As patient behaviors evolve, it’s clear that today’s status quo is falling short.
The world has shifted a bit in the past few years, hasn’t it? COVID-19 brought us to our figurative knees in 2020, and the weight of its impact continues to grow. And while a pandemic of this nature is bound to expose weaknesses and bring about change, I’d like to explore one area in greater depth: medical practice communication.
Healthcare is almost never the realm of early adopters when it comes to technology, but as patient behaviors evolve, it’s clear that today’s status quo is falling short. According to the HIMSS 2022 State of Healthcare Report, more and more patients are “moving away from traditional types of care.” For example, roughly one in three in the Gen Z and Millennial cohorts has used a retail clinic like Walgreens or CVS in the past 12 months.
There isn’t just one reason for this shift, but I can say this much: Patients are less tolerant than ever of disjointed care experiences filled with delays and poor communication. On the flip side, providers are still battling staff shortages and the rising tide of burnout, both of which have been supercharged by the pandemic. It’s a conundrum.
As it turns out, there are pragmatic ways to apply technology in the medical practice setting that can alleviate some of these issues, many of which are rooted in — or heavily influenced by — communication workflows. Here are three tips for leveling up your practice operations with better technology.
1. Streamline call schedule management
I can talk to you all day long about secure messaging and efficient communication, but if you don’t know who’s working or how to reach them, it’s a moot point. It’s time to stop using sticky notes, paper and pencil, fax machines, and emailed spreadsheets to maintain schedules. These are tedious and error-prone methods, and they lead to schedules that are likely to be outdated the minute they’re distributed.
The foundation for reliable communication workflows is an accurate call schedule that can be easily referenced and updated by your staff. The best communication solutions have built-in on-call scheduling management, which equips your practice with one source of truth for all matters related to scheduling. It also means a real-time schedule is readily available to anyone using the communication app, and all changes or updates to the schedule are reflected immediately — no more guesswork.
2. Tap into smart routing
Clinical communication — whether by phone, text, or any other method — doesn’t do any good if a person who can take appropriate action never sees, hears, or receives it. Maybe the operator from your after-hours answering service calls the wrong doctor to leave an urgent message, or perhaps an important message in the patient record was missed because the notification capabilities aren’t very sophisticated.
Whatever the case may be, technology exists that can ensure all of your practice communications are automatically routed according to up-to-date provider schedules, individual contact preferences, and other predetermined rules. This means messages never fall through the cracks, and as an added bonus, providers can even control how they’re reached based on time, date, urgency, and other factors.
Bypassing manual workflows with smart routing makes it easier for all staff to receive the most comprehensive and timely patient communication. Why settle for games of phone tag, rudimentary secure messaging that delivers texts to unmonitored inboxes, and other unnecessary delays?
3. Make the move to multichannel
It’s likely that many of us have had recent experiences with consumer tech that are more intuitive and satisfying than similar experiences with healthcare tech. Off the top of my head, a friend recently raved about canceling and rebooking a flight in just 10 minutes using the airline’s in-app live messaging function. It was simple, the agent was quick and helpful, and my friend is now a more loyal customer than ever.
Another friend recently messaged his primary care doctor through the patient portal about an important-but-not-urgent issue, and after getting one brief response, all additional inquiries through the portal went unanswered. He was frustrated, to say the least.
With the right setup, your practice can utilize technology that incorporates the aforementioned routing and scheduling capabilities with easy-to-use multichannel communication functionality. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but consider the possibilities of engaging patients in a structured, timely, and reliable manner via phone, text message, or even video call. After-hours call about an urgent issue? Route it to the on-call doctor. Lots of appointments tomorrow? Send automated text message reminders to all patients. Routine check-in that doesn’t require an in-office visit? Host a quick video chat.
I could go on, but the point is that you no longer have to settle for flawed processes or clunky solutions to stay in touch with your patients. By bringing all of that communication together in one orderly system that supports multichannel outreach, you’re meeting patients where they are and giving staff the tools they need to keep up with the times.
Working smarter, not harder
The past few years have proven that medical professionals are smart, dedicated, and selfless. Unfortunately, they’re often asked to do more with less, and many have simply reached their breaking point. It’s not possible to juggle so many balls without dropping a few, especially in a demanding work environment.
So my humble proposal is as follows: Think about these tips and consider how day-to-day operations at your practice would improve with technology that enables better communication, scheduling, and patient engagement workflows. There’s a tendency in healthcare to stick with processes no matter how frustrating they are, but that mindset has gotten us into trouble. If it seems crazy that putting together and maintaining provider schedules is a tedious, neverending affair, that’s because it IS crazy. It’s good to question flawed processes because that’s how we get better.
I’m not here to tell you which technology partner to work with or how to evaluate your options, but I know everybody is better served when communication and care coordination are not constant sources of frustration. By using modern technology, you can alleviate many of the factors that contribute to this frustration. And better yet, you’ll free clinicians up to focus on what matters most — taking care of patients.
Rodrigo Martínez is a practicing otolaryngologist and the Chief Medical Officer for PerfectServe, a provider of healthcare communication and provider scheduling technology.