How Can Your Practice Improve the Patient Experience?

October 14, 2016

Here are six ways practices can better drive patient engagement and increase satisfaction.

As patients take on the mindset of a consumer, they have different expectations about how and when your practice serves them. Patients now expect an experience akin to retail or hospitality, with round-the-clock access to back-office functions like bill payments and on-demand access to clinical staff through secure messaging and prescription renewals.

While meeting these rising patient demands can be challenging, there are steps practice managers can take to increase patient satisfaction. Here are some best practices to help you drive patient engagement at your practice:

Make it easy to join your online portal - and drive everyone to use it

Patient portals have become a standard offering across the industry. This makes sense as 93 percent of patients prefer online access to physicians. However, portal adoption is still a major pain point for most practices. To ramp up engagement begin by assessing your current strategies. Are you capturing patients through the use of automated invitations, easy account creation, and in-office awareness campaigns? Does your staff - both front office and clinical - drive people to first interact with the practice via the portal?

Instead of navigating a frustrating and time consuming phone tree, encourage patients to submit routine requests via the portal with the promise of faster response times and closed-loop communications.

Increasing the adoption of your patient portal can reduce the stress on your office staff as well -simplifying routine tasks like appointment requests, increasing timely payments, and centralizing clinical requests.

Advertise your resources to your patients

You have a captive audience in your waiting and exam rooms, so use posters and digital signage/videos to promote your patient portal, online resources, and all the ways your practice is there for them. Combine that with emails and reminders on your website, and you have a 21st century strategy for engagement.

Your portal vendor should have patient marketing material available for your use. By promoting the use of your portal for routine inquiries like prescription refills and self-serve tasks like paying account balances, you free up staff time and empower your patients - even after your office is closed for the day.

Break down data silos and show patients how to access critical medical data from outside your practice

Unfortunately, the influx of health IT investment over the past decade has created hard-to-crack data silos where EHR and practice management systems don't communicate. Beyond the challenges inherent to the existence of hundreds of EHR options, continuity of care is hindered by factors such as the need for specialist referrals and HIPAA regulations.

Give your patients a centralized way to access all their medical data by offering an easy-to-use, cross-platform health record that consolidates patients' medication lists, lab results, and appointment reminders from their various patient portals. By putting the patient in the center of the technology solution, you can break down the information barriers and help them feel more in control of their care.

Make it mobile

Ensuring a mobile-friendly patient experience isn't just a nice-to-have, it's a necessity for today's patients. Over one-third of patients access medical portals from a mobile device, and 68 percent of smartphone-owning patients under the age of 49 have used their phone to research a medical condition, according to Pew Internet Research.

Consumers now expect to have immediate access to features like bill paying, secure messaging, appointment reminders, and more. A mobile-responsive portal accessed on a phone or tablet browser is preferred over a standalone app by many consumers, and it provides a consistent experience across all sizes and shapes of screens.

Pay their way

Patient financial responsibility is on the rise. Seventy-four percent of providers saw an increase in patient payment responsibility in 2015, according to InstaMed. Today's patients-as-consumers want to pay in whatever way they choose, at whatever time of day they want. But, be aware that you can only expect to collect 50-70 percent of a patient's balance after a visit.

Offering a wide variety of payment vehicles can increase patient payments and overall satisfaction. Tapping into technology and building more flexibility into your collections can reduce your reliance on paper, collect payments more quickly, reduce administrative costs, and most importantly, meet your patients' expectations.

Extend your waiting room to patients' living rooms

Patients that don't have to wait are happier patients. Offer them early check-in from the comfort of their home or in the palm of their hand before they arrive at your office. To streamline the patient experience, patients should be able to check-in for appointments, confirm insurance and health history, and even pay their copays or balances from any device long before they open your door.

Patient engagement is not a one-and-done program, but it can reap benefits on both the clinical and administrative side of your practice. Actively engaged patients are more likely to comply with care plans, pay their bills in full, and refer your practice to friends and family.

Kim Labow is Chief Executive Officer of Medfusion in Cary, N.C., a leading provider of solutions that simplify the patient experience.