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Top 5 Practice Management Tools for a Good Patient Experience

As the healthcare industry trends toward value-based care, practice leaders should utilize management tools that foster positive patient experience.

Positive patient experiences are at the heart of care delivery, which means that organizations should make care as simplified and patient-centered as possible. As the healthcare system continues to move toward value-based care delivery, providing care that leads to a positive patient experience is more important than ever.

Practice or hospital leaders can use a variety of practice management tools such as patient portals, virtual waiting rooms, kiosks, real-time patient experience surveys, and price transparency tools to foster a seamless patient experience through the entire care encounter.

Below, outlines five specific tools that can assist in creating positive patient experiences.

Online appointment scheduling

The patient portal has emerged as a major tool used to promote patient engagement. One of the most used features on patient portals is online appointment scheduling. This feature does away with long call center wait times, allowing patients to easily set up an appointment 24 hours a day.

However, since many people still create appointments over the phone, the blend of patient portal and telephone communication can lead to fragmented appointment scheduling protocols.

With patient portal scheduling and multiple phone lines to make appointments in a single health system, UAB Health experienced this scheduling disjunction in full force.

“We had a very dysfunctional, very fragmented process that was in place,” Andy Hare, UAB Medicine’s vice president of Access Services said in a 2019 interview with “We really had no way to manage the patient experience.”

UAB found that employing an omnichannel platform allowed it to improve the patient experience while streamlining processes on the provider side as well. The platform digitizes the provider directory and supports online and telephone appointment scheduling alike.

The online provider directory enables patients to find a provider based on their symptoms or preferences. Then, patients can either schedule the appointment right from the directory, or they can call the provider’s office to speak with a scheduler.

The omnichannel platform merges data from phone calls and online scheduling into a single stream, mitigating confusion among schedulers about which provider was seeing which patient.

Curbside, virtual waiting rooms

During COVID-19, many practices began using curbside waiting room technology to promote social distancing. Upon arriving at the care facility, patients can check in from their phones and wait safely in their car until the provider is ready to see them. 

AdventHealth was in the process of designing a curbside check-in feature for the organization’s app before COVID-19 began to spread across the country. When the pandemic hit, the developers applied the technology to COVID-19 to promote positive patient experiences throughout a turbulent time in healthcare.

“All of these things were in our strategic roadmap related to our consumer engagement and journey,” Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer of AdventHealth, Tricia Smith Edris told PatientEngagementHIT in a September 2020 interview.  “So we had a lot of the tools, a lot of the tech, it was just bringing it all together and applying it to COVID.”

The curbside check-in feature allowed patients to stay connected to the clinic through automated messages that guided them through the check-in process and notified them when it was time to go into the office.

Banner Health, an Arizona-based health system, also employed the use of virtual waiting rooms when the pandemic began to address patient safety concerns.

“Safety was the biggest sense of vulnerability with COVID,” Christopher Stallings, senior director of consumer digital at Banner said in a 2020 interview with PatientEngagementHIT. “As we talked to individuals, they didn't want to go in for care. And sometimes that care was something that was actually needed. And so we needed to create an environment and talk about the environment that we had already created so that people felt more comfortable coming in for that care that they did need to have.”

Upon appointment scheduling or patient registration, the health system ensures it has the patient’s mobile phone number and asks if Banner can send information to get ready for the appointment via text message.

Then, a few days prior to the appointment, the patient receives a notification prompting them to complete the typical intake information. Then, an hour before the appointment, Banner sends another message to the patient outlining curbside waiting room procedure. Once patients arrive, they can click a link in the text message that lets the staff know the patient has arrived.

“At this point, we keep them engaged and say things like, ‘you're welcome to come in, but you're also allowed to stay comfortable in your car. We'll let you know when your exam room is ready,’” Stallings explained.

Check-in kiosks

A 2019 report from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) noted that as patient consumerism increases, practices must become hip to strategies that enhance the patient experience. Check-in kiosks that allow patients to fill out standard paperwork are one way practices can utilize technology to maximize the clinician’s ability to provide patient-centered care.

“Patients can build closer relationships with their provider and practice staff when interactions such as portal messaging or filling out forms are digitized, freeing up time and space for building rapport and engagement,” MGMA wrote in the report’s introduction.

Kiosks can also assist in addressing social determinants of health. NC Serves, a group of North Carolina-based non-profits that addresses the social and health-related needs of veterans, has set up kiosks to connect veterans with resources they need.

The kiosks collect information regarding veterans’ social determinants of health and are in accessible community spaces such as public libraries. Once the form has been submitted virtually, NC Serves staff can conduct outreach to the individual to provide them with social and/or health services.

Real-time patient experience surveys

Gathering patient insights through point-of-care surveys, also known as real-time patient experience surveys, can improve the patient experience significantly by addressing care issues as they arise.

Traditional patient experience surveys produce data on patients that are usually only available once a patient has been out of the hospital. What’s more, these surveys tend to be long and they rely on outdated methods of data collection such as phone and paper-based surveys.

Point of care surveys give providers patient experience feedback in real-time, allowing them to make adjustments to better care for the individual. Additionally, point-of-care survey tools have fewer questions than traditional patient satisfaction surveys.

“The use case for point-of-care survey solutions, then, is to capture data on key metrics at various points of care by surveying more patients in a more effective way,” a 2018 Chilmark insight report explained. “The goal is to better understand what happens to patients during their care journey, as it is happening, rather than receive a retrospective summary from a random sampling, weeks after the fact.”

Price transparency tools

CMS requires hospitals to provide a consumer-friendly list of prices for 300 shoppable services on their website in order to provide Americans with information they need to. Usually, the list consists of prices for non-emergency, elective services. CMS also mandates that hospitals post a master list of prices for every service and item it provides.

These online resources aid the patient experience by taking the mystery out of patient out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Before receiving a service, patients can research different providers’ prices to find the most affordable or high-value option, taking away the possibility for surprise medical bills. When patients are aware of how much the service will cost them, they may feel more in control of their care, thereby leading to a more positive healthcare experience.

Price transparency tools are good in theory, but the benefits only come when patients activate the technology, and according to experts, patient awareness of these tools is low.

A Health Affairs study implemented a patient outreach and marketing strategy using Google Ads to raise awareness about a New Hampshire state price transparency tool. The researchers found that patient use of the tool increased by a whopping 629 percent.

However, while usage increased during the advertisement period, the study found that patients were still likely to choose the same, sometimes more costly, clinicians. The researchers noted that this may be because the advertising campaign did not specifically target patients who are looking for the lowest cost care. Instead, some patients may value patient-provider communication or distance from home over the price of care.

Additionally, some patients may still view healthcare under the guise of higher price equating to better quality.

“Although it might not drive greater use of lower-price providers, price transparency may have other benefits,” the study authors concluded. “Patients may be more aware of their out-of-pocket expenses ahead of time, and they may be able to plan accordingly.”

When it is all said and done, practices must prioritize patient experience to deliver the highest quality of care, and these tools can assist with just that.

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