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By Perry Price, CEO and Founder, Revation
From the impact of the global pandemic to the need for overnight digital transformation, the healthcare industry has experienced massive changes over the last couple of years. While healthcare systems have made limited investments in advanced communication technologies to serve this new era of digital care, the full impact of simplified artificial intelligence within healthcare is still manifesting.
One example of a problem yet to be solved in this digital era is patient leakage, also called network leakage. This phenomenon refers to a patient’s choice to leave a healthcare provider or network, often due to unsatisfactory experiences that lead them to seek care elsewhere. Another example is backdoor leakage, which happens when the transfer center is operating on legacy workflows and single-threaded communication technologies that burden referring partners with queue times and a constant need to “call back” for updates. Backdoor leakage can be a larger contributor to overall patient leakage because the patient never enters the healthcare system to begin with.
Lastly, a third example of leakage relates to either limited or missing clinical resources. Care provider facilities are more likely to not have enough staff versus beds or other standard resources to provide patient care. No doubt the nurse shortage, as well as the increasing turnover of other staff including doctors and physician assistants, is the biggest contributor to hospitals refusing inbound transfer requests. Beyond this challenge is the opportunity to provide new services that were previously not provided. According to Blackbox Healthcare Solutions, up to 87% of patient transfers occur because a higher level of care is needed. Modern command centers are leveraging data from their advanced communications platforms that drive their call centers to run reports on the top procedure type and volume. This tool replaces the tedious task of running manual chart reviews. Such technology, when deployed properly, has the potential to help healthcare organizations that are suffering from lower treatment volumes or simply have the desire and capacity to grow.
What the Numbers Say
A 2022 survey by ABOUT Healthcare found that preventing losses associated with patient leakage could boost revenue by 17%, and that not doing so has kept some health systems from meeting their financial goals.
According to the survey, 27% of the participating hospitals said patient leakage increased with the pandemic, and many noted that they didn’t have a way to quantify leakage successfully. Hospitals could gain $31.36 for every dollar spent on decreasing the number of patients leaving, and possibly save up to $500 for every dollar spent. This makes uncovering the reasons for patient leakage imperative, and the investment in preventing this problem highly profitable.
So, what does this mean for digital communications? In short, a lot.
(Digital) Patient Experience is King for Leakage
Patient loss can be attributed to a variety of reasons; onebeing the rise of digital communications. It’s no surprise that patients today expect assistance at their own convenience and will not tolerate unsatisfactory experiences, which might include a network outage for a hospital’s scheduling system or not being able to contact a nurse with ease. Like a consumer’s ability to purchase products swiftly via the convenience of their mobile devices, patients now expect healthcare organizations to offer the same capabilities in digital interactions – and as the ABOUT Healthcare survey revealed, there’s a price to be paid if not.
For example, when a patient would like to make an appointment with their healthcare provider, they tend to lean toward online appointment systems to avoid the hassle of calling just to book a request for care. If there wasn’t an integrated solution in place, the patient might have to use their phone to call in, versus leveraging an online calendar or AI chatbot to kick off the interaction first. If the patient calls in and is then placed on a long hold, the chances of that appointment being scheduled grow slimmer with each passing minute. If the patient ultimately hangs up in frustration or must change hands multiple times during the call, requiring them to re-explain their symptoms each time, they may choose to look for a different healthcare provider at the end of that interaction who could provide a more seamless experience.
Simply, a lack of data continues to be the greatest challenge when addressing patient leakage. According to the ABOUT Healthcare report, only about 57% of the hospitals surveyed use technology to quantify how many patients there are and why they are leaving for other systems. In addition, not being able to track patient experiences and churn, makes it challenging for healthcare networks to address the issue – thus, the problem continues.
Referring Partner Provider is King for Transfer Center Leakage
As hospital executives become more aware of the cost of transfer center leakage to their bottom line, it’s important to realize that investing in artificial intelligence (AI) technology is the first step to acquiring and retaining existing patients. This is because, when it comes to patient satisfaction, communication is key.
By making it easier for doctors and emergency departments (EDs) to engage with the transfer center digitally, hospitals can increase the likelihood of patients entering their system, which in turn will increase their loyalty and reduce potential leakage in the future. Here are a couple of reasons why:
- Automated Referral Engagement & Facesheet Automation: AI-augmented transfer centers enable the full automation of handling referrals from EDs or physicians. The automation also frees up the referring partner to be mobile while the referral process is underway. At the same time, it enables a single referral center employee to concurrently handle many sessions, which not only increases productivity levels, but, perhaps most importantly, pleases referral partners with more efficient handling of requests.
- Efficient Care Coordination: Organizations can also more efficiently transfer a patient from one care unit to another (internally or externally) using advanced AI; helping patients get the right care at the right time and making for a more seamless patient experience. Integrated AI allows healthcare, including mobile healthcare workers treating patients in the field, to easily chat through their mobile devices or handle multiple phone calls with patients; and, as a result, provide quick and consistent experiences.
- Increased service potential: In an era when hospital systems and individual hospitals within a system are competing for each patient and procedure, the argument for greater efficiency and more services provided is no longer a wish, but a necessity to maintain (if not grow) the volume of patients treated and overall bottom-line revenue. When AI is leveraged through advanced communications technologies, hospitals are equipped with the tools to drive more efficiencies, increase inbound procedures and the ability to identify the next type of services to make them more competitive and profitable as a care provider organization.
There are many reasons why AI-assisted communications may be the key to reducing patient leakage; namely, it focuses resources on the front end of interactions: creating high-caliber digital patient and digital partner experiences. As mentioned, there are many different reasons why patient leakage has been an issue thus far, even before the pandemic, but organizations need to continue to act fast to stay relevant with referral partners and patients amid the digital shift.
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