The Increased Urgency of Real-Time & Contactless Communications in the Patient Experience

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By Ford Blakely, SVP & GM, Medallia Zingle

As COVID-19 continues to proliferate concerns over visiting healthcare facilities, demand for telehealth solutions that allow patients and doctors to communicate without the need for in-person interactions have skyrocketed. Indeed, the past several months have brought a significant boost for these types of company’s bottom lines. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for healthcare providers’ revenue streams. 

In fact, according to a recent MGMA report, 97% of practices have experienced a negative financial impact related to COVID-19, with over half (55%) seeing decrease in revenue in the early months of the crisis. Meanwhile, another recent study found that 84% of Americans say they’re concerned about their health and safety when visiting a healthcare facility in person — concerns that have resulted in 54% of the population postponing or skipping appointments. 

As we progress through flu season and the threat of a ‘twindemic’ heightens, it’s fair to say that this is cause for concern. But even as headlines around the development of a potential vaccine create a sense of optimism as we approach a new year, it’s clear that it will take quite some time for patients to return to their doctors’ offices with the same sense of ease that they did pre-pandemic.

With that said, it’s vital that providers and the broader healthcare ecosystem find ways to instill enough confidence in their patients to feel comfortable visiting providers, pharmacies and other services that will see heightened demand in the coming weeks and months. Here are three ways healthcare providers can use real-time and contactless communication to build confidence, keep patients and staff safe, and get their practices on the road to recovery.

Instill Patient Confidence With Real-Time Communication

The shifts in consumer behavior caused by COVID-19 are as prevalent in the healthcare space as they are in any other industry. However, there’s a stark difference between avoiding a retail clothing store vs avoiding doctor appointments; COVID-19 or not. Still, over half of Americans say they’ve postponed or skipped an in-person doctor appointment because of health and safety concerns since the onset of the pandemic. Even 40% of provider’s most vulnerable patients (individuals 65 and older) are putting off doctor appointments. 

Telehealth has been a rather successful pivot for the healthcare industry. However, one study shows that patients only retain 40% of the information communicated to them in a healthcare setting. Having the ability to quickly ask post-appointment questions relating to medications, billing, and other health related concerns can lead to peace of mind among patients. Most importantly, secure, contactless, mobile messaging between patients and healthcare providers can alleviate much of the concern patients have about entering a healthcare facility. 

If practices have any chance of getting reluctant patients through their doors, functions like pre-arrival messages and the communication of new health & safety standards through two-way messaging will go a long way with building confidence among those patients. And in the time being, secure, contactless, mobile messaging can act as a lifeline for patients who have difficulty retaining information they receive from their provider. That way practices, especially ones that are still trying to comply with value-based care models, can be better connected to their patients and vice versa.

Open Up New Channels for Contactless Interaction

Traditionally, communication between healthcare providers and patients has been, for the most part, limited to in-person appointments and phone calls. In recent years, providers have instituted patient portals where patients can message their providers directly. Through this process, patients might end up waiting days to hear back from administration staff, let alone their actual physician which makes patient portals a very inefficient and impersonal mode of communication.

Larger practices have the resources to invest in patient portal apps. However, most apps are deleted in less than six days while research has consistently shown that SMS text messages have open rates above 90%. It’s absolutely crucial that communication between providers and patients evolve alongside telehealth tools to create a positive end-to-end digital experience free of friction.

Looking forward, these solutions can also be utilized in a post-COVID world. At some point in the hopefully near future, patients will eventually revert back to attending in-person doctor appointments. However, the communication issues that plagued the healthcare industry prior to COVID-19 can also be solved and establish a long-term communications strategy for practices when hospital operations return to some resemblance of normalcy.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that a resounding 73% of Americans said “yes” when asked “If you had the option to communicate with your doctor or healthcare provider via text, would you do so?”

 Alleviate Admin Burden by Empowering Teams to Do More With Less

Of course, admin burden and physician burnout have understandably been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. From unprecedented surges in urgent patient inquiries to the configuration of practices being flipped upside down overnight, it’s no wonder that teams are experiencing higher stress levels and increased burnout. The many unknowns related to COVID-19 only further complicate the matter as hospitals, clinics and pharmacies work to stay on top of ever-changing details that need to be communicated to patients and colleagues.

However, a communications strategy that incorporates real-time and contactless communication empowers providers by giving them a way to manage workflows, as well as communicate with patients and team members without compromising patient centered communication. Automated messages around health & safety protocol updates, appointment reminders and test results are not only more efficient, but result in a more personalized patient experience. When a more human approach is required, for instance in cases where sensitive patient information is involved, team members can step in and take charge.

Research supports the notion that secure messaging applications improve clinical collaboration and workflow. As such, the benefits of secure real-time messaging come in two-fold: giving health practitioners the ability to deliver a personalized experience for their patients, all while reducing the negative impact poor communication has on administrative burden, workflows and other essential hospital operations.

 What’s at Risk?

Accenture research has shown that patients do not display the same type of loyalty to their providers that they do with their banks, consumer electronics, hotels and retailers. As digital health experiences become more prevalent, the friction that exists in switching providers will indeed be eroded overtime.

Similarly to the way brands have utilized real-time, two-way communication on social media, patients expect the same level of personalization and proactiveness from their healthcare providers. If practices don’t adapt, they’ll certainly feel a financial impact that’ll be difficult to bounce back from. Additionally, health systems have an opportunity to alleviate the burden that comes along with poor communication between teams and patients. 

It’s obvious that the hesitation around in-person visits has led to the immense popularity of telehealth communication and virtual doctor appointments. However, with secure, contactless, mobile messaging, there’s a clear opportunity for healthcare providers to not only fill the gaps in communication where telehealth misses the mark, but also fix long existing communication barriers among teams and patients. As such, practices have a tremendous opportunity to drive patient confidence and loyalty in real-time.

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