Most physicians and their practice staff consider themselves to be in the healthcare delivery business. However, healthcare is very much considered a service industry by patients and consumers. But while other service industries have transformed the way they meet customer demands, healthcare lags years behind.
Consider how customers book airline flights. You can simply go to the internet, select an airline or aggregator (like Travelocity), browse the many flight options available and make a choice based on the time and price that suits you best. The same is true for making restaurant reservations, or booking a hotel room or rental car — customers can select from a range of choices that best suit their needs, right from their devices, and at a time that is most convenient for them.
Now consider how patients interact with most medical practices. While some information may be online — such as practice details and patient education materials available on websites — patients typically have to call during business hours to schedule appointments, receive test results, and communicate with their doctors. Practices need to provide resources to service patients in that way, and patients need to take time out of their busy schedules. It is inconvenient, costly, and inefficient for all.
So what can practices do to better meet the needs of their patients?
Utilize a portal. If you have an EHR, chances are that the EHR vendor has a portal that can be added to your current system (or set up and switched on). Most portals allow patients to request prescription refills, access visit notes, and communicate securely with the office. Not only will making these functions available better service patients, it will also reduce call volume by putting these requests online. And while you need to ensure that staff check for messages regularly throughout the day, it creates a smoother workflow than constant calling. So talk to your EHR vendor and see what options are available to you.
Consider an online scheduler. We have seen several practices add 'schedule an appointment' options to their websites, but these are merely e-forms that allow patients to request times and still require that the office staff call the patient to set up the appointment. A better solution is to actually allow for real time online scheduling by patients themselves. In some cases, that scheduler can be built right in to an EHR or through a portal, in other cases you may need to add on a third-party software. Some options can be found here: https://www.capterra.com/appointment-scheduling-software/
Make information available online. Put as much information as possible online so that it is at patients' fingertips. Your website can contain everything from new patient forms to instructions for visits, to tips on conditions and patient education materials. Using your site as a reference tool allows you to refer patients to the site to 'self serve' rather than use time and resources within your practice to educate patients. It reduces calls to your office and develops a place for patients to return to time and again.
Use preferred methods of communication. Ask patients how they would like to interact with your office. Do they prefer to receive visit reminders via text? Email? Or by automated call? Capturing the preferred method should help to reduce no show rates, and it also makes for a more pleasant interaction from the patient's point of view. Many practice management systems allow for this information to be captured and to create automated reminders in using multiple methods easily. Ask your EHR vendor.
Upgrade your online presence. There are many companies now offering end-to-end 'patient engagement' and help with online reputation management, online scheduling, website search engine optimization, and multichannel patient engagement. However, these all-in-one solutions can be expensive. You can start by bringing tools to your site, such as embedding your physicians' Healthgrades.com reviews within a page on your site and displaying your social media accounts on a page within your site using some easy code (for example, https://developers.facebook.com/docs/plugins/page-plugin/).
And if you do not yet have a social media presence, get one!