment when it comes to accomplishing smooth and efficient workflows and communication.
- Revenue shortfalls due to COVID: Some providers took hits as high as 50 percent.
- Patient fear of doing to the doctor during COVID: 87 percent of health leaders said patients were too afraid of getting infected to book an appointment.
- Speedy stand up of telehealth service: While providers and patient benefited from availability of virtual care, many organizations’ hurried implementation of telehealth lacks a long-term solution and improved communication practices are needed to accommodate a new workflow.
- Continuing disruptions: Average no-shows hover around 10 to 30 percent, which can translate into $150,000 to $300,000 annually per provider in lost revenue. For some specialties with expensive procedures like diagnostic imaging, even a 5 percent no-show can be a costly drain on revenue. Disruptions to the appointment workflow, whether they’re patient-driven, internal issues, or “acts of God,” plague providers.
An informal poll taken by Chatham during the webinar asking attendees to select their providers’ largest issue today showed the top two were no-shows/late cancellations (46 percent) and trying to support a mix of virtual and in-person care (35 percent).
A Look at the Patient Journey
To improve the appointment workflow, providers need to start viewing the workflow and appointments in a different light, Chatham said. The workflow needs to guide patients through every step of their healthcare journey:
- Schedule the appointment
- Ensure patients show up prepared and on time
- Make sure patients know their visit type, whether virtual or in-person
- Get pertinent patient information for intake
- Confirm patients get needed follow-up care, tests, or medication
- Ensure provider gets feedback about each patient experience
- Remind patients about recall and ongoing chronic care or preventive care
“The appointment is no longer just a single reactive moment in time where you’re meeting with the patient,” she said. “It’s an ongoing interaction of various steps and stages in the process of patient care where we need healthcare organizations to become the trusted voice of information for our patient and a go-to contact on their smartphone.”
Three Keys to a Better Appointment Workflow
- It’s really time to hang up the phone. Phones are on their way out and 14 percent of patients said phone calls are less desirable during COVID. Most people don’t answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize or check their voicemail. Phone calls to patients also place a huge workload burden on provider staff. Phone call reminders and interactions are annoying for patients, ineffective, and inefficient.
- Move to a text-first approach. Close to 90 percent of Americans own a smartphone and nearly all of them use it for texting, which also happens to be the most-used feature on smartphones. Text messages are also 209 percent more likely to be responded to. Seventy-three percent of patients want to be able to text their provider, and almost 80 percent want to receive texts from their provider.
Texting also allows providers to send messages to patients using automation and real-time communication to encourage ongoing, back and forth conversations. This significantly reduces the time and workload on staff to reach out to large numbers of patients for mundane tasks such as visit reminders, pre-visit instructions, and post-care follow-up and patient surveys.
Texting also enables providers to more adequately address social determinants of health (SDOH) and offer proactive outreach by sending reminders to patients for each step and stage of care to ensure patients receive care they need and improve adherence.
- Automate, automate, automate. Eighty-four percent of patients want automated communications with their providers. Providers can automate many of their mundane and routine patient communication tasks so that staff can focus their attention on patients in the office.
- Automated recall: You can help patients that need follow-up or preventive maintenance care feel like they’re getting personalized attention and improve care and outcomes for preventive and chronic conditions managements. Reminders can be sent to patients based on a diagnosis, age, or other demographic information and aligned to patients’ individual communication preferences.
- Increase appointment confirmations: Automated reminders sent out using best practices, including proven cadences and using a text-first approach, can increase appointment confirmations by 156 percent.
- Digital intake: Ninety-three percent of patients expect healthcare providers to use digital tools. Fifty-one percent prefer digital forms of patient intake. No one wants to touch a physical clipboard anymore given the pandemic. You can reduce staff time, paper expenses, and possibly even claim denials to moving to a more secure, patient-preferred digital option of intake.
- Chronic care management: Increase patient adherence and reduce the costs of treating chronic care patients through text communication and creating a better workflow. Send automated reminders based on diagnosis or other demographics or interactive texts that patients can reply to, such as asking them to rate their current pain level.
“Trying to improve the follow-up and keep things going beyond that one appointment or one surgery and continuing to ensure that patients are following through with their care can create a better experience for them, lead to better outcomes, and reduce the overall costs of healthcare,” Chatham said.
When polled on whether webinar attendees’ organizations were connecting with patients through automation and the modern communication modes patients prefer, 21 percent say yes, 60 percent said sometimes, and 18 percent said no.
Building a workflow that supports a combination of virtual and in-person visits can be made easier by aligning communications to latest patient preferences. Workflows that worked prior to the pandemic no longer apply since telehealth arrived on the scene and became popular with patients. With the COVID crisis beginning to abate, Chatham said the time is now to change your patient communications strategy and ensure you’re prepared for future emergencies and contingencies.
“Patients are looking for more ongoing interaction, support, and engagement, and they want it to be digital,” Chatham said. “We need to change the way we think about how we interact with patients across the entire journey or the entire appointment workflow. The more we can digitize and be more flexible, the more we can offer different options and opportunities to patients to engage and interact with us.”
For more on how to adopt a text-first approach to create a more refined and effective single appointment workflow for virtual and in-person care, check out the guide, “The Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improve Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”