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Survey: Health Systems See Technology as a Key to Improving Patient Access

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   November 30, 2022

A new survey from the Center for Connected Medicine and KLAS Research finds that patient access is still top of mind for most health system leaders, with telehealth, AI and scheduling tools the most popular tools in the toolkit.

Health system leaders are focused on using digital health technology during the coming year to improve patient access, according to a new survey from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) and KLAS Research. And they're most interested in using telehealth and AI to improve engagement and help patients find what they need.

While "patient access" is a broad term, it highlights the emphasis being placed by health systems on patient-centered care, and creating new and better connections between patients and their care teams, particularly at a time when the competition is fierce for healthcare services.

The Top of Mind for Top Health Systems 2023 report, released this week by CCM, the innovation arm of UPMC, and KLAS Research, represents the thoughts of 61 leaders from 59 healthcare organizations, and marks the second year in a row that patient access is at the top of the to-do list. Some 28% of those surveyed for this year's report rated it as the problem that has the greatest potential to be improved via digital health--and one that has been greatly impacted by the pandemic.

“It’s no secret that health systems have been facing significant challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and must address consumer demands for greater convenience and accessibility from their healthcare providers," Joon Lee, MD, executive vice president of UPMC and president of UPMC Physician Services, said in a press release. "This report reflects the priority that we and others are placing on patient access, including more options for virtual care, greater self-scheduling functionality, and higher engagement with patient portals.”

The biggest challenge to improving patient access, meanwhile, isn't technology, but the people behind the technology. That might be the patient who's not overly concerned about healthcare or healthcare providers and staff who aren't too thrilled with changing the status quo.

"Respondents specifically cited the difficulty of getting patients to be engaged in their own healthcare," the survey reported. "Many also talked about organizational change management--in other words, guiding the people in healthcare organizations to buy into and make changes. This is particularly important for implementing patient access tools."

With that in mind, according to the survey, the highest priority for improving patient access is process change.

"One CEO explained why this focus on process is so vital: 'The process varies from practice to practice and hospital to hospital,'" the survey noted. "'Trying to standardize these processes is maddening. Our organization used to be one hospital, but now we have more than 15 hospitals. We have just not been able to get all those people on the same processes so we can actually realize efficiencies of scale.' Healthcare organizations are often turning to vendors to help guide effective processes around new or existing technology."

As for what technologies are considered important to improving patient access, telehealth tops the list, with 56% of survey respondents placing high value on virtual care. Close behind are the patient portal (55%), patient appointment reminders (55%), online bill paying (52%), online registration (49%), an online provider directory (47%), and patient scheduling reminders (46%).

[See also: Planning and Preparation Are Crucial in Adopting a Patient Self-Scheduling Platform].

Those top technologies also have their drawbacks. Patient portals are considered the baseline technology for interacting with patients, but patient adoption has been low. Patient self-scheduling technology is considered vital to meeting the needs of today's consumers, yet health systems are reporting problems with achieving provider buy-in and finding the right technology that can handle such a complex task. And while telehealth technology is considered effective and improving patient access, there are problems ensuring that access, ranging from broadband issues to a lack of resources for underserved communities.

The survey also found that:

  • 65% of health system executives see price transparency and cost estimation as important facets of patient access, but almost all say they’re compelled to do so by federal regulations, rather than a desire to improve the patient experience. And most of those surveyed say the biggest challenge to delivering price transparency is the complexity of determining a patient's bill.
  • A little more than half of health executives are using AI for patient access, and close to 70& believe it will be important in the future in improving access.
  • Telehealth use has decreased since the pandemic, with most organizations reporting using it for less than 20% of appointments. Patient convenience is the most cited benefit of telehealth, and many want to use it more often, but the uncertain reimbursement landscape is the biggest obstacle to growth.
  • Most health system leaders surveyed say telehealth is adequately addressing physician workflow and care delivery needs, though roughly one-third say the technology isn't effective, mainly because it doesn't integrate with the EHR or there are too many solutions on the market. Most of those surveyed do feel that telehealth is adequately expressing patient experience needs.

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Health system leaders are basing their technology strategy on improving patient access, according to a new survey.

Telehealth, AI and scheduling tools are the most popular technologies, though each come with their own difficulties.

The biggest barriers to technology adoption aren't technical, but human: Patients are reluctant to engage in technology to improve their health, and providers are often reluctant to adapt to change.


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