Prioritizing patient engagement

February 15, 2019

An independent specialty group has improved patient relations and grown the practice by investing in advanced practice management and patient engagement tools.

Measure 10 imes, cut once as they say in the construction trade. My partner, Daniel Shurman, and I heeded this warning when we decided to start a new independent dermatology practice in 2012. I worked together with Shurman, MD, FAAD, dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, for years in a corporate practice that used a homegrown practice management system.

We wanted to build our new practice on a foundation of high quality care, so we decided we would use the best patient-focused practice management technology available. We resolved then, and every day since, to keep pace with technological innovations to better reach and serve our patients.

Once we defined our practice philosophy and goals, we used the same zeal and energy to find an office location in Pennsylvania, build our team, and design our office layout. We researched, shopped, consulted experts, and solicited advice before determining our best choice for a practice management platform. We wanted the technology to give us every efficiency available. We also wanted to be sure that our technology partners would also keep up with current trends and innovations.

Here was our must-have list: simplify the organization and access of patient information, offer state-of-the-art billing and claims management tools, enable excellent customer service, and scale as our practice expanded. Seven years later, our practice has grown from one to 14 different locations. Our practice management technology has helped us every step of the way.

 

Growing needs

We recently surpassed 10,000 visits per month. We rely on technology as well as our amazing office staff to ensure that each of these patients feels engaged, cared for, and supported.

We currently have 12 physicians, seven nurse practitioners and physician assistants, a front desk person in each office, an intrepid billing team, and eight patient advocates in a customer service center who interact with patients every day.

All employees have their own needs and demands of the practice management tools. It has been a great advantage that our system is flexible enough to fit their various needs and roles. We allow our doctors the freedom to see patients as they see fit. However, we also rely on a centralized administration for communications, information management, payer negotiations, billing, and other essential office tasks.

The practice management software also accommodates our growth as we add offices and staff while allowing us to maintain internal interoperability.

 

Personalized reminders

Today’s patients expect personalized engagement. A consumer-oriented mentality is driving care delivery, particularly in specialty medical practices. For providers, this means delivering more options and automating administrative tasks. We have found practice management software is the best way to offer personalized engagement without adding staff or adding to their existing workload.

We strive to make our patient appointment scheduling experience convenient and easy. A good phone system and excellent staff are still the bread and butter of any medical practice (and most businesses in general), but patients should be able to schedule and cancel their visits through an online patient scheduling system that does not require them to pick up the phone.

A growing number of patients appreciate the ability to schedule anytime instead of having to call the office during their lunch break. This functionality also frees our office staff for more pressing patient-centered needs.

In January 2019, our patients scheduled over 400 visits online, up from 330 in June 2018. Since implementing the 24/7 online scheduling option early in 2018, we’ve had a 3 percent increase in new patients, a figure that continues to grow. This anytime, anywhere secure login capability extends to additional communications and information access through the patient portal. Patients can reach out to physicians via online messaging and receive answers in a prompt and secure way.

Our patients have also responded positively to receiving automated reminders for appointments. We used to rely on an expensive outside service for appointment reminders. This service had a poor user experience and regular breakdowns.

Appointment reminders are now an integrated offering from our practice management software. Our vendor offers an intelligent and reliable reminder tool that has saved us time and money, increased reliability, and allows our patients to choose a communication method.

This has resulted in fewer no-shows or missed visits and happier patients. Our practice is no longer fielding complaints about not getting reminders or getting too many reminders from our old system. Now, patients set their own preferences to receive text, calls, or emails for appointment reminders or prompts to review important portal information, such as test results.

 

Better ratings

When patients need a new provider, they head straight to Google. Online reviews give current patients a chance to evaluate their provider experience and share feedback with other current and potential patients.

We found it was highly beneficial to implement a reputation management tool so we could quickly reach out to patients if they had or perceived a negative experience.

Our practice management software interfaces with Google Reviews and asks patients to rate their experience immediately after their appointment.

Thankfully, our hard work is paying off, and we see how our care is positively impacting patients. For instance, in a recent week of 1,267 reviews, 1,076 of them rated us five stars (85 percent) and 157 (12 percent) rated us four stars.

More importantly, the system solicits feedback from the patients, so office staff can easily identify and reach out to the six patients who gave us one-star reviews. We are addressing their concerns and making sure they receive the proper care. Their negative feedback ultimately helps us deliver higher quality medicine. This type of online reputation building also helps attract new patients to the practice.

 

Fewer denials

Billing management advancements have been another unexpected perk of our practice management platform. We bill as quickly as possible and see many payers settle claims in less than seven days.

Our software helps us identify, organize, and track denials so we can easily rework or resubmit claims and get paid for the care we already provided. We are able to respond swiftly and flag incorrect codes, add data to incomplete submissions, and proactively initiate appeals when necessary. 

As more and more expenses are being pushed from the payer to the patient, the fast user interface of a patient portal is designed to increase access, convenience, and patient satisfaction, including online bill pay, online messaging, appointment requests, and prescription renewals. Our patients more connected to the practice, report increased satisfaction, and our staff has felt a lighter workload with fewer administrative tasks.

 

The bottom line 

Our practice is thriving because of extensive use of technology that has revealed best practices and workflow efficiencies. We are enjoying steady independent growth at a time when many independent practices are being pushed to sell or to join hospital groups in order to stay afloat.

We’re growing at about 13 percent a year and steadily adding providers and patients. Our integrated technology platform has been the foundation of success for both seamless expansion and patient engagement.

We recently surveyed 30,000 patients about our engagement technologies, the backbone of our patient relationship strategy. Early results from 1,200 patients found they are satisfied with the care we provide. The technologies we’ve made available-including online scheduling, patient portal access, and appointment reminders-are making their lives easier and their care experience more complete.

As we manage our practice into the next decade, we look forward to increasing the use of technology to improve our practice and further enhance how we care for patients.

 

Andrew C. Frankel is COO and co-founder of Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners which operates 14 offices throughout eastern Pennsylvania. If you have any specific questions or would like to know more about how his practice improved patient engagement, please email Andrew at afrankel@padermpartners.com.