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How to Use Digital Tools for Intake Processes and Patient Engagement

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   March 05, 2021

Digital tools can increase the capability to communicate with patients and boost the efficiency and safety of intake processes.

Digital tools for intake processes and patient engagement boost efficiency for hospitals, physician practices, and patients.

During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals and physician practices have adopted new intake processes and patient engagement tools to increase safety and ease staffing shortages. For example, hospitals and physician practices have adopted new processes to limit the number of patients in waiting rooms.

Family Practice Associates of Lexington, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, adopted digital intake processes and new patient engagement tools in April 2020. "Most healthcare providers who utilize these kinds of tools would implement gradually over months. We implemented these tools in four days because of the pandemic. It was difficult but very beneficial in the long run," says Virginia Burberry, director of clinical education at Family Practice Associates of Lexington.

The physician practice implemented several elements of Phreesia's suite of digital intake workflows and patient engagement tools. Phreesia is a software-as-a-service platform that integrates with practice management and electronic health record systems.

In addition to a telehealth scheduling feature built into Family Practice Associates of Lexington's website, Burberry says the practice uses five of Phreesia's tools:

1. Enhanced mobile: The practice uses this tool to send check-in forms to the patient's mobile device. "In the past, the patient would have to stand in line and wait for a pad that someone else had used before them. Now, having that registration form sent to the patient's personal device allows them to fill out the registration form remotely. It gives the patient peace of mind," she says.

2. Self-scheduling: "The self-scheduling allows patients to avoid standing in line to make follow-up appointments or waiting in line to schedule the bone density assessment their doctor said they needed. The self-scheduling is online, and it is easy for them to use," Burberry says.

Self-scheduling has been particularly beneficial during the pandemic, she says. "We often have been operating with skeleton crews. We have had a lot of staff that were either sick or had to quarantine because family members had been exposed."

3. Health campaigns: Health campaigns enable Family Practice Associates of Lexington to send targeted text messages or emails to update patients on important information or prompt them to schedule appointments. "We can ask patients whether they are due for their well visit, due for their Pap smear, or due for six-month follow-up to get lab work. We also use health campaigns for general education such as where we are at in getting COVID-19 vaccine, our safety precautions for patients, and how we are doing our no-waiting-room policy," she says.

"The health campaign tool was important for sending information out to the patients about the new digital features. Within seconds, we could send out emails to 38,000 patients."

4. Patient chat: "This feature allows us to communicate with patients via text. We can direct patients to their exam room and communicate with patients when they arrive and when they leave," Burberry says.

The patient chat tool plays a key role in operating the practice's no-waiting-room policy, she says. "We can work off a dashboard and broadcast to several patients at the same time. They are told that when they arrive for their appointment, they should text us that they have arrived and that we will send further instructions. That allows our waiting room to be completely empty and gives the patients the confidence that when they come in, they are not going to be exposed to other people."

5. Broadcast messaging: This feature allows the practice to communicate with specific segments of patients or all patients. "We recently had to close on a Tuesday and were able to click on the dashboard and broadcast to more than 400 patients within seconds that we were closed due to inclement weather. We included the self-schedule link to allow them to reschedule their appointments later in the week," she says.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical careโ€‹ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals and physician practices have adopted new intake processes and patient engagement tools to increase safety and ease staffing shortages.

In April 2020, a large physician practice in Lexington, Kentucky, adopted several of these digital tools such as self-scheduling.

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