The need for new healthcare workflows to meet safety requirements and evolving patient communication preferences increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating a long-standing trend toward the use of digital communication.
“We believe that patient preferences changed during the pandemic because of safety concerns, and we have increasingly moved toward asynchronous digital communication to meet those needs,” says Josh Weiner, chief executive officer at SR Health by Solutionreach. He discusses the ways that text-based solutions help providers respond to these changing conditions and the benefits of using the technology.
Q: What has happened in the last year or so that has changed the way providers interact with patients?
A: COVID-19 had a direct impact on healthcare providers’ ability to safely deliver care and interact face-to-face with patients, resulting in significant declines of in-person appointments as patients stayed away from provider offices. According to a recent survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), 87% of health leaders say that safety was the top reason that patients deferred care during the pandemic. This change in behavior has had a negative effect on the financial performance of many providers—a survey by the American Medical Association (AMA) indicates that physicians have averaged a revenue decline of 32% since February 2020, with one-fifth of respondents citing a decline of 50% or more—and also impacted patient outcomes because of delayed care.
In response to the pandemic as well as changes in patient communication preferences, providers have increasingly looked to digital solutions such as texting, e-mail, and telehealth to communicate with patients and also help provide care. Creating new workflows is critical given the high level of dissatisfaction that many patients have when communicating with providers, and the corresponding provider frustration with the complexity of performing basic appointment-related tasks. In fact, 83% of patients in a SR Health survey described poor communication as the worst part of their healthcare experience in 2020, which is saying something. However, a bigger concern is that one-third of respondents also say that they would consider switching providers due to logistical issues like communication.
Q: Why is it not enough to just schedule a visit and see a patient?
A: The traditional appointment scheduling workflow is a manual process that typically can’t be set on autopilot, and there are no guarantees that an appointment will actually happen as planned, or worse yet, happen at all because of cancellations and no-shows. Patients forget their appointments, have last-minute conflicts, and must contend with a variety of minor and major emergencies. According to another recent MGMA survey, 53% of patients who missed an appointment did so because they forgot to attend or cancel it. We live in a real-time world where circumstances are constantly changing, and no-show rates for the industry run between 10%–30%, with some specialties going as high as 50%.
Some of the issues with appointment scheduling are a byproduct of the episodic nature of the fee-for-service model of care. Appointments are treated as one-off events rather than as part of a more holistic approach based on providing longitudinal care. This is a missed opportunity for providers to improve patient engagement and outcomes by proactively using two-way texting and e-mail to communicate on an ongoing basis.
Q: What can providers do to start creating a better experience around the appointment?
A: The key to improving patient experience around the appointment workflow is implementing a more flexible communication system that uses texting, e-mail, and telehealth, with patients able to specify their preferences for methods and aspects such as reminder intervals. Note that SR Health research indicates that texting is the most popular form of patient communication, with 75% of patients saying that they prefer two-way texting that allows them to interact directly with the provider.
Providers can reduce the number of no-shows through implementing an automated system of reminders that contacts patients at specified intervals. According to SR Health research, the reminder system which generates the best results is one that uses a 3-3-3 approach—texting or e-mailing the first reminder three weeks from the appointment, sending a second reminder three days in advance, and sending the last reminder three hours ahead of the appointment. Providers that send out automated appointment reminders can typically expect to reduce no-shows to 5% or less, improving their financials considerably by addressing the problem of lost provider revenue from patient cancellations. Using an automated system also allows providers to save money on operating costs by reducing staff resources and labor spent on the manual process of issuing reminders and performing other recall activities.
Director, Marketing Programs
SR Health by Solutionreach