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4 Health Technologies that Boost Patient Experience, Satisfaction

Health technologies have the power to streamline the pain points of the patient experience, helping to boost patient satisfaction.

The medical industry is increasingly focusing on creating a better patient experience and driving patient satisfaction scores. But while many efforts must center on improving interpersonal relationships between patients and providers, organizations can also tap health technologies to make the experience of care better for patients.

Healthcare, with all of its intricacies, puts particularly high burden on the patient consumer. Patients are in charge of finding their care, disclosing important medical data prior to appointments, and reaching out to providers for help in between visits. But between each of those patient responsibilities is a number of pain points that taint the entire healthcare experience.

Patients can’t always get through to schedule their appointments, or when they can it’s inconvenient and they sit on the phone for long periods of time. Sharing their medical data is not always easy, and many patients are left filling out paper forms to update their health records before each annual physical.

And communicating with their providers outside of the clinic, which providers are increasingly seeing as important, could be much easier if patients and providers had a better understanding of digital communication tools.

Health tech developers have begun to identify those pain points and are introducing new products to market that could help alleviate them. As providers work to ease the healthcare experience for patients, these tools may be of help.

Digitizing appointment scheduling systems

Evidence suggesting that patients want digital appointment scheduling is growing. While most organizations recognize that many patient cohorts still want the option to call for a medical appointment, the patient demand for an online experience is becoming stronger.

Online appointment scheduling can take multiple forms, organizations are showing. While most may think of a website on which patients can book an appointment – which are indeed becoming more prevalent – some organizations are digitizing appointment access in other ways.

At Aria – Jefferson Health, long call center wait times became a major patient satisfaction barrier.

“There was no shyness about coming to us and complaining about the current situation, which is why we felt like we needed to do something to improve it,” said Sigrid Warrender, Aria senior director of Health Information Management.

Digitizing call centers by connecting patients with automated prompts streamlined these issues. Patients looking for directions to the facility, for example, could get that without ever connecting with a human. And when patients had a complex need that truly needed human input, they could get to them, as well.

“We were focused on patient satisfaction, getting into the calls, getting to a scheduler, and getting callers to a live person when they needed a live person,” Warrender explained. “We focused on getting the information that patients needed if they could get it through voice prompting or interactive voice dialing, or getting to a physician office when they had an urgent emergency that needed attention as quickly as possible.”

Providing an in-person option was a good move by Aria – Jefferson Health, most experts agree. While online appointment scheduling is becoming more popular, most experts agree that healthcare organizations need to maintain a phone line and ensure there are people on their side of the call center interaction.

“Anybody over the age of 40 is probably going to be calling to make an appointment because they've been trained to do so,” says Alexandra Morehouse, Banner Health senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “That's all they know, and they like the personal connection. They're much more likely to have a personal relationship with the doctor and with the doctor's receptionist.”

And having a person on the line ensures patients with complex needs, regardless of age or likelihood to adopt digital tools, is key. This will ensure the patient gets to see the right kind of doctor and that their care will be coordinated.

Collecting patient data with patient intake kiosks

Patient intake and registration is a considerable pain point for both providers and patients. Obtaining updated information about the patient, assessing patient insurance status, and understanding patient needs prior to an appointment can be cumbersome and time-consuming, especially when this process is paper-based.

More organizations are looking to patient intake kiosks, which are waiting room tools that allow patients to enter their information while they wait for their appointments to begin. These tools interface with the EHR, allowing clinicians to access this information once they meet with the patient.

Data from KLAS revealed that digital patient intake tools are changing how organizations look at patient registration. The industry focus on good healthcare experiences and patient centricity has prompted more organizations to tap kiosks to make registration more seamless.

“How often do patients have to fill out a form like the one below, submitting the same information over and over again—information that clinic employees must then spend time reviewing and transcribing into patient records?” KLAS posited in a summary of the report.

“Patient intake management solutions offer a potential remedy to this inefficient process as they can drastically reduce the churn, duplication, and storage requirements that accompany traditional paper forms,” the summary continued.

Sixty percent of provider organizations that use patient intake systems said the tool helped them become more efficient, focus more on the patient experience, and eliminate some overhead costs associated with traditional paper patient intake strategies, KLAS reported.

Bedside tablets boost entertainment, education

Naturally, giving patients access to entertainment technologies will make their time in the hospital or clinic more enjoyable. Bedside tablets and television technologies have made it easier for organizations to give patients access to the tools that will keep them entertained during their care experience.

But these tools often do so much more, hospital leaders say.

“It gives patients entertainment, it gives them games, and it gives them the ability order food,” said explained Sara Jaegar, who is part of the clinical information systems group at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a part of BJC HealthCare, which uses bedside tablets for patient entertainment. “But it also has those education goals in there. From our prospective, as clinical folks, that’s what we wanted to get up and going.”

At BJC HealthCare, providers can use these bedside entertainment tablets to assign patients different education programs to help boost patients’ understanding of their care. This will ideally lead to a more engaged patient, experts say.

A 2018 survey conducted by SERMO on behalf of PatientPoint and think tank Digital Health Coalition revealed that 95 percent of clinicians use some sort of clinic education tool, whether it be through bedside tablets, waiting room television screens, or mHealth tools that patients can use on their phones inside or outside the clinic.

These tools help boost the patient experience, three-quarters of the survey respondents said. Patients like to know what is going on with their care, experts say, and a well-informed patient is able to have more meaningful interactions with their providers.

“Our data confirm that physicians see technology as a valuable part of their practice of medicine,” said Digital Health Coalition Executive Director Christine Franklin. “They see, understand and most importantly are excited about how future innovations in the space are poised to transform how they interact with and educate patients.”

Patient portals enable secure direct messaging

While clinicians can tap third-party tools to enable secure direct messaging, this function is one of the key elements of the patient portal. Alongside promoting patient data access, the portal allows patients and providers to securely communicate about patient care needs and can ultimately improve the patient experience.

Secure direct messages can help keep patients out of the clinic when possible. Patients with minor medical questions can use the tools to contact their providers and get an answer without the hassle of visiting the office.

Evidence shows secure direct messages can also support patient self-management. A study looking at secure direct messages between providers and their pregnant patients revealed that patient portal messages with relevant, personalized self-care information was useful for patients.

However, patients and providers both need to know the best uses for secure direct messaging in order for it to have an impact on patient experience and health. In the above-mentioned study, patient outreach messages were effective because they were tailored to individual patient needs based on data in their EHRs.

Other studies, like one published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, revealed that patients like secure direct messaging, but need a little more guidance about when they should use it.

Patients reported worrying about abusing provider time and the lack of compensation providers receive for answering secure messages. Patients also expressed confusion about what is and is not an urgent matter that should be discussed via direct message.

Providers said they were concerned about communicating appropriately and sensitively with their patients.

“Unlike other portal features such as scheduling appointments or requesting prescription refills, secure messaging requires interaction with another individual and therefore users need to understand more than simply the technical aspects of how to access a feature,” the research team pointed out.

“Appropriate use requires an understanding of the type of information that should be conveyed via the portal and the etiquette rules of electronic communication,” the researchers continued.

Experts recommend patients and providers speak in person about their expectations for secure direct messaging use. Providers should outline when patients can expect answers to their secure messages and explain the different types of medical questions they are able to answer via secure message.

For their part, providers should also understand the type of language that will help patients understand their health. Having a read on patient health literacy levels, for example, will be essential. Using sensitive and culturally competent language as they would during in-person conversations will also be important.

As healthcare organizations continue to emphasize positive patient experiences, they may look beyond their interpersonal relationships with patients. Health technologies can help alleviate the sticking points in patient care encounters, leaving staff with more time to connect with patients.

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