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Better change management key to patient self-scheduling buy-in

Patients appear on board for patient self-scheduling technologies, but buy-in from providers is another story.

Healthcare organizations that have implemented patient self-scheduling technologies have done so with success, but it’s going to require a better change management plan to get the provider and administrative buy-in to make the technology adoption widespread, according to the latest from KLAS.

The report, received via email and which recounted insights from before and during the Patient & Consumer Innovation Summit 2023, outlined where organizations are at in terms of adopting patient engagement technologies like self-scheduling programs, plus other communication tools.

Self-scheduling adoption stymied by provider perceptions

Patient self-scheduling tools, which let healthcare consumers book their own medical appointments online without calling the hospital or clinic, are becoming more popular, the report showed. These tools are most commonly deployed in family medicine, general pediatrics, OB/GYN, physical therapy, mammography, ophthalmology, and orthopedics, according to KLAS.

But despite the promise of self-scheduling technologies, the KLAS report painted a picture of provider hesitation. Limited provider buy-in, often fueled by a fear of losing control over one’s schedule, is one of the leading barriers to adopting self-scheduling technology. That, plus perceptions that the tool will result in higher no-show rates, are keeping many clinics and hospitals from implementing self-scheduling.

Limited patient access to technology, patient perceptions that they’ll get more availability when calling directly, and some integration woes also get in the way, the report pointed out.

According to leaders convened at the conference, change management is essential to overcoming those issues, especially provider hesitation.

Organizations should foremost stress that self-scheduling is a core component of their patient engagement strategies. This means having resources committed to the project. Next, leaders and potential clinician champions need to debunk any myths associated with the tools, like that the tool could create health disparities.

Third, organizations must define the self-scheduling governance structure to oversee change management and have champions oversee the initiative. Fourth, organizations need to get buy-in from clinical and administrative teams.

And finally, they must track their progress and communicate wins and course corrections.

For their part, vendors need to be willing to solve integration problems, be transparent about provider resource requirements, create options for automated triage and patient self-service systems, and support good vendor-client communication and data sharing.

On the provider side, they need to partner with vendors, communicate with vendors, offer a good organizational education approach, and have their own strategic approach to self-scheduling.

Among other self-scheduling best practices are a top-down leadership team to select a tool, standardized appointment types, ensuring appointment names are clear and understandable for patients, providing multiple options for existing and prospective patients, allowing patients to review and correct information after booking the appointment, providing waitlists, and using automated appointment reminders for cancellations and rescheduling.

Patient communication automation lessens workforce strain

In addition to patient self-scheduling systems, the KLAS summit zeroed in on patient communication systems, revealing that automated patient communication tools are key solutions to healthcare’s workforce problems.

In particular, organizations are using automated text messages for appointment reminders, to fill open appointment slots, to reduce no-shows, and to increase the number of patients getting preventive screenings. They are also using voice bots to handle low-level patient inquiries in the call center.

There is high ROI here, organizations shared at the summit, because they are able to redirect FTEs usually in charge of these duties to other organizational needs.

But despite the potential of automation, organizations are still struggling with their overall patient communications strategy, with a leading issue being overwhelmed providers and staff. Summit attendees posited that AI could help here, with the technology showing promise for triaging patient messages and even generating responses where appropriate.

There is also the question of patient access to technology, which most organizations can mostly address by still leveraging low-tech solutions, like phone calls. Automation is emerging as helpful for managing call volumes.

Attendees also pointed out that supporting the language access needs of LEP patients is challenging, as access to in-person translators can be skimpy. Using AI for real-time translation could be helpful, but providers need to remain mindful that these tools can produce some translation errors.

Notably, not many healthcare organizations have gotten on board with charging patients for answering messages. Starting in 2020, providers have had the option to bill for responding to patient queries, the bulk of which get covered by insurance anyways, according to a separate analysis.

Per KLAS, 72 percent of summit attendees are not currently charging for patient messages, but 23 percent are considering it. Only 5 percent of attendees are presently charging for patient messages.

The most common reason for not charging for patient messages includes health equity and how the cost could harm patient care. Experts also had concerns about how charges could impact patient satisfaction, raise liability concerns about gaps in care, and create a negative perception of the organization.

Additionally, leaders said their providers don’t want to charge patients, that it goes against organizational missions, and that there aren’t any compelling historical results from charging for patient messages.

Patients poised to use health tech

KLAS also gathered insights from patients by surveying patients at Alameda Health System, Baptist Health Jacksonville, Indiana University Health, and University of Kansas Health System.

Through the surveys of around 4,000 patients, the researchers found that patients are pretty comfortable using technology in their daily lives. And while there are some places where patient engagement technology is working well, like wayfinding and patient satisfaction surveying, self-scheduling and find-a-provider tools could work better.

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