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Patient care is the reason most physicians get into healthcare, but practices cannot stay open if they ignore the need to remain profitable.
Patients now have more choices in how they receive care, and the consumerization of healthcare is changing the traditional doctor-patient relationship on many levels. For example, while patients still seek to cultivate relationships with their physicians, they’re also increasingly driven by cost, convenience and digital connections.
The healthcare industry has long praised patient engagement as a means to deliver better health outcomes and lower costs, but to truly thrive in the age of value-based care, independent physicians must think about patient engagement more like the entrepreneurs they are. This includes acknowledging patients’ shift toward consumerism and leveraging technology to better meet their needs and forge long-lasting, profitable relationships.
Although the relationship between physicians and patients might be more intimate than that of other service businesses, patients are still customers. As out-of-pocket costs in healthcare continue to rise, patients are being more careful with their money and seeking the most convenient service at the best value.
Patients expect things such as on-demand appointments; self-scheduling; cost transparency; mobile payments; and regular, personalized communications. Interestingly, a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings noted that patients who left negative reviews online often did so not necessarily because of the physician, but because of negative experiences with front desk staff, physical environment, wait time, appointment access or billing.
Yet, many physicians and other healthcare providers don’t fully consider patients’ entire experience. Whether via the phone, a website or a mobile app, patient engagement is a process requiring many touchpoints. From the time patients make their initial appointment to final billing and follow-ups, the entire experience should be thoughtful and intentional. After all, just one negative step in the customer journey can have leave lasting consequences to a practice’s reputation and contribute to patient churn.
Historically, physicians’ exclusive focus has been quality of care, so these new consumer expectations can be a lot for independent practices to manage. However, the ability to meet or exceed expectations can result in patients who are more engaged, loyal and healthier overall.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for customer engagement. Successful businesses must segment their customers and address each group’s individual needs. The same is true of healthcare practices that now rely on technologies including patient portals, email, secure texting and other tools to reach patients of all ages.
Since different generations may carry different expectations, it’s important to offer flexibility to suit these individual preferences. For example, telehealth is an emerging technology that appeals to both older and younger patients - with significant growth expected in the coming years. Younger generations typically enjoy the flexibility and convenience of video calls. Older generations can use telehealth to avoid multiple trips to their doctor, especially when their health conditions or transportation needs make it a challenge to visit the office.
In fact, video calls are replacing phone calls not only because of some users’ personal preference but also because they allow providers to better connect with patients. More physicians and providers are seeing the value, convenience and effectiveness that video chat affords them and their patients.
Providers must also pay special attention to millennials. While they only represent a small segment of today’s patients, they are the largest generation by numbers and are already driving great changes in healthcare. Most are shifting away from traditional healthcare delivery, and a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 45 percent of respondents under age 29 do not have a primary care physician. Many of these young patients are turning to freestanding clinics and telehealth services to access healthcare where it’s convenient, efficient and cost-effective.
Practices who want to engage with millennials must embrace features such as texting, self-scheduling and online portals. Within the next decade, many of these young consumers will also be responsible for the healthcare decisions of their children and their parents. It’s a lucrative group, so practices who embrace technology to connect with them today will benefit tomorrow.
Fortunately, new technologies now make it relatively easy to offer personalized patient engagement across multiple channels. Practices may be hesitant to adopt these if they think it would require juggling multiple systems. However, not only do certain platform upgrades offer great potential to improve the customer experience, they also impact practice profitability by putting all communications in a single hub. Additionally, practices can eliminate phone tag with secure messages and reduce no-shows while making it more efficient to manage referral documents and home health orders.
Working with inoperable, inefficient and antiquated systems can limit productivity and become a growing source of employee frustration, so a unified platform can also help reduce staff burnout. That’s a big benefit considering 42% of nurse care managers and 36 percent of front office staff report feeling burned out.
To meet their patient engagement needs, practices should look to proven solutions that integrate their communications into existing workflows. The best solutions will limit the number of log ins that practices use for email, text or voice messages and combine with patient medical information for a comprehensive view of the patient history.
All in all, patient engagement is more than just a box to check. Healthcare providers who get it right and treat it as a business strategy will have loyal patients who keep coming back, resulting in a healthier bottom line.
Michael Morgan is the CEO of Updox. With a successful track record in helping organizations use technology to transform the way healthcare is delivered, Mike has more than 25 years of healthcare leadership within software, behavioral health and HIT organizations. Updox was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past five consecutive years.