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Adopting the right technology can help allocate or reallocate time from physicians and staff to focus on patient engagement and satisfaction.
With all the pressures on physician time these days, it’s no wonder some doctors struggle to engage patients fully in their medical care, overall health and future well-being. Patient engagement efforts compete with all the other essentials of private practice — being efficient without sacrificing quality, protecting patient privacy, running a successful business and more.
Adopting the right technology can help allocate or reallocate time from physicians and staff to focus on patient engagement and satisfaction. Three tools in particular — self-scheduling, waiting room kiosks and offering a text-to-pay option — can boost engagement and increase time spent directly interacting with patients.
This evolution toward mobile capability also could be good for business. Patients will seek out a new doctor who will make a better fit with factors such as the use of modern technology contributing to their overall experience, according to the recent ModMed survey, 2022 Patient Experience Report.1
Our patients are tech-savvy. But I was surprised at how much people really wanted more technology in their interactions with a private practice. For example, 61% of survey respondents place importance on being able to make online appointments. *
The satisfaction of self-scheduling
People like to be in charge of their health care decisions, starting with how they schedule appointments. Offering patients this technology can save them time on the telephone with your front office staff, going back and forth on finding a time that works for both the patient and practice.
When patients choose their own appointment times, it frees up practice staff time. This allows staff an opportunity to engage patients in other ways. Front desk employees can spend more time supporting patients — ensuring patients understand any tests that need to be completed or procedures that need to be scheduled. I’m a gastroenterologist, and we treat patients who require medication adjustments for chronic conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. We also perform screening procedures like endoscopies and colonoscopies that require careful preparation. Taking staff off mundane tasks like scheduling gives them more time to educate patients and answer questions about how to prepare for a colonoscopy. While giving patients electronic or paper handouts describing how to take a colonoscopy prep may be adequate, nothing replaces the opportunity to speak with patients face to face to answer questions and address any fears or concerns they may have. These opportunities to engage patients can result in higher patient compliance and better outcomes.
In addition, taking staff members off tasks that patients can handle themselves can free them up to focus on tasks like prior authorizations, which may otherwise cause delays in patients receiving medications or treatment. Securing prior authorizations can be a big headache for many private practices. It’s also a hassle for patients, who sometimes have to wait for one, two, three or more days to receive their prescribed medication.
A not-so-fond farewell to paper forms
Almost half, 48%, of people responding to the survey said they would prefer email, text or an online portal over a phone call to make appointments.
Handing patients an iPad to enter their information versus a clipboard with five sheets of paper can boost engagement. Patients may appreciate that their data is stored, and when they come back for a subsequent appointment, they can update the information but do not need to repeat the whole paper process.
This digital tool can decrease the paper burden for everyone, patients and practice staff alike.
Staff also no longer have to be experts at deciphering handwriting. Information entered digitally is much clearer, contributing to greater efficiency.
Reminders that could reap more revenue
In an ideal world, patients pay 100% of their financial responsibility for a visit before or during their time in your office. But how can technology help when that’s not the case?
Private practices have used digital reminders for a long time, primarily around scheduling and to decrease no-shows. Some practices even text patients to remind them they have a balance they owe.
Text-to-pay technology takes reminders to the next level, and 40% of patients surveyed prefer to make payments online or via text, autopay or payment apps after an in-person doctor visit. So, many patients like the convenience of paying their financial responsibility on a mobile device.
Patients also can be texted to remind them to prepare for a procedure, check on their symptoms or report their recovery status. It’s about enhancing communication with patients using automation. The aim is to reduce office visits and the need for hospitalizations going forward, all with the overall goal of improving outcomes. Hearing from patients in a timely way is essential to this strategy.
A technology assist
Although the right technology can save physicians and staff valuable time, it does not entirely replace the human factor in healthcare.
The report also revealed what motivates some patients to move on and find another provider or practice. For example, 67% of patients polled placed importance on how personable and engaged a doctor is when considering staying with the same doctor.
There remains a lot of pressure on physicians to be as efficient as possible. Colonoscopies, for example, can generate a lot of revenue for a practice. So a balance must be struck between performing multiple procedures on the same day and not losing sight of the importance of bedside interaction with patients.
Screening a healthy person with no family history or other risk factors for colon cancer can require less counseling and discussion compared to someone else with comorbidities. That means the healthier person could be in and out of the procedure area more quickly, interacting less with the physician and staff. That presents a challenge in terms of maximizing engagement with the patient.
Doctors can still look patients in the eye, say hello and address any questions or concerns before starting a procedure. It’s about being personable. If technology can add to efficiencies along the way, it can free up the whole process to become more patient-centered, which can boost patient engagement with your practice.
Hopefully, practices will be able to use more advanced technology to make even deeper connections with patients in the future.
1. Statistics referenced from ModMedⓇ 2022 Patient Experience Report: What Patients Really Think
*Data reflected is a combined stat of “very important” and “somewhat important” or “very likely” and “somewhat likely” to the generally used terms “important” or “likely,” respectively.
Julie C. Servoss, MD, MPH is the medical director of gastroenterology at the healthcare software solutions company ModMed, in Boca Raton, Fla. She is a board-certified gastroenterologist and internist. She volunteers her gastroenterology services at the Caridad Center and Mission Clinic in Boynton Beach, Fla., which provides care to the underserved.