How every practice can meet patient demands for digital convenience

Today's patients are looking for convenience, and technology can provide it.

In a world with Amazon Prime and Uber, everything revolves around customer convenience—and that's a big deal for physicians trying to build a successful practice.

Global consumer brands are setting the expectations that even the smallest healthcare organizations must meet. We're all accustomed to managing almost every part of our lives using our phone or laptop. We buy groceries and bank online. We request a ride or make a dinner reservation with a phone app. With smart speakers, songs and even jokes are just a spoken word away.

But too often, people find that contacting their physician's office takes them back to the old days of phone calls and hold music. And they expect better.

The demand for digital

In a recent survey, 61% of respondents said they'd like healthcare to mimic the experience provided by a customer service digital app.[i] Even more (79%) said they want the ability to use technology to manage their healthcare experience.

There's clearly a demand for modernization, and the practices that can meet that demand will thrive in the years ahead. Without the ability to offer convenient service, practices risk falling behind in an increasingly competitive healthcare market, especially as the rise of telehealth gives patients more options about where they go for care. Plus, if patients can't interact with their providers in the ways they prefer, there's a risk that they won't engage fully with their care, increasing the likelihood of adverse outcomes.

By creating a "digital front door" for your practice— a means of “greeting” patients and quickly directing them to what they need—you can attract and retain more patients, reduce the workload for your staff, and encourage patients to be accountable for their care.

But taking on digital transformation by implementing single point solutions that solve for, say, online appointment scheduling or patient portal password resets isn't enough. To deliver its full value, a patient engagement strategy must meet the patient where they are — on the phone, online, or over SMS — and be infused with intelligence. That's where AI comes in.

AI multiplies the value of digital engagement

One of the biggest advantages of powering patient engagement solutions with AI is that it enables a high degree of automation.

With AI-powered virtual assistants, you can automate support for many common patient inquiries, delivering assistance within conversational dialogs. Patients are happy because they get fast answers to their questions. And practice staff are happy because they have fewer routine inquiries to handle, so they can focus on more valuable tasks.

The best virtual assistants integrate data from various sources and use advanced natural language understanding (NLU) technologies to determine what patients want to achieve, understand the context of the conversation, and provide relevant, personalized responses.

For example, a patient who lost their discharge instructions after a hospital visit might have questions for their physician. An intelligent virtual assistant can intercept that contact, understand that the patient was recently in the hospital, ask them if they need a copy of their discharge instructions, and text or email them a link to the information right away.

But of course, sometimes you don't want to wait for patients to get in touch—you need to make the first move.

It pays to be proactive

If there's one problem every physician can relate to, it's appointment no-shows. They're a constant thorn in the side for most practices; they delay care, waste physician's time, and damage revenue—but there's a simple way to reduce no-shows dramatically.

Patients often miss appointments because they forgot or weren’t notified. But even when they receive reminders, rescheduling or canceling can be time-consuming and difficult. Nobody wants to wait on hold for 20 minutes to cancel an appointment, so plenty of people give up or don't even bother trying.

Now, imagine a patient receives an SMS appointment reminder with the option to confirm, cancel, or reschedule simply by replying to the message. There's no need to call, and if they need to reschedule, the AI behind the message engages them in a natural, two-way dialog to find an appointment that suits them. Everything's done in a matter of seconds — they have an appointment they’re likely to keep, and waiting list or last-minute patients can fill the vacated slot.

Automated, proactive communications like these can be useful throughout a patient's care journey. For example, AI systems can automate delivery of reminders about follow-up actions ("Did you book your lab appointment yet?"), care plans ("Do you need assistance with your prescription?"), and preventative care ("You’re due for your annual mammogram.").

This proactivity increases patients' engagement with their care, improves outcomes, and bolsters your practice's reputation—all without adding to your staff's workload.

AI isn't just for digital

The phone may be considered a low-tech means of contact, but even here, AI can revolutionize this means of communication. An AI-powered interactive voice response (IVR) system can steer calls to automated assistance with common inquiries in the same way a virtual assistant on a website helps patients schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, find answers to questions, and more.

Today's conversational IVR can be incredibly sophisticated and use advance NLU to deliver a natural interaction that's like talking to a human. Patients quickly resolve their issues by expressing their needs in their own words and rather than choosing from presented options or navigating complex menu trees.

Convenience is king

It's vital to create a patient engagement strategy that meets patient expectations and fits into busy lifestyles. Patients want the convenience of connecting with your practice however and whenever they want — by phone, website, or text, inside or outside of office hours. With intelligent patient engagement solutions, practices can automate interactions and deliver 24x7 high quality service that meets those needs.

By making it easy for your patients to manage their care, you create stronger relationships, reduce workloads and costs, and ensure a long and fruitful future for your practice. Most importantly, you improve care outcomes for the patients you serve.

[i] Tegria/Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 US adults, February 2022

Justin Jacobson is the Vice President & General Manager, Patient Engagement Solutions, Nuance Communications