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Addressing Common Patient Frustrations: Wait Times

Posted on April 11, 2018 I Written By

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

Experts agree that it is critically important that practices keep their finger on the pulse of patient satisfaction—and one of the best ways to do this is through patient surveys. However, the question remains: what should a practice do if a survey reveals there is a problem?

It is of utmost importance that any issue found in a survey be studied and addressed. Interestingly, the vast majority of patient irritants do not relate to the quality of care at all. In fact, a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96 percent of all patient complaints are related to customer service rather than poor care. Some of the biggest complaints include:

  • Excessive waiting times
  • Inadequate communication
  • Disorganized operations

Over the next few months, we will be digging in to each of these topics in depth. Today we will start with the top frustration of patients: excessive wait times. These long wait times, often associated with poor time management, are also some of the major criticisms reported by respondents of the Patient Provider Relationship study. Check out some of these numbers:

  • Sixty-eight percent of patients say that the 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.

The problem is only getting worse. Average practice wait times have risen by 30 percent since 2014. Unfortunately, the common patient response to long wait times is simply to change practices. Around one in three patients say they are likely to find a new medical practice in the next couple of years. So how do you reduce long wait times?

  1. Understand how long is too long. Studies have found that about 20 minutes is the maximum amount of time a patient is willing to wait before becoming frustrated. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 53 percent of physicians say patients at their practice typically wait for more than 20 minutes. If you are not sure where you stand in terms of wait time, carefully track your wait times, both in the waiting room and the exam room. There are a variety of programs and apps that can do this for you. Or if you’d prefer to go old-school, you could acquire a supply of timers. When a patient checks in or is taken to the exam room, simply press the START button. Keep an eye on the timers and recognize when a patient has waited longer than is optimal.
  2. Provide clear communication. One of the easiest fixes for long wait times is often overlooked—communication. Eighty-six percent of patients say that if they were told in advance about a long wait time that they would feel less frustrated. So make sure to let patients know if the doctor is running behind schedule. You can also consider shooting off a quick text message to incoming patients if your office is running very late. If you are tracking wait times, make sure to acknowledge the inconvenience and apologize when the wait goes longer than 20 minutes. This would minimize frustration for nearly 70 percent of patients.
  3. Improve front desk workflow. Melanie Michael, lead author of a study that looked at interventions for lowering patient wait times found that one of the critical factors in reducing wait times was the front desk management. She noted, “[At one practice], we found that these people were trying to answer phones, field questions from patients in the waiting room, check patients in, secure insurance info, and many other tasks.” Automation of these tasks enables practices to get patients seen by the physician faster and more efficiently. Appointment reminders, scheduling, and check-in are all processes that can (and should) be automated.

Wait times are directly correlated to the satisfaction of patients. If your patient survey finds that people are feeling annoyed about the wait at your office, make changes now. If you wait too long, you may find you have no patients left.

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.

Easy Tips to Understand and Leverage Patient Survey Results

Posted on March 14, 2018 I Written By

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

Multiple studies have shown that surveys are critical to the economic health of medical practices. Experts say that using surveys to improve the patient experience can be a strategic differentiator for practices.

To read more about the increasing role of surveys in reimbursement, profitability, and quality care, check out this post from last month.

Once you’ve started sending out regular patient surveys and getting consistent responses, it’s time to take action. In order to get the most out of a survey, it is critical to analyze the responses and implement changes based on the results. Here are a few tips to get started.

Figure out how many survey responses are needed.

Any time a survey is sent, there must be enough responses received to have a “statistically significant” result. Obviously, if only one or two patients respond to a survey, those answers will not be a true picture of how patients view a practice. What is considered “statistically significant?” This will vary by practice size.

Start by finding out how many active patients visit your practice—for now, don’t count any inactive files. Of course, it would be amazing if every single patient responded to the survey, but that is pretty near impossible. Instead, each practice must decide what margin of error is acceptable to them personally. The greater margin of error found to be acceptable, the fewer responses needed to be statistically significant. For example, if a 10 percent margin of error is okay with you, only 100 out of 3,000 patients need to respond. If, however, a three percent margin of error makes you more comfortable, you would need 810 responses out of 3,000.

Use the following table as a basic rule of thumb when deciding how many responses are needed:

Leverage technology to calculate the hard numbers.

In order to easily understand survey results, responses need to be converted into percentages or averages (depending on question type) and formatted in a way that makes it easy to compare responses. For example, it doesn’t mean much that 281 respondents said that they had a poor experience. If, however, that number is converted into 40 percent that had a poor experience, it is much easier to recognize a problem. Survey answers should be imported into a system that analyzes the results and converts these into simple statistics. Fortunately, it is common for the platform used to originally send the survey to do this automatically. Many will also include trends over time, highlighting if problems are worse or better during certain times of the year. If the survey-sending platform does not include an analysis tool, there are a huge number of programs (including free tools) that can accomplish this task. Even programs like excel work perfectly fine for this.

Take action.

Great—you’re starting to get a feel for what patients think. But now what? Far too many practices collect incredibly valuable information only to sit on their hands and ignore it. But for a practice to really thrive, it is crucial to set goals and objectives based on survey results. After all, patients are communicating what they want. It’s up to you to see how you can accommodate their needs.

My favorite goal creation method can be remembered by the word SMART.

  • Specific– Select a specific goal, being as clear as possible.
  • Measurable– Decide how you will measure the success or failure of your goal.
  • Achievable – Do you have the time, money and resources to complete the goal?
  • Relevan– Not every goal will improve your business. Pick one that will make a real difference.
  • Timely  Set a realistic deadline for goal completion.

Let’s consider a real-life example. A common survey question for healthcare practices is, “How long did you wait to be seen?” If the score comes up as higher than ideal (typically more than 20 minutes), improvements are needed.

This is where SMART goal setting comes into play.

  • Specific—Set a specific goal. For instance, “Our goal is to lower wait times to 15 minutes.”
  • Measurable—Decide how to measure the result. Will you be timing the waits yourself? Will you send out a follow-up survey?
  • Achievable—Set goals that can realistically be accomplished. If your average wait time is over an hour, for example, trying to adjust that to just 15 minutes is probably not currently achievable. Try to set smaller improvements and over time you can reach your ultimate goal.
  • Relevant—Look at the goal you’ve created. Will lowering wait times improve your business? Don’t set goals that won’t really have an impact on your long-term success. In this case, reducing wait times will have a positive impact on your business so it is a relevant goal.
  • Timely— Set a realistic time frame. It probably won’t happen in a week, but you may not want it to take a year. Three months may be the right timeframe to make improvements. Check back at that point to see if you achieved your goal.

As practices consistently strive to make changes based on survey results, the patient experience will improve dramatically. Because setting specific improvement goals is so important to practice success, over the next few months I’ll be addressing some of the most common patient frustrations uncovered on surveys. I will include SMART goals to improve these frustrations and boost patient satisfaction.

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.

It’s Time to Rethink Patient Matching

Posted on February 28, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Wes Rishel in partnership with Verato.

Henry Ford famously said, “If I’d asked them what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.'” When it comes to patient matching – the cornerstone of health information interoperability – we seem to be asking for faster horses. But what we need is a totally new approach.

The “horse” here is probabilistic patient matching. Probabilistic algorithms match two patient records by comparing them directly to each other and determining the probability that the two records belong to the same patient. Basically, if the demographic data (like name, address, and birthdate) looks very similar across the two records, then a match is made.

These algorithms have been the preferred approach to resolving and matching patient identities since the 1980s. But today’s healthcare landscape is very different from that of the 1980s. Healthcare organizations are no longer simply providers or payers – there are now Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), care management companies, and even health systems with their own insurance plans.

There is now a larger push to share and exchange patient data between all of these organizations and with state and federal agencies and do analytics on a massive scale for research and population health. And we can anticipate an explosion of patient data coming from many new sources, including patient portals, patient engagement applications, telemedicine applications, personal health records, and Internet of Things (IoT) medical devices.

All of these factors make today’s patient matching challenges much more difficult than those of the 1980s, and yet we’re applying the same matching approach we used three decades ago. The consequences are drastic: up to one in five patient records are not accurately matched within the same health care system according to CHIME, and as many as half of patient records are mismatched when data is transferred between health care systems according to the ONC.

As a technology adviser over the years, I frequently advised governmental and private entities with over a million patient records that, as flawed as it was, probabilistic matching was their only choice. But probabilistic matching has clearly reached its limits. Even large and expensive efforts within healthcare organizations to improve and tune probabilistic algorithms achieve only incrementally better results. It is time to move on from the “horse.” We need a totally new approach.

A completely new approach in healthcare is a familiar approach elsewhere

It is time to emulate Henry Ford and find a completely new approach to patient matching. But it is also important to recognize that Ford didn’t actually invent the car. He didn’t even invent mass production, which had already been applied in other industries. His contribution was the vision that applying mass production to automobiles would open up a whole market, the gumption to gather the investment and execute, and the stubbornness to ignore naysayers.

So it is with patient matching. We simply need innovators that have the vision to apply proven identity matching approaches to the healthcare industry – as well as the gumption and stubbornness necessary to thrive in a crowded and often slow-moving healthcare IT market.

Many industries – including retail and financial services – already have viable and proven solutions to match and link their customer records, and these are the solutions we should look to as an industry to solve our own patient matching challenges.

Most proven solutions hinge on cross-correlating the demographic data from customer records with demographic data from third-party sources, including public records, credit agencies, or telephone companies. Importantly, this third-party demographic data includes not just current and correct attributes for a person, but also out-of-date and incorrect attributes – like previous addresses, maiden names, and common typing errors for birthdates or phone numbers.

By referencing these comprehensive sets of third-party demographic data during the matching process, these “Referential Matching” approaches can significantly outperform probabilistic matching algorithms. For example, Referential Matching can match one record that contains a maiden name, old address, and birthdate with another that contains a married name, new address, and phone number. Both of these records match to the same person in the third-party reference database, which has the entire set of demographic attributes for that person. In essence, this third-party reference database acts as an “answer key” for demographic data.

Results from this approach were recently published in Journal of AHIMA 88, “Applying Innovation to the Patient Identification Challenge” by Lorraine Fernandes, RHIA, Jim Burke, and Michele O’Connor, MPA, RHIA, FAHIMA. This article reviewed how Healthix, the largest public health information exchange (HIE) in the nation, used a vendor built on referential matching architecture to resolve 54.1 million MRNs down to 21.9 million unique identities. These 21.9 million unique individual records are now clear and available to meet key clinical and operational needs.

Referential Matching needs to make its way to the healthcare industry, and luckily it is already being used by many of the largest health systems, payers, and HIEs. But this is not enough. The costs of poor patient matching are too dramatic to keep pushing for faster horses: inaccurate matching decreases quality of care, has drastic implications for patient safety and privacy, costs millions of dollars of lost revenue each year to denied claims, and increases costs to our healthcare system due to systemic inefficiencies, redundant tests and procedures, and unnecessary IT and labor expenditures.

The healthcare industry should take a lesson from Henry Ford. The winning disruptive patient matching solution need not be created, but only adapted from other industries. As another wise man said, “discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought.”

Conquering Medication Errors: Better Tools, Better Reconciliation

Posted on February 27, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Greg Anderson, Senior Business Advisor, Surescripts.

For years now, prescribing has been growing more complex. Between 1994 and 2014, the percentage of the U.S. population taking three or more prescription drugs nearly doubled, and as of 2014, nearly 11 percent had taken at least five prescription drugs within a 30-day period.

As important as these medications may be, every new drug prescribed introduces a new possibility for error. And this increased complexity is indeed having dangerous effects. Medication errors made by patients and their caregivers outside healthcare facilities doubled between 2000 and 2012, according to a 2017 study. That’s not even counting the estimated 40 percent of medication errors that spring from another source: inadequate reconciliation.

Accurate Reconciliation: High Barriers, High Stakes

Medication reconciliation can be a frustrating task in any setting. Compiling an accurate medication list can easily take 45 minutes when care providers need to not only consult with the patient, but also reach out to pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers, other physician offices and family members to get the full story. Achieving accuracy is especially daunting in acute care settings, when time is of the essence and memory-impeding stress is heightened. Records of medications prescribed and taken are often far from complete, leaving care teams reliant on whatever history patients and their families can patch together.

A lot can go wrong when medications fall into the gaps. One study of hospital patients taking at least four prescription medications found that a majority of patients had at least one medication not identified upon admission, and 38.6 percent of these reconciliation errors had the potential to cause significant discomfort or adverse health outcomes. A recent study of 306 medically complex patients found up to seven errors per patient in medication histories.

When a healthcare provider misses a drug, consequences can range from treatment interruptions to incorrect treatment decisions. Inevitably, some of these medication errors lead to the most common cause of iatrogenic harm: adverse drug events (ADEs), which send nearly 700,000 people to emergency departments each year.

The Best Defense Against ADEs

Not all medication errors can be foreseen and eliminated, but there’s reason to believe we can greatly reduce the 10 percent of ADE-related emergency department visits that stem from medication errors. Researchers estimate that 50 to 70 percent of ADEs that lead to hospital admissions are preventable.  And there’s one tactic in particular that’s been shown to make a serious difference: consistent medication reconciliation, aided by access to electronic medication history. More than half of the medication errors in one 2008 study of primary care clinics could have been prevented with the help of electronic tools. That’s in line with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s findings that “anywhere from 28 to 95 percent of ADEs can be prevented by reducing medication errors through computerized monitoring systems.”

Recent studies in clinical settings have borne out insights like these. In 2016, the Cedars-Sinai Health System performed a study assessing medication history errors among older adults on complex medication regimens. Researchers determined that accessing pharmacy fill and PBM claims data for those patients via Surescripts Medication History for Reconciliation would likely have prevented 35 percent of admission medication history errors and 31 percent of resultant inpatient order errors. Those percentages rise when considering only severe errors.

By helping doctors avoid prescribing errors, effective medication history solutions can also help patients make fewer medication mistakes at home. Eliminate redundant or conflicting prescriptions, and you also eliminate opportunities for patients and their caregivers to become confused. Even in a world of increasing prescription complexity, we can work as an industry to reduce many types of medication errors. We just need the right tools to collaborate and to make informed care decisions together.

The Role of Practice Automation in Healthcare Communication

Posted on February 16, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Naveen Sarabu, Vice President of Product Management, AdvancedMD.

Practice automation was born out of the demand for quicker, more efficient manual processes. One of these manual processes is getting back to basics by using plain, old-fashioned communication – whether among members of a healthcare team, or between a physician and patient. Through automation we seek to deliver the right data to the right people exactly when they need it for the optimal provision of care. Likewise, we also seek to cut down on the manual processes that bog us down and add complexity. Many ambulatory practices struggle to find a solution that meets the complex demands of treating patients. Many admit that communication remains one of their greatest struggles – and miscommunication is one of the biggest frustrations for patients.

Doctors’ offices and hospital counterparts in the U.S. have shouldered $1.7 billion in malpractice costs due to poor communication—that’s 30 percent of all malpractice cases.

Automating manual processes of a physician practice enables the distribution of vital patient information in a fast, efficient, and accurate way. By leveraging an integrated physician-patient workflow system, physicians gain benefits of both accuracy and time in the sharing of clinical and billing information. This defines the next generation of the EHR: managing patient data among systems with authentic, automated data transfer and overall ease of use.

Task-based challenges

In a sense, many elements of communication, or information transfer points, are categorized as “tasks” by physicians. Obviously, every doctor in every office has his or her own way of organizing to-do’s. Rigid or cookie-cutter solutions can be more trouble than they’re worth for the busy ambulatory practice. The sheer volume of tasks and relentlessness of practice-specific workflow elements remain a huge burden to physicians and staff members. Without a straightforward means to categorize and execute frequently performed tasks such as prescriptions, refills, charge slips, notes, and orders, action items can fall through the cracks and leave room for errors.

Practices can address this by selecting flexible and customizable solutions that spell out all the moving parts of a practice and put them at the physician’s fingertips, much like an automated workflow analyst would. Visual tools like dashboards are helpful in presenting all tasks in a single snapshot, allowing physicians to manage to-do’s quickly and with ease to execute and communicate what must come next. Patient cards organized by specialty and workflow give physicians a snapshot of what’s really most important in a given moment. An integrated EHR dashboard not only helps physicians negotiate high-priority tasks of significant volume, it orients them to the vital patient information required for sound decision-making.

Impact of physician mobility on communication

A key asset of running a fully-automated ambulatory practice is the feasibility of team members accessing the same systems in real time, from any location. This has multiple benefits, including improved communication accuracy and workflow efficiencies.

“Many different user types [in my practice] from the nurse, to the office manager, to the biller, are all working with the same data on the same platform with real-time access. The seamless continuity is what I like about it,” said Larry J. Winikur, MD, pain management physician in Danville, Va.

Physician mobility is achieved through cloud-based technology and allows providers and staff members to communicate seamlessly from several practice locations: a home office, a patient’s home, the hospital or while traveling. It helps physicians respond to patient and staff messages quickly and stay on top of pressing work issues no matter where they are, preventing a backlog of tasks once they return onsite.

Surgical Specialists of Jackson (Miss.), treats more than 500 active patients, including those in rural areas. According to office manager Kristen Humphrey, having mobile capabilities as a result of complete practice automation has improved the quality of care the practice provides to patients. “When we have a physician seeing patients an hour away in a rural county, he takes the iPad and is able to log into the patients’ medical record and get any information he needs,” leveraging a seamless connectivity to the practice from our office in Jackson. “It makes life really easy,” Humphrey says.

Remote access also offers the feasibility of treating patients with video-based telemedicine, during hospital rounding, or home or hospice care. EHR mobile access is, without a doubt, a top priority for busy practices as they build out the future of their business.

The building blocks of patient engagement

As practices compete with other practices and larger health systems to secure and retain patients, these patients have developed a consumer-like healthcare mentality. Most patients want as much information about their condition as possible, so they can take a proactive role in their care. Patients want to engage with their physicians, by communicating openly and regularly about options and treatment decisions.

A fully-automated ambulatory practice utilizes patient engagement tools to secure satisfaction, retention, and referrals. Consider the ease with which patients can make appointments – online self-scheduling is a critical piece of functionality. Automated check-in tools such as an iPad kiosk are especially favorable to patients who can complete intake and consent forms electronically, eliminating the possibility of transcription errors that occur when data is transferred from paper to digital. A robust patient portal enables physicians to communicate with patients privately and efficiently; to share educational materials or share lab results.

Appointment reminders can also serve as simple communication tools that enhance not only the patient experience, but also the practice bottom line.

Dr. Winikur utilized a patient reminder system to help decrease costly no-show appointments in his busy schedule. The solution helped engage patients and reduced no-shows at his practice from about 12 percent to approximately two percent of appointments, which positively impacts his revenue.

The mobility benefits previously mentioned also allow physicians to demonstrate superior attention to patient needs. “I can pull up patient information no matter where I am in the world with internet access,” Winikur says. When patients receive a quick and effective response to inquiry, they perceive their doctor is in the office (even if he’s not!), which helps increase patient satisfaction.

Other important automated tools include post-visit surveys that enable patients to provide honest, timely feedback about the care they’ve received. These surveys can also trigger patients to post positive experiences to Google and social media outlets. In the event of a negative experience, patients can first communicate privately with the practice to resolve any potential problem or miscommunication.

The bottom line

In today’s competitive healthcare climate, patients have many options for their care. Practices that transition to cloud-based technology platforms with fully automated and customizable workflow elements show greater respect to the needs and time of their patients, increase revenues, and place greater value on their own needs and time. They also prove to be on the cutting edge of technology by streamlining processes and enhancing communication to deliver safer and more accurate care.

About Naveen Sarabu
Naveen Sarabu is Vice President of Product Management at AdvancedMD. Naveen has more than 15 years of experience developing innovative healthcare software solutions for the ambulatory, acute and accountable care organization (ACO) markets, including for Allscripts, Hill-Rom, and NTT DATA. Naveen received an MBA from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and an undergraduate degree from National Institute of Technology, Warangal, India.

The Increasing Role of Surveys in Reimbursement, Profitability, and Quality Care

Posted on February 14, 2018 I Written By

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

Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care has become the hallmark of the medical industry. The most commonly used indicators for measuring the quality of care are patient satisfaction and the patient experience. How patients feel about their experience is critical to overall practice success because it has been proven to impact health outcomes, patient retention, and medical malpractice claims.

The emerging standard for measuring patient satisfaction is the use of patient surveys. Patient satisfaction surveys are not only important when required for reimbursement, but also for practices focused on improving their patient-centered care (that should be everyone). A well written survey can be a very powerful and reliable tool. It can provide more information about what is going on in your practice. It demonstrates that your practice is working to improve. It shows patients that quality is your focus.

What are the key reasons that every practice should start implementing patient surveys?

Patient Surveys Increasingly Drive Reimbursement

Because both practice and hospital reimbursement are increasingly tied to health outcomes and patient satisfaction, patient surveys have become the go-to guide for improving the patient experience.

Currently, CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) uses the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to measure how patients feel about their hospital experience. They then take those results and compare them to hospitals locally, regionally and nationally and assign them a score. Those scores have been a big part of the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program for nearly six years.

This past year, we have seen the implementation of MACRA. Under MACRA, physician and hospitals patient satisfaction scores are calculated. By 2019, these scores will impact Medicare reimbursements.

It is highly likely that this trend towards survey-based reimbursement will continue to grow. Even if your practice is not currently required to use patient satisfaction surveys for reimbursement, it is probable that you will at some point in the future. By sending out surveys now, you can get a better handle on changes that need to be made to secure high scores for future reimbursement.

Patient Surveys Increase Profitability

High patient satisfaction levels impact a practice’s profitability for reasons beyond just reimbursement. Studies have found a significant correlation between high patient satisfaction and the overall profitability of a practice. Consider this:

  • A good patient experience significantly lowers your risk of a malpractice suit. In fact, for each drop in satisfaction score, a provider is nearly 22 percent more likely to be hit by a lawsuit.
  • One surprising effect of an improved patient experience is reduced staff turnover. Because a better patient experience often involves implementing more efficient and effective processes, staff are able to work in a more pleasant environment. One provider saw their turnover rate drop 5 percent after efforts to improve the patient experience.
  • A good patient experience leads to lower patient turnover. This one is more obvious. Today’s consumer-minded patients are looking for a great experience. One study found that practices with poor patient-physician relationships are three times more likely to move to a new practice than those with good patient-physician relationships.

It’s easy to see why the use of a patient survey to track and improve the patient experience is quickly becoming best practice. As Joe Greskoviak, president and COO of Press Ganey explained, “We are seeing a shift in the way organizations look at the engagement of their patient populations. The ability to use patient experience as a competitive and strategic differentiator to gain market share is a valuable tool,” Mr. Greskoviak said.

Patient Surveys Lead to Quality Improvement

As dozens of studies have found, there is quantifiable evidence that tracking the patient experience leads to quality improvement in multiple ways. These studies have found that:

  • A good patient experience improves both prevention and disease management. In one study, diabetic patients increased their ability to self-manage their disease and, subsequently, improved their quality of life simply due to a good experience with their provider.
  • Positive patient experiences lead to a higher likelihood of care adherence for the patient. This is especially true for those with chronic conditions who meet regularly with their provider.
  • Patients who have a good patient experience and a positive view of their provider have better health outcomes compared to patients that have poor patient experiences. Heart attack patients who were highly satisfied with their practice saw significant improvements over their less satisfied peers one year post-attack.

Understanding how your patients feel through patient satisfaction surveys is an invaluable tool. These surveys can be as important to the success as your healthcare credentials. If implemented and used properly, a patient survey can help you increase profitability, healthcare outcomes, and reimbursement.

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.

Your Front Desk Is You

Posted on January 30, 2018 I Written By

Is your front desk welcoming, or repelling your patients, your customers?  Yes, patients are your customers, they are the ones that create your income by coming to your practice.  And whom do your customers first encounter” Your front desk staff. Are they a reflection of what you want your practice to be, representing you, or are they something you really don’t want to think about, low paid, marginal help that you have to have? High turnover, “you can’t get good help”, not worth paying more than minimum wage, staff?

That glass window that you installed for HIPAA privacy in the patient’s view is a device that allows them to hide from their view, to avoid eye contact, avoid dealing with them, the patient. Behind the glass window, are the people that greet your patients, expected to make them feel “welcome”, instruct them on the necessary registration materials to be signed, and most importantly, set the tone, and culture of the office for your patients?  This is critical to your practice’s success.

Such people should be a positive contact point for your practice, yet a study published in the Journal of Medical Practice management reported that 96% of patient complaints about a practice have to do with customer service. It’s not the clinical care, the physicians care, but how they are treated in the experience of visiting your practice.  And the first point of contact in the office is your front desk staff.

Is Your Practice Perfect or Does It Need Improvement?

Now you need to look at your scheduling process as well to see if that is a point of friction, online or by phone, but the human aspect once in the office is your front desk staff.

How is the reception configured, and how are the staff trained?

If that glass window is a barrier that hides the staff, that allows them to ignore the patients, then your message is that they, your customers are secondary to everything else.  If the patient has to ring a bell or tap on the window, or even read a hand-written sign that says sign in and take a seat, this is for the benefit of your staff, not your patients.  Now if you have an alert on the door when it opens and that signals staff to open the window and welcome the patient, inviting them to start the registration process, you have a very different tone to kick off the patient visit.

And that welcoming staff person has to be hired for personality, a welcoming personality, and then trained to do the job, the tasks that need to be performed at the time of registration.  Even if it requires more than minimum wage to fill the slot, the right person sets the cultural tone for the office and set you as the physician up for a better encounter with the patient. The glass window when opened, should not be to simply thrust a clipboard into the hands of the patient saying “fill these out”.  The exchange between your staff and the patient would be welcoming and appreciative.  In other words, make the exchange about the patient.

Take a look at your waiting room as well, is it inviting, clean, up-to-date, and comfortable? If not, take some time to make sure your waiting room reflects the kind of quality care you provide your patients.

About Alex Tate
Alex Tate is a Healthcare IT Researcher and writer at CureMD who focus various engaging and informative topics related to the health IT industry. He loves to research and write about topics such as Affordable Care Act, Electronic Medical Records, revenue cycle management, privacy, and security of patient health data.

5 Ways to Keep Patients from Feeling like a Number

Posted on January 17, 2018 I Written By

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

Think about the last time you felt upset at work. What was the root cause? Did you feel ignored? Overlooked? Unappreciated? If so, you are not alone. Studies have found that two out of three workers feel unappreciated at work and 65 percent would prefer a better boss over a pay raise. Everyone wants to feel that they matter. It’s simply part of our nature as social beings. This need to feel valued is not restricted to the work environment. In fact, studies find that it extends far beyond the office walls to retail, service, and—yes—healthcare experiences.

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study confirmed this—noting that practices can no longer rely on their excellent clinical care to keep patients coming back. Patient dissatisfaction is at an all-time high, prompting patients across the generations to switch physicians.

Between 43 and 44 percent of millennials and Gen Xers will switch providers in the next few years. It’s not just the younger generations, even baby boomers are restless—20 percent are likely to find a new physician in the next three years. While patient dissatisfaction is a complex issue with multiple solutions, one of the easiest and most effective treatments also has the lowest cost to practices—making patients feel valued.

Here are five simple tools a provider can use to help patients feel they are important:

  1. Acknowledge. Nothing makes patients feel like they are on the conveyor belt of medical care more than being ignored. There is a reason the grocery king, Walmart, pays to have people simply greet you as you enter and leave the store. Humans like to be acknowledged. Consider having different front desk staff assigned as the office “greeter” along with their regular duties. A quick, “Welcome John! I’ll be right with you” along with a genuine smile can go a surprisingly long way towards patient satisfaction.
  2. Remember. Try to remember small things about each patient. One way is through use of their name. Another great time to show a patient you remember them is on their birthday. Eighty five percent of Americans say that they feel special when others celebrate their birthday. It is easy to automate a personalized birthday email or text message that keeps you connected outside of the office.
  3. Respond. Medical offices are busy. There’s no way around it. But when a patient reaches out, it is important to respond as quickly as possible. The ability to two-way text with patients is handy here because it allows you to acknowledge (see #1) a message from an out-of-office patient while still being present with patients in the office.
  4. Listen. It can be easy to brush past comments or questions from patients. In fact, research shows that the average patient is interrupted within 18 seconds of their visit. Instead of assuming that you know what a patient is going to say, wait patiently until they finish speaking. Devote your energy to looking at them and focusing on them while they talk.
  5. Thank. Patients are the reason you are in business. Every position in a medical office is made possible because of patients. During the hectic everyday rush, it can be easy to forget this simple fact. Try shooting off a personal “thank you” email or text (or even a handwritten note). The good news is that research shows that showing gratitude not only improves the well-being of those you thank, but your own well-being as well.

It is often the small things that can make the biggest difference to patient satisfaction. In the era of consumer-centric patients, it is important to help patients feel like more than just another number. Following these five simple steps will bring practices closer to that goal.

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.

4 Reasons Patient Texting Is Taking Center Stage

Posted on December 14, 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

Communication is one of the most time consuming tasks for medical practices. Hundreds of patients need to be contacted on a regular basis. Keeping up can be a challenge. Failing to do so can be damaging to the practice. Modern patients have adopted a consumer-based mentality and are quick to switch practices when it does not live up to their expectations. Communication methods that used to be regarded as personal and engaging are now felt to be invasive and outdated. The stats back it up:

  • Nineteen percent of people never check their voicemail.
  • Ninety percent of cell phone users ignore incoming phone calls.
  • Seventy eight percent of emails are never opened.

What do patients want instead? Texting.

The “Why” Behind the Success of Texting

Today’s patients are already savvy texters in their everyday lives and expect to be able to do the same with their medical practices. The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that 79 percent of patients would like to receive text messages from their doctor and 73 percent want to send a text to their doctor’s office. In response, more and more offices are turning to texting. Why is texting so critical to practice success?

  1. It’s faster for everyone. The average text message takes just four seconds to send. Compare that to a phone call, in which people talk for at least two minutes. Those two minutes don’t include the time spent dialing, waiting for an answer, leaving a message, or following up. Experts estimate that a phone call to schedule an appointment—from start to finish—takes 8.1 minutes. Those minutes add up. For example, if your practice receives 50 incoming phone calls each day, even at just two minutes per call, that’s almost two hours spent on the phone. Add to that outbound calls and the hours build even more. Text messages, on the other hand, take only seconds to type and send.
  2. It improves health outcomes.research study by JAMA Internal Medicine reviewed data from 16 randomized clinical trials and found that texting can double the odds of chronic illness patients sticking to medication adherence. When using text messages as ways to remind patients of appointments and medication needs, they resoundingly respond.
  3. It keeps the schedule full. A text message system can be completely automated—meaning it can send notifications as often as desired. This ensures lower rates of patient no-shows. In addition, when a last-minute cancellation happens, texting is a great way to fill those spots. Patients who want to be seen soon can be put on a waiting list. When someone cancels their appointment, an automated text can be sent to each patient on the waiting list letting them know an appointment has become available. This text takes far less time than calling each person on the waiting list and hoping to reach an available patient in time to rebook the appointment. Your schedule stays full and your revenue increases.
  4. It increases in-office engagement. Freeing up so much time allows front office staff to spend more time where they are needed most—engaging in compassionate care with the patient right in front of them. Extensive research has found that patient-based, compassionate care leads to lower stress levels and burnout for healthcare providers and better health outcomes and satisfaction for patients. This type of care is only made possible, however, when staff members are not talking on the phone all day. Texting frees up this time.

Texting is the norm in almost every aspect of our society, and it is quickly becoming the expectation in the healthcare industry as well. It offers patients an easy way to communicate with your practice and still provide great service to the patients you are serving in your office. Your patients are happy with the way your practice communicates, you reduce the amount of time spent on phone calls, and—most importantly—your practice continues to grow.

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.

Telehealth and Its Contribution to Healthcare

Posted on December 6, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Juan Pablo Segura, Co-founder & President of Babyscripts.

In 2016, Americans spent roughly 18% of GDP on healthcare. Abetted by an aging population and continuously rising costs of care, CMS projects that this number will only grow over the next decade, increasing at an average of 5.6% annually. A crisis seems unavoidable: yet a huge fraction of this sum is lost to inefficient spending, which, when compared to other factors like an aging population, socio-economic challenges, or expensive new treatments, seems completely within the industry’s control to control and eliminate. A new OECD report calculates that approximately 20 cents out of every dollar spent on healthcare are considered unnecessary.

Could a simple reallocation of time and resources be enough to check the seemingly inevitable? The potential cost-savings of such a reallocation has policymakers and health professionals poised to revolutionize healthcare, as an industry that has long been resistant to innovation rejects antiquated models of care for more efficient methods that prioritize patient and provider alike.

A simple resolution that is already allowing more patients to receive necessary and important primary care is the extension of care teams through mid-level providers that cost a fraction of the salary of a full time physician. Physician’s Assistants and nurse practitioners are being granted more autonomy, as State governments remove restrictions while enacting legislation that grants PAs and other personnel full prescriptive authority. Allowing these lower cost health professionals to perform routine, primary care instead of more expensive, specialized physicians, immediately eliminates inefficiencies in the system and increases access to care to patients in the midst of a physician shortage.

These changes in personnel are necessary, but not enough to respond to the changing face of care. The answer to more affordable care is in leveraging existing technologies.

The rapid adoption of synchronous, video visits between patients and providers across the country is an exciting example of how technology can eliminate waste and help the system reallocate its resources. Recognizing its potential to decrease the administrative demands on providers and facilitate access to patients in remote areas, the industry has placed great emphasis on this aspect of telemedicine, even to the extent of providing incentives to providers for facilitating care through video.

But far from being the solution, video visits just scratch the surface of technology’s potential contributions to affordable healthcare, and in fact are the least beneficial of the efficiencies that technology is poised to provide. Some studies have indicated that when video visits are included in a medical plan, patients tend to treat them as an add-on, rather than a replacement for traditional in-person care. Furthermore, without integrated systems, video visits function much as if a patient were receiving all medical care at the ER, producing a fractured and incomplete medical record.

The dialogue must be centered on those innovations that revolutionize the way we approach healthcare, not simply attempt to translate an outdated system into a world that has evolved past it.

The conversation needs to focus on the most relevant, effective and impactful technology tools to affect the ultimate cost of care. Already, forward thinking providers like Greenville Health are creating end to end “virtual strategies” that rely heavily on remote monitoring apps and asynchronous visits that have the capacity to identify the problems before they begin. Beyond the immediate benefit of proper allocation of time and resources, the ultimate goal of technological innovation in healthcare has always been the opportunity to identify potential problems and create the necessary infrastructure to allow our healthcare system to focus on preventative health.

Of the healthcare apps currently in the digital marketplace, some have been shown not only to decrease costs but to be as successful as medication in preventing complications, anticipating a future of decreased prescription costs. Remote monitoring programs that use IOT devices like blood pressure cuffs and weight scales have reduced the cost of prenatal care by 40% while detecting problems like preeclampsia and other high-risk illnesses. Yet there is very little coding or direct payer incentive for deploying preventative technologies like that provided for video visits.

And why not? Video visits are a move in the right direction, but the decrease to cost of care does not have to come at the expense of the client/physician relationship or integrated care. Instead, effective technology should cut costs while assuring patient and provider of the continuity and efficacy of care.

The conversation amongst policymakers needs to expand to include these more revolutionary aspects of digital health, rewarding those who are effectively reducing costs without compromising care. Digital health will not be confined to a narrow vision, but it is up to the government and the industry to expedite the future of healthcare.

About Juan Pablo Segura
Juan Pablo Segura is Co-founder & President of Babyscripts, a Washington, DC-based technology company that builds mobile and digital tools to empower women to have better pregnancies. Juan Pablo was named a Wireless Life Saver by CTIA and a health care Transformer by the Startup Health Academy in New York City.