There’s a Patient Engagement Crisis Coming, But It Can Be Avoided

Updated on March 25, 2023
patients in a waiting room

It’s no secret that times are tough for hospital leaders. Inflationary and market-forced financial pressures are putting the same squeeze on hospitals that many other businesses face. But at the same time, hospitals and health systems have to contend with another set of circumstances completely unique to their industry.

First, amid the ongoing fallout from the pandemic, hospitals are still struggling not only with lower patent volume, but also with nursing shortages and skyrocketing labor costs. Second, they face increasing competition from tech giants stepping into healthcare and a patient base that’s increasingly driven by consumerism. Finally, many are facing the end of temporary COVID-19 relief funding that was keeping many hospitals—particularly rural ones that don’t have financial reserves or investment portfolios—afloat.

That means that already pressed hospital leaders are scrutinizing every last line item in their expenses more closely, looking for new areas to cut to balance books. Before cutting programming, and amid a broader trend of consolidation in the healthtech vendor arena, some hospital leaders may be inclined to look at their tech spend.

This development comes, meanwhile, as hospitals and healthcare systems already lag behind other industries in technology, particularly when it comes to customer experience. As retailers and e-commerce brands with sophisticated CX stacks like CVS and Amazon continue to make inroads in the healthcare space, any experience gaps will be brought further into stark relief by any cuts to patient experience programs by hospitals.

For hospital leaders looking for short-term savings, it means they need to consider options carefully. Although eliminating patient-facing technology might result in a near-term gain, it has the potential to do lasting damage in the race for patient loyalty and sustained success. Here are a few considerations for hospital executives as they consider their healthtech spend:

Prioritize solutions that have tangible impacts on revenue and cost avoidance, even if not immediately apparent

Solutions that handle functions like accounts receivable and workforce management have obvious apparent impacts on spending and revenue. But other solutions—critically, patient engagement—also have direct impacts on the bottom line.

● Patient appointment reminders and self-scheduling tools can dramatically tamp down no-show appointments, which can cost healthcare systems millions in missed revenue every year.

● Post-discharge outreach equips patients and loved ones with the information and understanding they need to maintain their own care plans after a hospital discharge. Post-discharge outreach is a critical tool in preventing unnecessary readmissions, which can cost an average of $15,200 each.

Search for solutions that help maintain competitive footing with the healthcare disruptors

Retail giants like Amazon, CVS, and Walmart continue to push further into the healthcare delivery market. One of the factors that has allowed them to continue to gobble up market share is healthcare’s long standing patient experience deficit. It makes sense—modern customer experience was forged and defined in the retail marketplace. Retailers have been investing in technology to make virtual and in-person experiences feel seamless and convenient for decades, while many hospitals and care systems have only truly woken up to the transformational power of technology-assisted patient experience in the last 10 years.

Any cuts to technology that exists to improve patient experience should be carefully considered, as widening the experience gap will put hospital leaders further on their heels. Additionally, cuts to patient engagement reduce access to care for underserved populations, keeping hospitals’ market share constrained. Healthcare executives can instead focus on where they can get the most bang for their buck—with patient experience and engagement solutions that work seamlessly across the tech stack and across the entire patient journey, making patients feel more connected to their own care.

Maintain solutions that reduce burdens for frontline employees

With a yawning labor gap left over from the pandemic, any technology cuts that could add more manual work to the plates of frontline caregivers should be carefully considered and, optimally, avoided altogether. With hospitals operating at capacity with fewer employees to take on the work, measures that automate manual tasks for employees are more important than ever before.

By easing existing tasks—like reducing pen-and-paper workflows and processing for patient rounding—or eliminating them altogether—such as replacing manual pre-care outreach calls with automated calls or texts—hospital leaders can save staff time and bolster satisfaction. Automation not only reduces workloads and makes employees more likely to stay in their position, but it also allows them to operate at the top of their license, ensuring that a greater proportion of their time is spent on direct caregiving.

Look for solutions that add value beyond the product

Sometimes, a healthtech tool is just that—a tool that frontline and back-office employees use to improve workflows and care throughout the course of the day. But some solutions are much more than they appear on paper.

As consolidation and competition in the healthtech market has reached a fever pitch, the role of a vendor in the healthtech space is no longer just to provide capable, money-saving or -making, interoperable solutions that improve experience and patient outcomes—although solutions still need to deliver value in those areas as well. Hospital leaders increasingly expect the value of a vendor relationship to evolve in new ways and vendors will need to deliver more to hospitals than the tools and solutions they provide. So in interrogating healthtech spending, hospital leaders will be well served to consider the value of the vendor partnership with almost as much weight as the value of the solution itself.

Unfortunately, the path to short-term savings, if taken incorrectly, can directly undercut long-term growth. Hospital leaders that are facing tough decisions know this better than anyone. Fortunately, by sparing effective patient engagement and experience spending from the chopping block, hospital executives can continue to position themselves to compete in a changing ecosystem. It’s critical that they take a thoughtful approach to healthtech spend and invest in solutions that support patient experience and engagement.

Image by 123RF

Chris Jones
Chris Jones
Chris Jones is the Chief Financial Officer of CipherHealth.