Some physicians find out the hard way that they’ve been failing to meet patient expectations. You don’t want to be the doctor with a two-star rating on Healthgrades. That doctor is bound to have big challenges attracting and retaining patients.
Keeping patient expectations front of mind will help you succeed in the digital age. To that end, this three-part series explores how to modernize your medical practice by prioritizing the patient experience.
The first article of our series focuses on patient outreach strategies, such as implementing a secure messaging system, engaging in shared decision-making and providing education and support resources.
In this second part, we offer explanations and examples of patient-centered technology that will help you better serve your patients. Our expert commentator Barbara Swan from Marathon Health will also provide insights on why this is such an important initiative.
“Patient-centered technology puts the patient first and allows for fewer medical errors, fewer duplications of tests and medications, as well as providing for measurable patient outcomes.”
Barbara Swan, Chief Medical Information Officer for Marathon Health
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Why Modern Medical Practices Use Patient-Centered Technology
In Gartner’s “Business Drivers for Healthcare Provider Information Technology Decisions, 2016” report (content available to Gartner clients), the authors say the gap between patient expectations and provider care delivery “is expected to grow as [patient] expectations are shaped by the more advanced digital experiences outside healthcare.”
That’s a prediction I can certainly relate to. It’s so easy for me to check out my bank statement online, but usually so hard to access a digital copy of my medical records. I once tried logging onto my dermatologist’s patient portal, only to see my account had been shut down—even though I’d just had a skin cancer screening a few days prior.
The practice didn’t reply until I sent a follow-up message, and even then I had trouble accessing the system. My bank may not have the best customer service, but I doubt they’d leave me hanging like that if they’d inadvertently locked me out of my own checking account.
I’m not the first person to point out health IT deficiencies compared to banking or other tech-friendly industries. And, of course, there are patients who’ve faced far greater frustrations navigating the healthcare system. However, my simple story shows providers need to improve their use of technology, lest they leave patients feeling neglected and risk losing them to a different doctor.
So how do you make sure you’ve got the right technology in place? The authors of the Gartner report we cited earlier list a number of health IT capabilities that large providers should consider before making a purchase.
We evaluated those suggestions and identified a few that are best suited for small or midsize practices. After all, most independent practices are working with a bare-bones tech budget and limited staff. Here are the capabilities we recommend prioritizing:
In this article, we’ll show you three specific health IT investments that can help you carry out those capabilities:
- Telemedicine for healthcare digitalization
- Clinical reporting tools for advanced analytics
- Online appointment booking for on-demand communications
Tech Example 1: Telemedicine
Telemedicine is the use of technology to provide remote medical services, such as video consultations.
This is a great example of healthcare digitalization in action. Doctors are able to assess conditions and provide treatment recommendations through online platforms that are more convenient and accessible to patients. Swan says people who routinely travel long distances to get medical attention are among those who benefit most from this technology.
“Telemedicine opportunities can really close a gap for patients who are in rural or remote areas of the country,” she says.
While a virtual visit won’t replace face-to-face physicals or similar examinations, it’s remarkably effective for treating certain conditions (e.g., asthma and depression). Moreover, telemedicine could encourage more people to see a physician for preventive care because of its broad appeal.
In a Software Advice survey of U.S. patients, we found 75 percent of patients are at least “moderately interested” in replacing an in-person office visit with a virtual consultation for a common ailment, such as cold symptoms.
Many health IT leaders believe telemedicine will become even more popular over the next few years—some predict 40 percent of primary care encounters will take place virtually by 2018. Lawmakers are increasingly embracing this trend by supporting policies to standardize or simplify the reimbursement process for telemedicine services.
Another reason for small practice providers to get excited about this patient-centered tech example is its financial benefits. Physicians can see more patients per day without adding overhead expenses, such as office space or staffing.
How can small practices apply this tech?
First, you’ll want to determine the best deployment option for your practice: an electronic health records (EHR) system with integrated videoconferencing capabilities or a stand-alone telemedicine platform.
For a detailed comparison of these options and selection suggestions, click here.
Swan cautions that you must pick your platform carefully and make sure you have the necessary resources to support it, such as a webcam and a reliable internet connection. Consider upgrading your practice’s internet plan if necessary.
“The biggest issue [when it comes to telemedicine] is access to quality tools that provide video consultation without IT issues for both the patient and the provider,” she says.
Tech Example 2: Clinical Reporting Tools
Clinical reporting tools make it possible to incorporate advanced analytics into your practice’s workflow. These turn clinical data into easy-to-read charts, graphs or reports to give you greater insight into the health of your patient population.
The data usually comes from an EHR. If you’re already a user, you know how much information is entered into these systems on a daily basis: progress notes, patient demographics, medication histories etc.
With clinical reporting tools, you can leverage all that data to track patients’ well-being and make better treatment decisions for them.
“Tools such as these can allow clinicians to provide proactive medical care versus reactive,” says Swan. “With this valuable information, providers can reach out to patients with chronic conditions and health risks before the patient has a catastrophic illness.”
How can small practices apply this tech?
In Swan’s example above, analytics are used to identify at-risk patients early so they can avoid a worsening condition. Luckily, these kinds of clinical reports are readily available in many EHR systems aimed at small practices and are often called population health tools.
However, there are many more kinds of clinical reports you can consider using at your practice, including:
- Claims data trends
- Drug interaction lists
- Symptom patterns
- Physician Quality Reporting System measures
Click through the short gallery below to see what some of these reports look like:
Depending on the breadth and depth of the clinical reports you want to generate, you may need to work with your EHR vendor to customize your reporting module or get business intelligence software that integrates with your current system.
As author Ken Terry notes in Modern Medicine, neither of those options are necessarily budget-busting. That’s because many EHRs nowadays have built-in “report writing” features and practices can find “fairly inexpensive” applications online to produce practice quality reports.
Tech Example 3: Online Appointment Booking
Next, we’ll discuss a tech tool that facilitates on-demand communications: online appointment booking. There are dozens of scheduling systems out there and it’s likely your practice is already using one of them instead of a physical appointment book. That’s because appointment software is typically the easiest kind of medical solution to implement and there are some solid free options available.
However, there are certain scheduling software functionalities that separate forward-thinking physicians from old-school docs:
- Patient self-service: The ability for patients to log onto a secure website 24/7 to independently book appointment dates, times and individual doctors from group practices
- Multi-channel, automated appointment reminders: The ability to send appointment reminders via text message, email and phone calls.
These two are significant because they show patients that you are willing to adapt your practice management processes to their lifestyle and communication preferences. This flexibility and attention to the patient experience has been shown to curb missed appointments and sudden cancellations.
How can small practices apply this tech?
Self-service scheduling is built into many patient portal solutions. In fact, appointment scheduling turned out to be the most requested patient portal feature in a Software Advice survey of U.S. patients.
Hopefully we’ve shown you some valuable techniques and ways to modernize your practice. As more of your peers adopt the tech we’ve outlined in this article, practices that don’t follow suit will fall behind. As a result, your patients may wonder whether the quality of your care delivery is suffering.
Here is a recap of the health IT purchase drivers and corresponding tools we covered:
|Patient expectation||Practice tech investment|
|Advanced analytics||Clinical reporting tools|
|On-demand communication||Online appointment booking|