Digital Health’s Moment Is Now

Updated on November 15, 2020
Doctor with stethoscope and tablet computer on black background, still life style, Technology digital to treat patients concept.

By Jason Kressel

There is a lot of uncertainty around this year’s flu season. Depending on which model the seasonal spread of influenza follows, we could see the COVID-19 protections and restrictions already in place drive down the spread of the flu (as seemed to be the case in the southern hemisphere), or the two viruses could collide and exponentially increase hospital intake to levels that would make the last six months pale in comparison. 

As healthcare organizations gear up, many tools, processes and systems will be put to the test —both in preparation for and in the event of a “second wave” of COVID-19 compounded by the flu. Just the effort to brace for the possibility will be stressful. Will more quick pivots be required?  Will the lessons learned and services such as remote testing, telehealth and mobile scheduling/communications keep staff and patients safe?  Will an exhausted population have the mental strength to hunker down again? Are we better prepared now for what may come? There are a lot of questions with many different answers and healthcare providers are being inundated with all sorts of solutions to address these challenges.

It’s no secret that modern technological innovations have been slow to gain traction in healthcare’s administrative settings. When the pandemic hit, the adoption of digital tools accelerated to accommodate no-contact environments, protecting patients, providers and healthcare workers. It’s been amazing to see how swiftly our clients adapted and put new operations in place, such as online payment options, to function in the “new normal.” 

By example, one of our clients rapidly deployed an online mobile COVID testing appointment scheduling capability with the ability to screen patients, capture their vehicle information for the mobile testing site and confirm the actual appointment.

Now, as we will face yet another possible wave of demand during the winter, health systems are gearing up.

Top technologies to have in place 

These are three areas that will benefit significantly from consumer-centric technologies during flu season:

Online Scheduling & Digital Registration 

An effective online scheduling solution will seamlessly enable patients to book their own appointments online or guide internal schedulers to best match patients and doctors for the ideal appointment times.. This gives providers the flexibility to control the volume, timing and location of appointments based on rapidly changing circumstances.

For example, a patient booking an appointment online should be able to answer COVID screening questions and, based on their inputs, be presented either a testing location if the patient is at risk or allow the patient to continue booking their appointment.

An online patient scheduling platform should automate the entire scheduling process, integrating in real-time with practice management systems, as well as enabling your referral sources to seamlessly book referral appointments.

Speed up the registration process and limit physical interactions by giving patients the option to complete their intake by mobile phone. Not only will this reduce the spread of infection in busy waiting rooms, it will make for a more enjoyable patient experience and free up limited staff resources for other priorities. Even better, a “virtual waiting room” that notifies a patient in real-time that “the doctor will see you now” can eliminate the need for a physical waiting room.

With automated registration and consumer-facing mobile experiences, you can improve the patient experience, operational efficiencies and data accuracy while simultaneously limiting patient and staff exposure.

Automating Communications 

The pandemic’s initial shutdown of elective procedures created numerous challenges, the most pressing being healthcare providers’ struggles to ensure their patient populations are getting the care they need. While online scheduling and referral coordination solutions can no doubt help improve patient access (especially as those who cancelled or postponed appointments look to reschedule), the use of automated outreach, like interactive voice response (IVR) and text messaging (SMS), combined with the ability to schedule appointments in real-time, can take it one step further and help providers close gaps in care, streamlining the entire scheduling process from start to finish.

Healthcare organizations leveraging automated outreach are seeing numerous benefits. Among them:

  • Extended Outreach Capabilities – An automated and technologically advanced outreach system has far greater capacity to reach patients, when compared to the bandwidth of traditional call centers. The system enables thousands of tailored automated calls or SMS messages per day that don’t require an agent to personally facilitate. This will be instrumental in providing information and instructions for flu vaccines and flu care vs. COVID-19 procedures so that patients understand where to go and what to do to receive proper treatments. 
  • Increased Appointment Bookings – Reaching more patients means more successfully booked appointments, and in turn, fewer gaps in care. Automated outreach solutions should include both the message to the patient combined with the ability to digitally schedule the appointment, facilitating more appointments with less effort.
  • Higher Patient Satisfaction – Automated outreach ensures patients are notified on-time about any necessary follow-up care, and then provides the opportunity to quickly and easily book appointments that fit their schedules – whether that is on site or via a telehealth call. This convenience and simplicity improves patient engagement and satisfaction.

Using a targeted outreach list, an automated calling and texting system manages the bookings, coordination and follow-up, completely lifting the burden off the organization and its call center. As an example, one client is sending proactive SMS messages to women that should have a mammogram – in the text message, the patient is presented with the link to directly schedule the appointment with the imaging center.

Contactless Payments

Encourage patients to clear their balances without having to hand over cash or access payment kiosks. Self-service digital payment tools allow patients to make contactless payments through a patient portal or from their mobile device.

It’s in line with consumer expectations, and it can also increase patient collections. One of our clients saw point-of-service collections increase by 50 percent after implementing more user-friendly patient payment options. Additionally, proactively engaging patients on payments and estimated costs yields a better experience by avoiding mismatched expectations between what a patient thought they would owe and the actual bill.

There is no telling what new clinical challenges await the arrival of a “twindemic.” Operationally and administratively, there are steps organizations can take to create a smooth experience and safe environment for their patients, leveraging mobile technology and the effective digital tools. The year 2020 will also be remembered for the digital revolution taking place in healthcare, meaning something good will come from an otherwise difficult year. 

Jason Kressel is Senior Vice President, Consumer Products and Analytics, for Experian Health.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.