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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 six 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.

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.

The Importance of Communication in Healthcare and Thoughts on How To Do It Right

Posted on December 23, 2016 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.

A while back I had the chance to sit down with 4 healthcare experts to talk about healthcare communication. The panel consisted of:

  • Mandi Bishop, Chief Evangelist and Co-Founder of Aloha Health
  • Jessica Johnson, Director of Operations, Health Transformation at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Population Health Management
  • Ethan Bechtel, CEO at OhMD
  • Nathan Larson, Chief Experience Officer at ImagineCare
  • John Lynn, Founder of HealthcareScene.com

We had a wide ranging conversation about the importance of communication in healthcare and how to do it more effectively. This is a topic that should be of interest to all of us. Watch the full video conversation below:

Happy Holidays! What more could you want this holiday weekend than some great discussion from amazing people?

The Evolution of Communication in Healthcare

Posted on May 12, 2016 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.

The following is a guest blog post by Erik Kangas, Founder of LuxSci.

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, communication in healthcare has evolved by leaps and bounds from the old days of paper filing systems, faxes, and phone calls. Although those methods are still widely used, there are faster ways to keep patients in touch with their medical practitioners, doctors, and nurses. Yet with a multitude of benefits come new risks: data breaches, unencrypted messages, and willful neglect that could bring about serious penalties from HIPAA. In order to fully take advantage of all that technology has to offer, the healthcare industry needs to know proper usage policies and to enforce adherence to HIPAA regulations. We might not be in the age of pagers anymore, but that just means that more precautions practitioners need to embrace the newly evolving world of healthcare communication.

Let’s take a look at how these methods of communication have changed over the years and what it all means for the security of ePHI.

Pagers
Anyone involved in the healthcare sector has surely encountered a pager at some point in time. Healthcare is one of the last industries to use this aging technology, but messaging systems that are easier and faster to respond are slowly replacing them. With so many smartphones and devices that can instantly let you know whether there’s an emergency, there’s less reason to carry around a separate bulky pager.

An article at HealthITSecurity has this to say about pagers: “Communicating internally via pagers could still have some benefits, but there are now secure messaging capabilities that can assist with routine health issues, address patient questions or concerns, help monitor patient conditions, while also ensuring that patients can properly manage their own conditions.” In other words, with technology that’s so much quicker and more efficient, it might be worth finally letting go of the beeper in your pocket and switching to something that can do everything a pager can and more.

Pagers may not be as efficient as current tech, but certain organizations still believe they serve a purpose, especially critical messaging.

Email
Email has become increasingly important in healthcare, increasing the scope of everyone’s efforts toward protecting patient privacy. Explained in this whitepaper about HIPAA and email, this security applies not only to personal information, but all Protected Health Information (PHI) –including a patient’s administrative, financial, and clinical information. Any health information related to an identifiable individual that is transmitted or maintained via email, or another medium, falls under HIPAA’s definition of PHI. That’s a huge amount of information that needs safeguarding if you want to continue using email to transmit healthcare data.

Ensuring that data remains encrypted on laptops, desktop computers, and all other devices is key to staying HIPAA compliant. While encryption can be costly to implement, it’s worth it to keep patients’ PHI (and other data) secure – and without it, an organization risks paying monumentally more in fines, in the case of a data security breach.

Given that data breaches frequently and increasingly occur in the healthcare sector, organizations need to ensure the continued safety of their patients’ data for both financial and personal reasons.

It’s also a wise idea to sign up with a security company that can handle the HIPAA compliancy of your inbound and outbound emails, as well as the security of your network as a whole. However, it’s still up to you to train your staff, review your HIPAA security policies, and keep a copy of the HIPAA Business Association Agreement that you signed with the security company.

Text Messages
Texting is pervasive as a method of healthcare communication, including using text messages to confirm appointments or deliver lab results to anxious patients. There are also plenty of texts exchanged between doctors and nurses in hospital environments, with many messages containing some form of patient information. All these transmissions fall under HIPAA regulations, and it’s very easy to unintentionally text patient data that could be intercepted, sent unencrypted, or stored in an external location like the cloud.

Sending health information via text is a clear HIPAA violation – even with seemingly harmless messages, like appointment reminders. The only case in which texting health information may not violate HIPAA is when the text is sent to a patient who has preemptively signed the proper consent form. Without patient consent and proper documentation, an organization can be fined up to $50,000 per text message, if the messages are found to be in violation of HIPAA’s rules. That’s a massive penalty for any organization.

As with email, it’s important to make sure that you encrypt and decrypt text messages properly, whether through common carriers, specialized apps for decryption, or customized programs that allow users to send and receive HIPAA-compliant messages without the worry of breaking regulation. You can send text messages securely, but it requires training and a financial cost to ensure the information stays safe and only the intended recipient reads it.

The Future of Compliant Messaging
“It’s not enough to decide it’s time to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ or secure messaging,” says HealthITSecurity. “Healthcare organizations need to realize that this communication is part of an evolutionary process, and it’s necessary to implement a system that can easily integrate with the facilities’ current capabilities.” Organizations need to recognize they can’t do compliance in various messaging systems piecemeal or from one staff member to another, they need to make it a blanket effort that ensures everyone is onboard. And while it may create a more convenient system, the legal ramifications of any slipups can more than outweigh the cost of encryption programs or specialized apps.

As long as there are security protocols in place, we’ll continue to see a growing role for secure messaging technology in healthcare.

Communication in healthcare was and is always about making services easier and more convenient for both medical staff and patients alike. With the constantly evolving nature of technology, more organizations can expand their services and share information faster than ever before. As long as HIPAA regulations and cybersecurity are in place, the healthcare sector ought to continually evaluate what new high-tech solutions work for them—and what old traditions could still have a place.

Study on the Economic Impact of Inefficient Communications in Healthcare

Posted on July 9, 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.

Efficient communication and collaboration amongst physicians, nurses and other providers is critical to the coordination and delivery of patient care, especially given the increasingly mobile nature of today’s clinicians and the evolution of the accountable care organization (ACO) model.

For healthcare IT leadership, the ability to satisfy the clinical need for more efficient communications technologies must be balanced with safeguarding protected health information (PHI) to meet compliance and security requirements. As a result, the industry continues to rely primarily on pagers, which creates inefficiencies that can have a considerable economic and productivity impact.

To quantify this impact, the Imprivata Report on the Economic Impact of Inefficient Communications in Healthcare worked with the Ponemon Institute to survey more than 400 healthcare providers in the U.S. about the typical communications process during three clinical workflows: patient admissions, coordinating emergency response teams and patient transfers.

This report is chalk full of good information on the communication challenges in healthcare. Here’s one example chart from the report:
Wasted Time in Hospitals Due to Poor Communication

While it’s good to see that 52% think pagers are not efficient, I’d hope that the number were much higher. I think that most don’t realize how inefficient a pager really is to their organization. It’s interesting that 39% don’t allow text messaging, but it would be interesting to see how many of the 61% that allow text messaging use a secure text message solution.

I think the use of technology to facilitate communication in healthcare is one of the most exciting opportunities out there today. Certainly we have to be careful to follow HIPAA, but we need to not use HIPAA as an excuse for why we don’t use the technology to facilitate better communication.

There’s a lot more in the report that’s worth a read. I’m sure I’ll be covering more details of the report in the future.