By Robert Vis
Around the world, in clinics, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers, tech innovation—from 3D printing to AI-enabled devices— is changing medical treatment as we know it. Yet, as the technology used inside medical facilities becomes more and more state-of-the-art, the technology used to get patients in the door, even today, is often out-of-date and lagging behind the times.
A big part of the problem: rigid, inefficient, manual appointment scheduling systems that aren’t in line with our busy, on-the-go, on-demand world. With just 66% of medical offices on track to offer self-scheduling services by the end of 2019, many healthcare providers still rely solely on landlines, staffed during pre-set business hours, to reschedule appointments or convey important information to their patients. It’s a head-scratcher in a field that’s otherwise so forward-thinking and innovative. Providers wouldn’t use the same equipment and approaches to patient care that they would have 20 years ago. So, why would they continue to communicate with patients the same they did back then—especially when modern technology enables seamless, on-the-go interactions that comply with patient privacy laws?
Complacency in patient communications comes with a cost, especially when it comes to no-shows and missed appointments. In the US alone, the total cost of missed healthcare appointments is estimated at $150 billion a year, with no-show rates between five and 30 percent nationwide. In the UK, the National Health Service estimates eight million outpatient hospital appointments are missed each year, costing £1 billion. Beyond the financial blow, no-shows also lead to longer waiting times, a lack of available appointment slots, and underutilized staff and resources—all of which fuels patient dissatisfaction and frustration. Missed appointments also delay important follow-up care, leading to unnecessary health complications that could ultimately result in costly hospital visits.
The solution to this $150 billion problem is as simple as sending SMS reminders, in-app notifications, and online alerts. After all, patients are people—and life happens. Try as anyone might to stick to a schedule, calendars set on Sunday can easily be turned upside-down by Monday morning. Juggling personal and professional responsibilities while arranging schedules for family and friends, means some appointments are inevitably going to get missed. There’s no way around it. If patients aren’t able to deal with a scheduling issue the moment they think of it, whenever and whenever they happen to be, there’s a greater chance that it’ll slip their mind. Patients’ busy, on-the-go, lives require agile, mobile solutions that are accessible and affordable for providers, easy to implement and flexible enough to adjust to their changing, and often urgent, medical needs.
Providing a convenient, accessible user experience for patients is also a win for the medical facilities themselves. Harnessing cloud communications technology allows healthcare systems to provide a seamless patient experience, from appointment to treatment, and even follow-up, after-care, and payment. That type of end-to-end service is the type of on-demand experience people have come to expect across the board in every industry, healthcare included. Delivering it helps providers expand their existing patient base and reduce the volume of calls for already-overburdened call center and support agents—all while improving patient trust, loyalty and satisfaction.
These benefits aren’t hypothetical. They’re proven. Case-in-point, to cut down on those £1 billion a year losses due to no-shows, the UK’s National Health Service reached out to DrDoctor, a startup that lets patients view, change and schedule outpatient appointments themselves, either online, in-app or via text. Each month, the NHS was able to reach hundreds of thousands of patients anytime, anywhere via text reminders and alerts. In turn, each NHS hospital it partnered with saved £1-3 million per year, as well as a 50% decrease in phone calls and a 40% reduction in no-shows.
Streamlined, efficient communication between medical providers and patients is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a “need to have.” To ensure an efficient, impactful patient experience, while keeping costs under control, medical professionals can no longer dictate the terms of patient communication. They need to meet patients where they are—via their favorite communications channels and on their own timeframes. And, because of advancements in cloud communications software, including low-code and no-code programs that can be used easily and intuitively by non-developers, it’s easier and more accessible than ever for medical practices of all sizes to give their patients the nudge they need.
Robert Vis is CEO of MessageBird.