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Patients May like Their Physician…But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Stay

Posted on November 8, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Medical providers are dealing with a more impatient, demanding patient base than ever before. Armed with research, awareness, and a plethora of online data, today’s consumer patients treat their search for a medical provider in much the same way they would any purchasing decision.

They weigh the pros and cons of each provider, evaluating how each practice would fit their lifestyle and then make a decision.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the process. Even after a patient chooses a specific practice, they are not even close to becoming loyal patients.

Smooth processes trump provider loyalty

It often surprises medical practices to discover that retaining patients has less and less to do with the medical competence of the office. Today, it may not be enough for a patient to simply like their physician.

For busy patients, the road to loyalty goes directly through the processes and procedures of an office. Studies back this up. Consider this. Sixty-one percent of patients say they are willing to visit an urgent care clinic instead of their primary care clinic for non-urgent issues. This is true regardless of whether they like their primary care provider or not.

The #1 reason they prefer urgent care? Because of difficulty scheduling appointments and long wait times with a primary care physician. According to a study by Merrit Hawkins, wait times have increased by 30 percent since 2014. Patients have noticed.

These long wait times were also noted as one of the key reasons patients will switch practices according to respondents of the Patient Provider Relationship study:

  • Sixty-eight percent say that wait times in their medical office are not reasonable.
  • Sixty-six percent say that they have to wait too long to schedule an appointment.
  • Sixty-eight percent say they feel like messages are not returned in a timely manner.

Reducing wait times is crucial to patient retention

In order to increase patient retention levels, practices must find ways to offset the frustration of long wait times. Consider implementing these three methods of wait-time optimization.

  1. Self-scheduling. It is common for doctors to have calendars booked out months in advance. This can cause patient frustration and turnover. When practices allow patients to schedule themselves, however, this frustration is minimized. With self-scheduling, they can quickly see which doctors are available and when. Since 41 percent of patients would be willing to see another doctor in the practice to reduce their wait, this is a simple way to optimize your scheduling without sacrificing patient experience.
  2. Communication. There are times when long waits are unavoidable. This is where communication is key. Studies show that 80 percent of patients would be less frustrated if they were kept aware of the issue. When you know an appointment is going to be delayed, send out an email or text letting them know.
  3. Texting. If your patient has a question, texting can save them a lot of time. Research shows that it takes just 4 seconds to send the average text message. Compare that to the several minutes it takes to make a phone call. Factor in playing phone tag and you’ve saved both time and headaches. Unfortunately, the Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that while 73 percent of patients would like to be able to be able to send a text message to their doctor’s office, just 15 percent of practices have that ability. Practices in that 15 percent will stand out from their competitors.

In this era of consumer-driven behavior, practices need to prioritize ways to create smooth processes for patients. Medical offices should look at ways to optimize their processes to reduce frustration and wait times for patients.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

Bridging the Gap between What Patients Want and What Practices Offer

Posted on October 11, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

With the growing pressure of increasingly complex healthcare regulations, malpractice litigation, and expectations of quality care, modern-day medical practices face an unprecedented set of challenges when it comes to running a successful practice.

Throw in marketing, billing, scheduling, appointment reminders, and all of the other day-to-day aspects of running a practice, and many practices are maxed out.

But while practices are busy juggling this growing number of expectations, patient satisfaction has been falling.

Today’s patients have become accustomed to a buyer-centered approach in nearly every industry. Likewise, they expect the same from their healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, many practices have been slow to adapt.

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study recently found that the average medical provider with a panel of 2,000 patients could lose around 700 patients in the next couple of years. A large number of these patients are leaving due to dissatisfaction with their experience at a practice.

Much of the growing dissatisfaction from patients is in relation to practices not offering the services and technology that they have come to expect. Experts warn that the medical field lags behind every other industry in the adoption of new technology. This inevitably leads to a gap between what patients expect from their medical practice and what practices actually offer.

Perform a thorough gap assessment

According to the study, 60 percent of patients are not completely satisfied with practice logistics such as appointment scheduling, reminders, and communication. In fact, logistics is the area in which patients have the greatest overall dissatisfaction with their practice.

It is important that practices both understand what patients want the most and then complete an assessment to determine areas that need improvement.

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that patients want many additional touchpoints, including:

  • Text appointment reminders
  • Appointment alerts by email
  • Appointment alerts by text
  • Being able to text message back and forth with the practice
  • Allowing patients to initiate text messages to the practice

Unfortunately, a large number of practices do not offer these services. The following chart highlights how many practices offer each of these services, compared to a goal of 100 percent implementation.

With the majority of patients expressing dissatisfaction with the logistics offered by their medical practice, it is clear that changes need to be made. This requires the implementation of new, or more robust, technology.

Implement technology without distress

Practices want to be more efficient and provide an improved patient experience, but the fear of making the wrong choices around new technology can hold them back. Each of the aforementioned services have the potential to either improve processes and efficiency or make them more difficult. The outcome depends on the practice’s ability to carefully assess each piece of technology before moving forward.

There are steps you can take to eliminate some of the risk when choosing a new technology. One of the most important things you can do is to ask right questions before and during the selection process. Consider the following:

  1. Who will be impacted by this change?
  2. How will the technology affect your current workflow?
  3. Is the technology compatible with your current systems?
  4. Will the technology meet current and future compliance requirements?
  5. What will the implementation process include?
  6. How have other offices felt about the technology?
  7. What type of on-going customer service and training does the company offer?

When it comes to achieving high levels of patient satisfaction, it is critical that practices bridge the gap between what patients want and what is currently being offered. After performing a gap assessment and carefully vetting available technology, practices will be able to move forward in a way that will reduce the load on employees, create meaningful improvements in the practice, and boost the bottom line.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

How Does Age Impact Patient Satisfaction?

Posted on September 13, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

If you walked into the average medical practice on any given day, you would see patients ranging in age from 1 to 101. Understanding and adapting to the needs of such a diverse group of patients is challenging. Many offices are struggling with this, and patient dissatisfaction is at an all-time high.

In the Patient-Provider Relationship Study, recently commissioned by Solutionreach, researchers found that one in three patients are likely to switch practices within the next couple of years.

The question is why. What is happening to patient loyalty? And more importantly—what can medical offices do to stem the tide?

In addition to studying patient switching preferences, the study also examined the dynamics of generational satisfaction and preferences, posing the following questions:

  • What impact does age have on patient satisfaction and retention?
  • What role does it play in patient loyalty?
  • Which services create satisfaction for the different generations?

A Closer Look at How Age Impacts Patient Satisfaction

To better understand how age impacts patient retention, it is important to take a closer look at the results from each of the key age groups.

  1. Millennials—Satisfaction levels among the youngest cohort were dismal. Millennials are the least satisfied with all aspects of the practice, including the doctor, office team, and practice logistics. In fact, a stunning 81 percent say that they are not completely satisfied with their medical office. Unsurprisingly, millennials are also extremely likely to switch practices in the upcoming years. Nearly half—46 percent—of millennials say they will probably move on to a new medical practice in the next couple of years.
  2. Gen X—The satisfaction levels of Gen Xers lies somewhere between millennials and boomers. The numbers are still concerning, however. Two out of three Gen Xers are not satisfied with their medical office. Around 35 percent say they will probably change practices in the near future.
  3. Baby Boomers—While millennials are three times more likely to switch providers than boomers, there are still a significant number of unhappy patients in this demographic. Nearly 60 percent of boomers are not completely satisfied with their medical office and one in five will switch practices in the near future.

Regardless Of Age—Technology Boosts Patient Satisfaction

It’s easy to assume that everyone who moves on to a new practice does so because they move or change insurance providers. The truth is a growing number are switching for other reasons.

Why are they so dissatisfied?

Picture the average patient in your mind. What characteristics about them have changed over the past few decades?

The biggest thing is that we have become unbelievably attached to technology—it’s rare to find any of us without either a phone, tablet, or computer. We use technology for virtually everything.

This is the area in which medical practices are struggling to keep up. Solutionreach’s study found that this is the exact category in which patients are least satisfied with their medical office. This is true regardless of age. Millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers all want more technology.

The biggest gap between what patients want and what medical practices offer is around texting. Texting has been the most used form of communication for over a decade now, but according to the survey less than 30 percent of practices offer any texting options. Today, every office should be able to:

  • Send a text—94 percent of millennials and 87 percent of Gen Xers want to receive texts from your office. But it’s not just the “youngsters.” Two out of three baby boomers also want you to text them.
  • Receive a text—While some offices have started sending out reminder texts, far fewer actually have the ability to have a patient initiate text messaging through the office number. Eighty-seven percent of millennials and seventy-nine percent of Gen Xers say that they want to be able to text their doctor. Once again, boomers are also on board—58 percent say they want to send a text to their medical practice.

Today’s patient lives are completely intertwined with technology. Medical practices will need to adapt to using technology in new ways to connect with patients or risk losing one in three patients in the coming two years.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

Patients Frustrated with Poor Practice Logistics

Posted on August 9, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

A new study shows that patients have just about had it with poor practice logistics—things like communication, scheduling, and accessibility. There have certainly been signs this was coming for quite some time, but now the data shows patients really are getting fed up with not having some of the same basic tools they have in service and retail interactions.

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study, which was conducted by Solutionreach, surveyed over 2,000 patients about their recent experiences with different types of providers. Over 500 of those who responded had seen a primary care provider in the past year and were asked questions about that interaction. The questions focused on satisfaction with the provider, their staff, and the practice in general as well as likelihood of switching providers and preferences around communication and accessibility.

The results were pretty stunning. Only 35 percent of patients were completely satisfied with their primary care provider and thirty-four percent of patients said they were considering switching primary care providers in the next couple of years. In addition, 12 percent had switched in the past year. And, quite a few left for reasons other than things like changing insurance or moving. Just under 40 percent of those who had switched said they left because of customer service and experience issues. The problems they listed included:

  • Feeling more like a number than a person
  • Trouble getting appointments
  • Poor communication with/from the staff
  • The staff were not friendly
  • Not satisfied with the staff (other than the provider)

These are very fixable issues. We’re talking almost entirely about the personal perceptions of patients about their interactions with staff, with just a couple exceptions. And those exceptions have largely to do with communication and access, which are also pretty manageable things to change.

You can improve communication and appointment scheduling, and with the right technology, you can do it in a way that feels more personal as well. Not surprisingly many patients want to schedule appointments online and they want options for email and text for communications like reminders. In fact, 79 percent of patients said they wanted text messages from their primary care providers.

It’s important to note that these things don’t just improve the patient experience outside the practice, they save time for staff, which means a better experience when patients are in the practice. So why are providers so hesitant to invest in tools that can fix this problem?

To some degree, it appears to be about fears that these investments won’t pay off—in added reimbursement or return on investment (ROI) from savings. In a study conducted by HIMSS in 2015, providers cited time constraints and lack of reimbursement as barriers to improving patient engagement. The truth is many of the things that fall under “engagement” can also be seen as “customer service,” and patients want better customer service. In another study conducted by MicKinsey, patients said they had similar expectations of service from healthcare providers and non-healthcare companies.

While there will never be added reimbursement for smiling or greeting patients by name, there are some clear areas of ROI that can make up for that. Email and text reminders have been shown to reduce no-shows by 30 to 50 percent, saving the average primary care practice about $40,000 a year. Online appointment scheduling not only saves the practice on scheduling calls, which generally take four to eight minutes, but it can also help patients find earlier appointments, shortening wait times.

For providers who worry that texting with patients will suck up more time with no reimbursement, there is hope as well. Texts take only about four seconds on average while the average call is more like two or more. Also, texts can be responded to at the convenience of providers and staff. There is no need to play phone tag, which is a waste of time for everyone.

When it comes to reimbursement for engagement and service activities, it’s time to think bigger picture. Reimbursement can be time saved. It can be patients retained. It can be increased compliance or fewer phone calls. There are a lot of ways a better patient experience can translate into a better bottom line.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

Why Secure Text Messaging Is So Much Better Than SMS

Posted on January 14, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of my most popular articles of 2013 was titled “Texting is Not HIPAA Secure.” Certainly HIPAA compliance is good enough reason for every healthcare organization to implement a secure text messaging solution in their office. Considering the number of organizations I hear are recklessly sending PHI over SMS, I expect this is going to come back and really hit some organization where it hurts. Plus, you won’t be able to hide since the carriers often save the SMS messages for easy discovery by a legal team (which is another reason why SMS isn’t HIPAA compliant). It might take a major HIPAA violation for the industry to wake up.

HIPAA violation issues aside, there are so many other reasons why a healthcare organization should consider using a secure text messaging solution as opposed to insecure SMS as many do today.

As most of you know, I’m adviser to secure messaging company, docBeat (Full Disclosure). As I’ve worked with docBeat, I’ve been amazed at how much more a secure messaging platform can do beyond the simple messaging that you get with SMS. All of these features make a secure messaging option not just a way to avoid a HIPAA violation, but also a better option than default SMS.

Here’s a look at some of the ways a secure messaging solution like docBeat is better than SMS:

Message Delivered/Read Status – I think this is one of the most underrated features of a secure message solution. With an SMS message you have no idea what’s happening with the message. You have no idea if the message has even been delivered to the recipient, let alone read. We’ve all had times where we receive a SMS message well after it was sent. In the case of docBeat, they have a status indication on each message so you know if the message has been delivered to the recipient and if it’s been read. A simple, but powerful feature.

Secure Text to Groups – While SMS is great for sending a message to one individual, it fails when you want to include an entire group in a conversation. The concept of group messaging is really powerful in so many areas of healthcare. Much like the reply to all in email, you have to be careful not to abuse a group text message, but it’s easier to manage since they’re usually short messages that are easily consumed. In docBeat, they offer this group text messaging to a predefined group of users or to an adhoc group that you create on the fly. I especially like this feature when you need help from any one of many doctors, but you’re not sure which is available to help.

Controlled Message Storage – While this has HIPAA implications, the ability to control and audit the messages that are sent is really valuable for an organization. In the wild world of SMS you have no idea what the carrier is doing with those messages. Once they’re on the phone, there’s not an easy way to wipe them off if something happens to the device. With a secure message solution you can control and audit the secure messages. This might include knowing how many messages are sent, how quickly the messages were read, where the messages are stored, etc.

Mobile and Web – In a healthcare organization there are often a lot of people you want to message who don’t have a mobile phone issued by the organization. This often means those people start using their personal device to SMS providers (not a good thing) or they just can’t participate in the messaging. docBeat runs on the iPhone, Android and the web. In most cases, the web option is a perfect way for the non mobile staff to participate in the messaging. Try making that a reality with SMS.

Quick Messages for Common Responses – While many people have gotten very fast at typing on their cell phone, it still takes some time. One way to streamline this is to use quick canned messages for responses you give all the time. It’s much easier to one click a message like “I’m on my way. Be there in a minute.” than to try and type that message into the phone.

Scheduled Messages – Considering the 24/7 nature of healthcare, there are often times when someone is working late at night, but the message doesn’t need to be read until the next morning. Scheduled messages are a perfect solution for this problem. You can create and schedule the message to get sent at a reasonable time rather than waking the doctor up needlessly.

Secure Attachments – While MMS mostly works, I’ve seen where some telcom providers don’t support attachments using MMS. Unfortunately, the telcom provider doesn’t tell you this and so you have no way of knowing that the attachment you sent never made it to the recipient. Plus, MMS works best for pictures. It doesn’t support the wide variety of document formats that a secure messaging provider can support.

Ability to Send Location with Text – While you have to be careful with this feature, it can be a really nice added value to your organization to know their location. Are they sending you a message at your hospital or at their kids soccer game? Knowing this little piece of information can change your workflow so the patient gets better care.

Message Expiration – We could call this feature the snapchat feature. As we saw with the popularity of snapchat, there are times when you may want a message to only live for a certain duration. As is the case with most data retention policies in healthcare, some organizations love this feature and some hate it. Of course, each institution can choose how they want to use this type of feature. In the SMS world, you don’t have a choice. You’re at the mercy of the telcom providers decisions.

Automatic Message Routing to On Call Individual – One of the great features of docBeat is the ability to identify the On Call individual in a group. This was originally applied to docBeat’s call forwarding functionality, but they recently applied it to their secure messaging as well. Now you can message a provider and if they’re not around it can be auto routed to the on call provider. A powerful concept that wasn’t possible before.

One Messaging Platform – This is going to take a while to see fully fleshed out, but those in healthcare are starting to get messages from a variety of sources: SMS, phone, EHR, HIE, Patient Portal, medical devices, etc. As it stands today, those messages have to be checked and responded to in a number of different ways and locations. Over time, I believe each of these messages will be integrated into one messaging platform. The beauty of a secure messaging platform like docBeat is that it can handle any type of message you throw at it. We’re not far off from the day where a doctor can check her docBeat message list and see messages from all of the sources above. The idea of a unified messaging platform is really beautiful and can’t come soon enough.

I’m sure I’m leaving off other examples that I hope you’ll share in the comments. As I look through this list of secure text messaging benefits over SMS, I think we’re at the point where many will choose a secure messaging solution in healthcare because of the added features and not just to try and avoid a HIPAA violation.