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How Online Patient Communications Reduce No-Shows, Drive Patient Loyalty

Online patient communications with appointment reminders, important information to help consumers prepare for appointments, and prompts for preventive care are key to a connected patient experience.

The patient experience doesn’t begin when people step foot inside a hospital or clinic. It starts beforehand, with the need to find, access, and schedule care. Once the search begins online, the experience continues from the time patients book an appointment all the way through patient communications about the appointment including reminders and pre-registration workflows.

Patients are hungry for digital patient engagement that creates a seamless experience. According to December 2021 data from Salesforce, 71 percent of healthcare consumers feel responsible for managing their own health, and the survey indicated they prefer to manage it with technology. In fact, 64 percent of patients said they equate more technology offerings with better clinical care.

Self-scheduling tools present a good first step toward delivering this sort of digital patient experience, as a whopping 90 percent of consumers report they want to book their appointments online. But organizations should consider other patient access capabilities, as well, to meet and retain patient demand.

Most patients prefer organizations with three or more digital engagement channels, opening the door for omnichannel communication solutions with appointment reminders, real-time messaging, payment updates, patient education, and wellness prompts.

Patient communication solutions can also support the organization’s revenue cycle, helping to reduce costly patient no-shows, verify billing information, collect upfront payments or establish payment plans, and provide balance due reminders. Through that level of engagement and communication, healthcare organizations can not only serve patients better, but also yield better revenue and more cash flow.

Appointment reminders complement self-scheduling

Patient self-scheduling solutions are a critical first step to bringing technology to the patient experience. Most patients expect a digital experience, but not every organization offers that.

“Healthcare organizations should take a fresh look at their patient engagement strategies and assess how well they are doing at major healthcare intersections of patient self-scheduling, targeted patient communications, and pre-visit patient readiness,” said David Dyke, chief product officer for Relatient. “Patients are increasingly in charge of making healthcare decisions. And yet provider adoption of modern, consumer-grade engagement capabilities continues to lag other major consumer industries.”

Online appointment scheduling can help fill this gap, but it’s not the only solution necessary to create a positive digital patient experience. Patients need to hear from their providers leading up to and following their appointments.

“Even when people do get appointments, they often don't show up because they're confused or forget or don't have a simple reminder,” Dyke explained.

Those patient no-shows hurt clinics and hospitals financially. Patient no-shows represent missed opportunities for billing that can support the revenue cycle.

To reduce no-shows, providers should offer patients digital appointment reminders like calendar invites to block off the time they are scheduled to be at the hospital or clinic. By using omnichannel patient engagement tools, organizations can create a digitized, wraparound patient experience throughout the continuum of care.

“This creates big areas of opportunity for new technologies like mobile-friendly, secure communications,” Dyke pointed out. “Everyone generally refers to that as texting, including traditional SMS or iMessage type functions, but it is fundamentally mobile-first, secure, and asynchronous.”

Patient communication should focus on appointment readiness

The appointment date and time are just two things people need to know before visiting the doctor. But the world of healthcare is increasingly complex for patients, and organizations need to simplify matters and help people prepare.

“Once I have the appointment, I need to get ready for it,” Dyke acknowledged. “Whether that's knowing where to go, having forms filled out ahead of time, or knowing what my financial implications are going to be.”

People also need to know the logistics, like whether they can get a car service to take them to the appointment, or on what floor of the 15-story hospital the appointment will take place. Communications should also note when patients need to arrive 15 or 30 minutes before their appointments are slated to begin so they can plan ahead.

These are key pain points across the patient journey that are simple to solve with the right technology. Organizations should tap into the tools that address those pain points by understanding the role communication and scheduling now plays in the new patient experience.

Using omnichannel engagement strategies to drive value-based care

Patient communication should focus on more than just an individual episode of care as well. As healthcare organizations confront low patient volumes and, consequently, lower margins, they should also focus on omnichannel patient engagement that encourages wellness and preventive visits.

This comes after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic when fears about infection and shutdowns of non-urgent care kept many patients out of the hospital or clinic.

A January 2022 study published in JAMA Network Open found that factors like closed clinics, limited appointment availability, and fear of contagion affected patient access to care during the pandemic. A separate analysis from the Prevent Cancer Foundation showed that about half of patients still haven’t caught up on preventive screenings they missed since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Closing these care gaps will require strong patient outreach as well as patient education about preventive care.

Healthcare organizations need to bring this outreach and patient education into the digital realm. Reminding patients of the importance of preventive or wellness screenings helps get patients on the schedule, and this creates positive benefits to both the patient and the provider.

For patients, getting in for preventive screenings can help identify medical issues before they deteriorate into an emergency. And on the provider side, wellness checks and preventive care access can help get patients on the schedule, improving volume and cash flow. Wellness checks and screening also prevent more costly acute episodes of care.

“It’s a clinically motivated marketing function,” Dyke explained. “Technology should allow a provider to easily send well-baby visits to new parents or diabetic A1C reminders to patients who have pre-diabetes or diabetes, or message patients with any number of other needs, segmented by last visit date or any number of demographic or clinical data.”

It is vital for these patient communication tools to be integrated with self-scheduling systems. People don’t want multiple digital healthcare experiences; they want the whole experience to be seamless and coordinated across their unique healthcare journey.

That means providers need to examine the patient experience prior to the point-of-service and think of a quality patient experience as something that begins with serving their pre-service needs, like easy self-scheduling.  By understanding the different points within a patient’s care journey, providers can offer the right engagement solutions at the right time to support them.


About Relatient

At Relatient, we believe that the key to better health is better access. Better access lies at the intersection of scheduling and communication. Our Dash® platform combines best-in-class patient self-scheduling and centralized scheduling with modern two-way patient communication tools to provide better ace ss for patients, better utilization for providers, and better outcomes for all.

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