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Patients Need More in Digital Patient Experience, Patient Access

Patients and providers agree that the digital front door is important, but patients said momentum in building a digital patient experience has slowed to a halt.

Healthcare organizations aren’t on the same page as patients when it comes to the digital transformation and patient experience. While patients want more technology enabling patient access to care, their provider offices aren’t exactly offering that good patient experience, according to a new Experian Health report.

That comes off of trends from 2020, when the pandemic pushed considerable investment into the digital front door. Now, patients report that the digital transformation has slowed down, while providers admit that they aren’t offering the tools patients need for a good healthcare experience.

The report, based on survey responses from both patients and providers, showed that patients are increasingly reticent to say the digital patient experience is getting better. Indeed, only 17 percent of patients said the digital patient experience is continually improving; the remainder indicated that digital capabilities are around the same or even getting worse since the pandemic.

This is where patients and their providers agreed. Although nearly every surveyed provider said there is a business case for creating a digital front door, nearly half (47 percent) said the digital transformation sparked in 2020 has slowed down.

Patients want to see more capabilities around digital patient care access, with 76 percent saying the most important digital service their provider can offer is the ability to book appointments online or using a mobile device. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) said they want an online payment option, and 56 percent said they want digital options for managing their care.

But it’s that appointment scheduling that’s the real sticking point for patients, the data furthered. Consumer respondents said the biggest patient experience challenge they encounter is getting an appointment in a timely manner, with “seeing a practitioner quickly” being cited as the top problem for three years running, the researchers said. Separate data corroborates this, showing that the average appointment wait time in 2022 was 26 days.

Patients are also having trouble with appointment scheduling, with a particular note being flagged for booking with a specialist. Additionally, patient navigation proves challenging, with patients citing knowing where to go for care as a top challenge.

Despite some discord, providers have made some progress in meeting patient needs, especially in the past three years. Since 2020, more clinicians have implemented telehealth, text message patient outreach, and patient portal use. These investments are likely the product of the pandemic, which forced healthcare providers to implement tools that would help them engage with patients remotely.

But provider respondents know that resting on 2020’s patient experience investments won’t be enough, the survey indicated. Around half (46 percent) of providers said they think their organizations will invest more in patient engagement technologies in the next six months, and 45 percent said the digital patient experience will likely get better in the coming year.

Still, there are challenges in the way, the report revealed. Providers noted that factors like staffing issues, patient confusion caused by the pandemic, and producing cost estimates are getting in the way of a good patient experience. Providers also said that a lack of staff training and the implementation process for the technologies included in the digital front door are top challenges.

The report suggested that providers should consider investments in technologies that build on the momentum built during the pandemic. After all, 57 percent of providers said the digital and mobile solutions they have recently launched improved the patient experience, and over a third agreed that automation has been beneficial.

The satisfaction with automation may be timely, as artificial intelligence (AI) matures enough to engage with healthcare consumers, themselves. Generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT have proven effective for answering patient queries, often with the same accuracy and even better empathy than the providers themselves.

These technologies could automate secure direct messaging and remote patient engagement, as well as guide patient navigation in some cases.

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