By Michael Morgan
The variety of ways healthcare practices interact with patients is now catching up with how people communicate with each other. Gone are the days of telephone reminders and snail-mail. Healthcare is going digital, and there’s no going back.
Telehealth emerged as a cornerstone for healthcare since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the industry initially gravitated toward it for safety precautions, the convenience and speed it offers will make it a mainstay in a post-COVID world. Many practices have incorporated a variety of other digital communications tools as well to improve productivity and patient engagement, including electronic fax and forms, secure text messaging, broadcasting, and more. While some of these tools, such as text messaging, were used well before COVID-19, others have been brought on afterward as healthcare continues to rapidly innovate to meet physician and patient needs. For patients, this means easier, faster, and more convenient healthcare and communications with their physicians. For practices, it means faster and better patient response rates, significant reductions in appointment cancellations or no shows, higher patient satisfaction rates, and shoring up your business to protect your patients and your staff.
However, there’s more to a virtual care strategy than adopting solutions.
Picture a “Connect the Dots” puzzle from when you were a child. Remember solving it, and seeing the image come into focus? While many practices have helpful tools in place now, they may only have one or two “dots”. Or, on the flip side, they may have many dots, but have not yet realized how to connect them all to see the full picture. What exists now for many practices is a patchwork of communications tools — all of which may help make practices more efficient and better engage patients, but that are not necessarily tied together in a meaningful way.
Connecting the dots between all of these video chats, text messages, digital forms, and electronic faxes after the fact can create both a compliance nightmare and an organizational headache. As practices continue to implement digital tools, connecting the dots between them to paint the full picture of virtual care will be critical. This is how practices will tap into the true power of the inbox. Starting this process needn’t be arduous. It can start with just one dot – but must begin with a forward-looking plan of where your practice is eventually headed, and leveraging a platform that will allow you to connect all your dots into a full picture.
Recognizing the Missing Dots: What’s Actually In the Picture
The fact is most practices have started — and will continue — using telehealth. Once COVID-19 hit, providers saw an urgent need to connect with their patients and provide care in a safe and effective way. As a result, 93.8% of providers reported offering telehealth. Practices that leveraged telehealth retained upwards of 75% of their normal patient volume during COVID-19 despite offices being physically closed. Looking ahead, more than 56% of respondents to a recent survey report telehealth to be very to extremely important to the future of their practice, and more than 95% report they plan to offer telehealth in the future.
However, COVID-19 put a spotlight on other technology needs, as well.
For example, while electronic fax had been widely available by this point, it had not yet been widely adopted by practices and health systems across the country. This presented a bottleneck when public health officials began trying to keep up with the thousands of pieces of physical paper on COVID testing results that fax machines began shooting out during the height of the pandemic. According to New York Times writers, the fax machine issue led to healthcare workers facing not only a crisis of caring for patients, but also a “fragmented health system” and a “jumble of old and new technology.” Patients also struggle with this dated technology whenever they need to send information to their physicians and don’t have a physical fax machine at home.
However, telehealth and electronic fax are just one piece of the virtual care puzzle. One dot each, if you will. It’s one thing to utilize telehealth and/or electronic fax to improve efficiency and patient engagement, but we must bring all those fragments together to see the full picture and create a more seamless healthcare system.
Now, practices are utilizing solutions across all stages of the patient communication and care journey to connect all the dots on virtual care and solve the communications puzzle, such as:
- Virtual health — including video, SMS texting and chat
- No-touch patient management — including electronic forms, online payment and virtual check in
- Ongoing patient communications — including appointment reminders and broadcast text
- And the paperless office — including fax and messenger
Together, all of these solutions provide an entire virtual care platform. When used in tandem, these solutions increase workflow efficiencies and create a seamless patient experience both in and out of the office. In order to tap into their true value, it’s important to create a structure around and between them.
Connecting the Dots Between Communications and Virtual Care
In order for practices and the healthcare industry to thrive in this new post-COVID environment, where a premium is placed on convenience and speed, connecting the dots between communications and virtual care solutions is essential.
First and foremost, this starts with developing a virtual care strategy, one that incorporates telehealth, electronic fax, electronic forms, and other virtual care solutions to adapt to healthcare’s new reality. The strategy should consider the patient journey, and operationalize processes that focus on improving the patient experience both inside and out of the practice. This includes creating a consistent experience for patients, in a way that is cost-effective and resource-efficient for the practice.
Other considerations include:
- Utilizing a platform that enables flexibility based on your practice needs
- Consolidating and managing all of the practice’s work and communications from one place
- Choosing a solution that’s HIPAA-compliant and able to connect with the practice’s EHR
Even if your practice starts with just one ‘dot’ – as most do – make sure it is part of a system that can provide you with all of the dots or solutions you’ll eventually make use of. As patients increasingly demand greater convenience and consumerization of healthcare, it is not a matter of “if” but “when” your practice will ultimately bring on additional digital communications solutions. By leveraging an all-in-one communications platform, you’ll ensure all your dots connect. If the solutions do not connect or are disjointed, it can result in decreased office productivity and organizational profitability, a negative patient experience, and frustration among staff, potentially contributing to burnout.
When all the dots in your communications and virtual care solutions connect, the image will come into focus. The friction between old and new technology is reduced, and frustrations among staff or patients will also decline. In all, when virtual care solutions are used effectively, the practice can enhance the patient experience and increase productivity and profitability — ultimately simplifying the business of healthcare for the entire healthcare system.
With a successful track record in helping organizations use technology to transform the way healthcare is delivered, Mike has more than 25 years of healthcare leadership within software, behavioral health, and HIT organizations. Updox was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past six consecutive years.