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Patient Access Departments Feeling the Pandemic Strain

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   November 10, 2020

A new Lumeon survey of patient access leaders shows that call center volumes, call wait times, and no-shows are up in the wake of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, hospitals and health systems are under intense strain, including in one area that often gets overlooked: Patient access.

A new Lumeon survey of patient access leaders shows that 67% have experienced increased call center volumes in the wake of COVID-19.

In addition, half report longer average call lengths and wait times.

Repetitive and manual processes hinder patient access, too, which 57% of patient access leaders believe are preventing them from meeting their patient access goals.

For example, 72% of providers still manually call waitlisted patients to fill cancelled appointments.

Patient access leaders also say that COVID-19 is affecting their no-show rates. For instance, 60% believe that patient concerns about the virus are the biggest reason behind no-show patients, and 53% think that it will take up to nine months for no-show rates to return to normal levels.

Despite these challenges, patient access is hugely important to health systems.

Surveyed patient access leaders say patient experience (90%) and access to care (81%) will be the most important differentiators for winning and retaining patients in 2021, far ahead of attracting top clinical talent (62%), offering patients more services (40%), or adding new services lines (33%).

They also see increased automation as a key patient access initiative. When asked about top priorities for achieving patient access goals, respondents pointed to use of automation tools (45%), implementing decision support (31%), and improving virtual care capabilities (29%).

However, 41% say low patient portal adoption is also a challenge in this area.

Although some leaders are finding patient access challenging during this time, others have embraced the way that the pandemic has kicked open what Derek Dudley, senior director of revenue cycle at Memorial Health System in Marietta, Ohio, calls the system's "digital front door."

There, the pandemic put into hyperdrive Memorial Health System's roll out of a digital patient intake platform from the tech company Phreesia.

"COVID really changed the rules," Dudley told HealthLeaders in September. "We saw the need to digitize the patient experience, so we just pushed the gas."

In the months since, Memorial Health System has implemented the digital platform to all of its clinics, and as of mid-September, Dudley estimated that about 65% of patients have embraced the technology, a number that's continually going up.

In addition, the health system has seen improvements in everything from registration accuracy, to point-of-service collections, to patient satisfaction.

For instance, he said that point-of-sale collections are up over 25% year-over-year and patient satisfaction climbed nearly 30% since go live.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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