Using Omnichannel Patient Engagement to Support Healthcare Consumerism

NewYork-Presbyterian’s omnichannel patient engagement efforts help approach core tenets of healthcare consumerism like convenience, choice, and health equity.

Too often, getting a foot in the door at a healthcare organization is all about who you know. Leadership at NewYork-Presbyterian wants to flip that paradigm on its head by building an omnichannel patient engagement suite.

“Someone calls you and they need help getting an appointment,” Rick Evans, senior vice president and chief experience officer at NYP, said in a recent interview. “That creates inequity, right? Because then you've got access that others don't have.”

That level of health inequity isn’t going to be acceptable as organizations like NYP navigate this perfect storm of healthcare transformation. The shift to value-based care and the creep of healthcare consumerism set the stage even before the pandemic to revolutionize the medical space. But once COVID-19 swept the globe, NYP and its peers had to accelerate their efforts to digitize the patient experience to meet consumer needs.

Consumers want convenience, consumers want choice, and consumers want all of that to be equitable and accessible.

That’s been the leadup to NYP’s Front Door to Care initiative, which encapsulates work toward an omnichannel patient experience. Patients no longer have to access NYP through a single entryway; there are many channels they can leverage, Evans said, and it will ideally democratize patient access and engagement.

“Our whole Front Door to Care effort is focused on making our websites work for patients, for customers, making our phone lines and our contact centers work for people,” Evans explained. “One of the reasons we're doing it is to be equitable.”

“You don't need a friend,” he continued. “You pick the channel that you want to interact with us on, whether that's a digital channel or a phone channel, and you call or log on and you get what you want regardless of who you are or who you know.”

Using the digital front door to boost convenient care access

Fundamentally, patients want healthcare to be convenient, with 2022 surveying showing that four in 10 patients would pay extra for healthcare that was convenient for them.

That’s particularly salient for NYP, Evans said, because the New York City healthcare market is extremely convenience-driven.

“They will switch. Customers will go elsewhere if they can't get what they need quickly,” he emphasized.

Digital front doors are generally built to make healthcare more convenient, whether it be online bill pay solutions or access to telehealth appointments. Patients might prefer to book their appointments at 10 p.m. after they’ve signed off from work and put the kids to bed rather than during typical business hours, and the digital front door can enable that.

NYP prioritized that digital functionality while building its Front Door to Care and pushed the concept of convenience even further. It’s not just giving patients access to digital engagement tools; it’s streamlining them onto a single navigable journey. After all, patients don’t view healthcare as their scheduling journey being separate from their care journey or billing journey; it’s all one, and the technology NYP used to offer those capabilities needed to reflect that.

NYP uses Epic Systems for its system wide EHR and Salesforce for its customer relationship management (CRM) system. Both of those technology stacks work with one another, Evans said, and they also let the organization build more technology stacks on top of one another.

Said otherwise, patients are engaging with a single source of truth, not a disjointed bevy of patient engagement technologies.

“All of that is the same stack for everyone, so if you're coming into our website or you're calling into a call center or you're going into the Epic portal, it's all the same thing,” Evans explained. “The information there, the appointments all come from the same tech stack.”

That keeps patients from having to play phone tag with different service lines within the same healthcare organization or coordinate their own care and data across different channels.

And, importantly, it lets them choose the channel.

Omnichannel suites enable consumer choice

Every patient is different, and even the multiple healthcare encounters a single patient can have are all different, too. So it was incumbent upon NYP to build an omnichannel patient engagement system that offered multiple entry points depending upon consumer health needs.

“We want to be a multi-channel organization,” Evans explained. “You pick the channel that you want. You may pick different channels at different times based on what you're worried about, concerned about, looking for, but no matter where you came in, the tech stack that's feeding that, the model we're using is all unified so that you're not going to have this fragmentation.”

The healthcare organization has built in channel-switching capabilities across its entire digital suite, making sure that at any time, a patient can move into a different channel that is better for them. Patients can’t get stuck in an endless loop with a chatbot—although NYP does utilize those in some cases—because there’s always an exit route.

“What we found with the chatbot, it actually does help people with a lot of concerns who don't want to be on the phone, who just need directions or just need a phone number,” Evans said. “If you don't want the bot, all you have to do is say so and you get a person. And it has to be that way.”

This mindset is a direct response to healthcare consumerism, according to Sarah Ferguson, vice president of Patient Services and Patient Experience at NYP. Consumerism was a prominent trend even before the pandemic, but COVID-19 accelerated all the organization’s efforts in this area.

“We were already moving in that space, but COVID certainly accelerated it, that sense of consumerism,” she explained during the interview. “We were already seeing that more patients want choice, they want convenience, they want comfort with the different options they have available.”

Emphasizing health equity, trust in digital health

Ultimately, this level of choice should democratize healthcare access, Evans and Ferguson said. With so many front doors, it should be easier for more patients to get into NewYork-Presbyterian.

But it can’t simply be an “if you build it, they will come” situation, the pair noted. Just because online appointment scheduling exists doesn’t mean every patient can use it easily. Language barriers, for example, could keep someone front using a self-scheduling tool without the proper adjustments.

“We do have a really strong commitment to diversity of language,” Ferguson stated. “We understand that both spoken and non-spoken languages are really a critical need just to connect and understand and have that sense of confidence that someone else on the other end of the phone understands what you need.”

And it’s not just the language patients speak; health literacy is at the forefront of these digital patient engagement tools. Take, for example, NYP’s patient portal. Ferguson said patients liked the idea of having their lab results at their fingertips, especially if they were with NYP for an inpatient stay, but the raw data wasn’t particularly accessible to them.

“We keep thinking about how to optimize that portal so that when patients are logging in and they're accessing their information, they can understand it,” she noted. “They really want information on their labs and their medications in a way that they understand. So not just their dose and the frequency or the generic name, but maybe a little bit about what the medication is and what their side effects are.”

Of course, there can be some questions about trust, particularly trust in digital technologies. Some data shows that post-pandemic, patients are more open to the idea of sharing their own medical information or the possibility of that information existing on digital technologies.

Ferguson said patient education about data use has been critical to earning patient trust. The health system tells patients it wants to know their preferences because it helps NYP providers better care for them, Ferguson offered.

According to Evans, it all comes down to humanity and ethics.

“So great, we have all this technology, but we don't want to just become a series of transactions. There still has to be humanity,” he said. “Sometimes you are going to want to just make a transaction—pay a bill, make an appointment—but it has to retain humanity and connection or we'll lose trust.”

“The other piece is we have a lot of data, and we're the stewards of that data, and we've got to make sure we treat that data with respect, not just around privacy,” Evans concluded. “We can't become creepy. Our patients trust us and we've got to use their data to help them manage their lives and their healthcare, not use it for other purposes. And we are strongly committed to humanity and to the ethical use of data to help our patients manage their lives.”

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