Getty Images

Health IT Investments Remain Fixed on Patient Access to Care

Patient portals, appointment reminders, and telehealth are among the top health IT tools health systems use to improve patient access to care.

For the second year in a row, the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) Top of Mind for Health Systems report showed that health IT investments will focus on improving patient access to care.

The report, completed in partnership with KLAS Research, showed that health systems are still being challenged by the disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic caused in patient behavior and engagement. More than a quarter (28 percent) of the survey respondents said that patient access is the top area in which technology has the greatest promise for making improvements.

“It’s no secret that health systems have been facing significant challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and must address consumer demands for greater convenience and accessibility from their health care providers,” Joon Lee, MD, the executive vice president of UPMC and president of UPMC Physician Services, said in a statement about the CCM/KLAS report.

“The CCM’s Top of Mind report underscores the priority we’re placing on patient access and highlights the improvements we’re focusing on, including options for virtual care, greater self-scheduling functionality, and more engagement with our patient portal.”

Most healthcare organizations are focusing on health IT that makes it easier for patients to self-service their medical care. Around half (55 percent) of organizations are leaning on their patient portals and sending out appointment reminders to improve patient access.

The same proportion are tapping telehealth technology to open more doors to healthcare access.

Meanwhile, healthcare providers are using digital platforms to remove the friction from some common steps in the healthcare journey. About half (52 percent) of respondents said they are using online bill pay to ease the patient experience, while 49 percent have adopted online patient registration, 48 percent have an online provider directory, and 47 percent send out patient scheduling reminders to alert patients when it’s time to book a certain service.

Still, there are some patient engagement technologies that have yet to gain traction. Only about a third of organizations have adopted patient self-scheduling tools (33 percent), cost estimators (32 percent), and digital patient navigation (31 percent).

Real-time benefits managers (30 percent), home healthcare or in-home services (29 percent), and online symptom checkers (18 percent) also see more tepid adoption.

There also seems to be some disconnect between the technologies organizations offer and find beneficial and the ones patients want. For example, although the patient portal is both revered by patients and seen as effective by organizations, that’s not the case for other tools, like self-scheduling (patients want it, but organizations don’t find it effective).

“Today, self-scheduling technologies are often unable to handle the complexities of all physicians’ schedules, and many organizations find it difficult to convince providers to give up control of their current scheduling approaches,” the report authors said. “Another barrier is ease of use for patients; often self-scheduling tools can be clunky for patients to use.”

That’s the general trend for all patient access improvement initiatives, the survey showed. Respondents, especially those who work at small and midsized hospitals, overwhelmingly cited “people” as the biggest challenge to improving patient access to care. That includes both encouraging patient engagement and change management on the provider side.

Even still, organizations are laser-focused on improving the process of patient care access, with that priority being particularly salient in larger organizations.

“The process varies from practice to practice and hospital to hospital,” one health system CEO told the survey administrators. “Trying to standardize these processes is maddening. Our organization used to be one hospital, but now we have more than 15 hospitals. We have just not been able to get all those people on the same processes so we can actually realize efficiencies of scale.”

These findings come with healthcare organizations at a crossroads in patient access. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major disruptor in overall patient engagement, leaving folks often more attentive to their health and well-being but also reticent to access in-person care.

More than half (64 percent) of survey respondents said that disruption has pushed them to change their patient access strategies in the past two years, with saying those new strategies entail appointing new leadership.

Now, that patient access strategy is led by C-suite executives and patient access executives, and initiatives are born out across multiple different departments.

Next Steps

Dig Deeper on Patient data access

xtelligent Health IT and EHR