Using online tools to educate your patients.
How do you typically try to get your patients’ attention? Do you proactively manage your relationships with established patients? Do you promote your services to prospective patients?
Many practices spend their marketing dollars on the same products year after year. They take out Yellow Pages ads, print brochures, mail out periodic newsletters, and collect patient satisfaction surveys. Exploring how new technologies could better reach current and potential patients rarely crosses the minds of most busy physicians.
Consider this: A recent poll conducted by pathologist and writer Richard Reece of a random sampling of U.S. healthcare leaders revealed that effective provider-patient communications is crucial to addressing the top three major innovations survey respondents said are transforming healthcare. They are: 1) information technology tools that allow consumers to better manage and pay for their care; 2) consumer-driven healthcare; and 3) chronic care management.
Online tools deliver results, are cost-effective, and respond to the expectations of today’s typical healthcare consumer. In a recent Harris Interactive poll, 77 percent of the adults indicated they would appreciate e-mail reminders from their physicians when they are due for a visit or for follow-up care. Two-thirds of those polled expressed a desire to receive diagnostic test results via e-mail. The survey indicated that the availability of online services may influence how patients choose their healthcare providers.
Many patients are visiting interactive bulletin boards in search of healthcare information. Some read or create their own blogs on healthcare topics. Although the majority of your patients are probably not yet this tech-savvy, the online world is a vast and ever-expanding arena for targeting healthcare consumers.
How can your practice tap into this arena? Start by providing electronic tools in your reception and waiting areas that educate and remind your patients about the preventive services you offer. Use video programs and kiosks to engage your patients’ attention while they wait.
Consider this scenario: A patient checks in for an appointment and your receptionist gives her a handheld wireless tablet PC to create her family and personal health history. When she is finished, software on the PC generates reminders and educational information relevant to her specific answers. For example, if she indicated a history of heart disease in her family, she may be given information about healthy lifestyle factors. Or she may receive information about regular colonoscopies or the benefits of that overdue tetanus shot.
Her data entry automatically allows you to generate a printed report that is concise, easy-to-read, and highlights issues for potential follow-up.
A more common approach to patient education is video. Imagine a digital presentation customized to your practice. It could highlight seasonal health concerns, a new service your practice is offering, or current medical issues in the news. Patients could view the video on a flat-panel TV screen hung on your waiting room wall. You could even install small screens in exam rooms.
Your practice most likely has defined preventive care guidelines and disease management protocols. The preparation process for patient visits does a good - but not perfect - job of reviewing specific patient charts to identify necessary tests and generate appropriate referrals for each patient who arrives for a scheduled appointment. But what about the patients who don’t make appointments when necessary? How are you identifying what they need? You don’t need to buy a pricey EMR for this. With a patient registry tool, you can extract patients from your database based on specific protocols and queue them for follow-up.
You can use call automation software to contact patients identified for follow-up and schedule appointments with them. Track patients with prescriptions that are about to expire, and bring them in for a visit rather than deal with the more costly prescription re-issue phone and fax process. Use the data your practice management software generates to identify patients due for screenings based on procedure codes and diagnoses.
The key is to capture patients’ attention at “teachable moments.” When a patient waiting in your office understands the preventive and screening services that are important for his health maintenance, you are in a position to fulfill his needs on the spot. You can increase the revenue opportunity of that visit while also managing that patient’s care more cost-effectively, affecting both sides of the profitability equation.
According to the Pew Internet Project, each day more people seek healthcare information online than see a physician. Shouldn’t you be the one helping your patients identify their health needs?
Rosemarie Nelson is a well-known healthcare technology guru and principal with the Medical Group Management Association’s Health Care Consulting Group. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Physicians Practice.