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How to Text PHI with Patients and Stay Compliant

Posted on September 19, 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

Did you know that 73 percent of Americans say it is difficult to reach them by phone? In fact, Americans ignore 337 calls each year and that number is rising. Even if you leave a message, chances are high no one will ever hear it—80 percent of people report that they don’t even bother leaving a voicemail anymore because they don’t believe it will get listened to. More and more, phone calls are seen as invasive, outdated, or ineffective. Instead, people prefer to communicate via modern methods such as text message.

Texting Reigns as Favorite Communication Tool

We all know that pretty much everyone with a cell phone texts friends and family regularly. What is less well-known is that people would like to extend their texting habits to their healthcare provider. According to the 2017 Patient-Provider Relationship Study, 60 percent of patients want text reminders. Seven out of ten patients say they would like text communication beyond just reminders as well. It’s not just millennials. Around half of baby boomers also prefer text messages.

Unfortunately, many practices have shied away from texting or emailing patients through unsecured channels, wary of running into compliance issues. This is especially true when it comes to texting patients when those messages may include protected health information (PHI).

In fact, I suspect that if you were to poll a group of healthcare workers concerning the legality of sending PHI through unsecured text message, you would probably get answers all along the spectrum. Yes, no, maybe so? Many just don’t know.

Last March, at the HIMSS health IT conference Roger Severino, Director of the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the HIPAA enforcement agency, clarified the confusion.  According to Severino, providers may share PHI with patients through unsecure text messages as long as they have informed their patient that texting is not secure, asked for permission, and documented that consent.

“I think it’s empowering the patient, making sure that their data is as accessible as possible in the way they want to receive it, and that’s what we want to do.” Severino said.

Implementing Texting in a Compliant Way

This announcement was a big deal. Patients want to text you…and they want you to text them back. You significantly increase the value you offer to patients simply by giving them this option. So how does the implementation of Severino’s suggestions look in practice? Let’s say that you receive a text message from a patient named Mary asking you for some health-related information. In response, you can send something like this: “Hi Mary. I would love to chat with you more about your health. Text message is not a secure way to do that. Would you still like to continue this conversation?” If you are the one to initiate the conversation, you can send a similar message requesting permission before continuing.

Once Mary agrees and you document that permission, you are then allowed to continue the conversation without concern of violation. A key piece to remember here is that it is important that you make sure your patients are aware that texting is not secure. Then, if the patient feels uncomfortable communicating via that channel, you should move the conversation to a secure method such as a phone call, secure patient portal, or in-office visit. Remember—you are required to make patients aware of unsecured communication and receive authorization before discussing PHI on an unsecured channel.

As one final best practice, always include an opt-out message. Even if a patient has given consent in the past, you must always offer the option to discontinue the communication. This means that it is best to include a message such as “Reply STOP to opt-out” in your text messages.

In summary, if a healthcare provider would like to share PHI with a patient through regular, unsecured text messages, they must first:

  • Inform the patient that texting is not secure
  • Receive permission from the patient to continue
  • Document the patients’ consent
  • Offer an opt-out option

If you are not yet texting with patients (or only sending basic text reminders), this is a critical time to make a change. There is no other form of communication that has such a high level of adoption and engagement. Texting improves the health outcomes for patients as well as the financial outcomes for practices. With this recent clarification of policy by compliance officials, we can expect that the use of text will continue to grow dramatically as we move into the future.

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.

Walgreen’s Perspectives on Patient Engagement at #DHIS18

Posted on August 15, 2018 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 past 2 days I’ve been attending the Digital Health Investor Summit that’s hosted by KLAS. It was a classy event and the people they had in attendance were phenomenal. I’ll be offering up a number of insights I got from the event across the Healthcare Scene network of blogs, but a couple slides from Chet Robson really stood out for me today. Chet is the Medical Director, Clinical Programs & Quality at Walgreens.

The slides that Chet Robson shared were around some views on patient engagement. Or as he framed it: patient engagement, patient activation, patient involvement, patient participation, patient adherence, patient compliance, patient empowerment, or patient experience. I love that we have so many terms for the same concept.

Here’s the first chart he shared for patient engagement:

The 3 dimensions in the chart listed above seemed like a good framework for patient engagement. So, I was glad when Chet then shared this slide:

I think that more things could be added to the above expectations. However, it’s a really good start. Imagine if all of healthcare implemented these principles.

As timing would have it, I’ve actually done 3 appointments at Walgreens in the last month. Without going into all the details of why, I’m happy to say that Walgreens delivered on these expectations. The visits were easy to schedule, quick and painless, and the experience was great. My only complaint was that the appointment process wasn’t clear. I wasn’t sure if you could only schedule certain appointments or if you could also do walk-ins. The answer is that it’s best to have an appointment. Otherwise, when you walk in, the computer will have you schedule an appointment and unless you’re lucky, you’ll likely be waiting for a bit. However, this is a minor learned thing that can easily be fixed.

What do you think of looking at patient experience from a behavioral, cognitive, and emotional dimension?

Creating a “Clinancial” Model: Bridging the Gap Between Clinical and Financial

Posted on July 25, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by David Dyke, VP Product Management at Ciox.

Healthcare at a broad level divides its business into two types of work: The clinical, and the financial. The groups that serve each effort are traditionally siloed. Doctors and nurses, for instance, focus on the clinical health of their patients.  Clinical pathways define the day: What is the plan of care? How do we improve the quality of care? How do we deliver the right course of treatment for this patient in the time we have, based on all of their individual variables?  And how do we apply that broadly to entire conditions and communities?

Separate from clinical practices are the equal and opposite financial forces within the business of healthcare. Healthcare CFOs, for example, are chartered with caring for the financial health of their organization.  Financial pathways rule the day: Ensuring administrative processes, patient experience and strategic plans align to the best operational outcomes.  How can we survive until tomorrow if reimbursement, risk, denials, cash, collections, debt and financing issues are not addressed today?

Yet, for all the division of labor and effort in the healthcare space, the reality is that the two sides of the business exist as the heads and tails of the same coin. When a patient walks into a healthcare provider’s office, clinical and financial pathways alike are opened up, and their relationship is far less siloed and far more symbiotic than the current model of care reflects. What if we approached these two traditionally separate parts of the healthcare system as two halves of the same? How do we break down the paradigm that these are two separate pathways? How do we connect the clinical and the financial?

Perhaps what we need is a new word; one that better reflects the concurrent pathways in healthcare. Maybe we are not laboring along two separate clinical and financial pathways, but a single “Clinancial” pathway.

cli·nan·cial (adjective)

Relating to both clinical and financial pathways in healthcare.

As the cost model in healthcare has shifted, the patient’s interest level in the financial side of the healthcare continuum has shifted dramatically. Health plans are increasingly prescriptive in their services.  Whether specifically defining limitations on choices, options, and access to specific providers, or implicitly influencing behavior through out-of-pocket cost motivators, the financial aspects of healthcare are increasingly top-of-mind.

Even for patients, the Clinancial pathway to care is here already. It’s not just simple decisions that intersect financial and clinical pathways. These meet again at the intersection of in-network, copays and out of pocket expenses, year to date costs, and whether a patient has a flex plan. All of these financial decisions have bearing on the patient’s end clinical pathway and could be better understood earlier in the process by those whose traditional focus is strictly clinical.

What clinical choices would be different if the outlook included financial realities and variables. What choices would be made in a Clinancial model? Similarly, what financial choices could be made with better clinical information?

From the way we code clinical services to the way we seek to manage reimbursement activities and claims, from denials to audits and at every point where Clinancial lines cross, we in healthcare have an opportunity to improve both our patient experiences and our bottom lines by better rolling together our clinical and financial information for all involved.

If case managers aren’t approaching patient care from the perspective of preventing denials, then they are missing a huge opportunity to improve not only the patient experience and clinical outcomes but also the organization’s ability to do the same thing systematically again tomorrow, and the day after that.

The landscape is continuously changing. Health Insurance Plan Designs vary widely today, and will have more variabity tomorrow. Medical guidelines are always evolving too. The barriers to adopting Clinical Guidelines are well documented, it’s most often a factor of information or population overload.  For example, in 2017 the guidelines for High Blood Pressure changed, effectively “giving” High Blood Pressure to 30 million more Americans.  It’s a business model where we need to know how to be continuously adaptive, how we are engaging with all parties involved, from the healthcare recipient to the insurers, and building a trust network around risk. Yet we traditionally do not evolve, or change, or update ourselves particularly efficiently.

Some organizations are doing this better than others – integrating even just their reporting structure. They ask themselves questions like “Are medical records part of the clinical or the financial operations of a hospital?”

Groups that see the shift have moved within their organizations to form teams with names like ‘Revenue Integrity’, and because of those new delineations they are more closely aligning the “how” and “why” of the clinical process with the “what” and “when” of the financial workflows. And as they have shifted into Revenue Integrity teams, they are looking at things more holistically to uncover key findings. Much like an integrated care team takes a holistic look at a patient, their direct conditions and their social situations. These integrated Clinancial teams can find connections between coding workflows and reimbursement speed, and can design and implement Clinancial Workflows to measure and improve their outcomes.

No matter the structure, integrated Clinancial Teams are doing three things well: They communicate regularly across the siloes, they collaborate across teams on opportunities that affect both the clinical and financial aspects of the business, and they share data, findings and ideas.

The victories are twofold: Organizations have a chance within a Clinancial model to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes, while at the same time better flowing clinical data through into reimbursement. We have entered a new financial reality where the patient’s experience has an increasingly material impact on a provider’s bottom line. By unifying around Clinancial Pathways, we can make strides to improve patient outcomes and experiences, while at the same time gaining operational efficiencies to drive margin improvement now, when we need it most.

And all we needed to do was invent a new word for it.  #easy

About Ciox
Ciox is a health technology company working to solve the clinical data illiquidity challenge by providing transparency across the healthcare ecosystem and helping clients manage disparate medical records and a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. When stakeholders do not have timely access to the complete clinical picture of patients, critical decisions about patient care, medical outcomes research, disease prevention, reimbursement, and payments are sub-optimized. Ciox’s scale, expertise, expansive provider network and industry leading technology platform make it the most reliable clinical data company in the US. Through its standards based technology platform, HealthSource, Ciox helps clients securely and consistently solve the last mile challenges in clinical interoperability.  Learn more about Ciox’s technology and solutions by visiting www.ciox.com

The Role of Technology in Patient Satisfaction

Posted on July 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

Over the past six months, we have been discussing the importance of understanding patient needs in order to improve their satisfaction levels. But why does it really matter if patients are happy? Happy patients are the ones who refer their friends and family. They’re are the ones leaving you stellar reviews online. Happy patients stick with you.

One of the most effective (and easiest) ways to improve the patient experience is through the use of technology. According to one study, using technology to communicate with patients increases patient satisfaction scores by around 10 percent. Not only that, but technology saves practices a huge amount of time and hassle. Here are just a few of the ways you can use technology to personalize patient experience and simplify workflow for staff.

  1. Streamline (and personalize) scheduling and check-in

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that two of the biggest frustrations patient have around experience are feeling like a number and difficulty with scheduling and wait times. One great way to address these issues is to offer convenient 24/7 online scheduling and electronic forms.

Two-thirds of patients think it is important to be able to schedule appointments online. And practices can make that experience even easier with the right technology. When online scheduling in integrated with your practice management system, it can identify existing versus new patients and adapt the forms so existing patients don’t have to provide information that you already have.

Consider having patient forms on the scheduling page or somewhere on your website, or send them out in an email before the appointment. Then, instead of spending 15 minutes filling out forms, patients can relax. This also allows you to spend more time speaking with each patient individually and addressing any concerns they may have.

If you have patients who don’t fill out their forms online or bring them before arriving, consider using a tablet to expedite the process. Tablets make filling out those forms faster, easier, and more accurate. Waiting to see the doctor shouldn’t feel like homework time. Do whatever you can to make this a time, instead, where you connect with your patients.

  1. Implement two-way texting

Texting is the most popular method of communication today (even 80 percent of senior citizens own a cell phone). Just like people want to text their friends and families, they also want to text you. As the Patient-Provider Relationship study found, 73 percent of patients want to text back and forth with you. With two-way texting, you can:

  • Confirm appointments
  • Coordinate care
  • Discuss appointment follow-up instructions
  • Reschedule appointments

Of course, you want to make sure you stay HIPAA compliant whenever you may be sending PHI information via text message. Make sure to use technology that offers the tools to stay compliant.

  1. Upgrade your patient appointment reminders

If you want to stay competitive in today’s healthcare world, automated appointment reminders are a must. Not only does automating your patient reminders make life a lot easier for your staff, but it ensures that no patients fall through the cracks. Make sure to ask patients which way they prefer to be contacted and use that.

Using mobile messages like text message and email for reminders is especially important in this era when people just don’t like talking on the phone. Now your patients can be stuck in a boring work meeting and still get that text message appointment reminder. It saves you a lot of time, improves productivity, and gives you the time you need to focus on what is most important—the patients in your office.

Automated messages also provide another opportunity to personalize and customize communications to each patient. Just like a postcard or phone call, they have the patient’s name, appointment time, and provider listed, but they can also contain other appointment details. Based on the appointment type, they can have instructions like remember to fast or bring your medications. The patient will feel the personalization and your practice will be able to make sure patients show up prepared.

  1. Automate patient satisfaction surveys

As we’ve discussed at length in prior blog posts, surveys can tell you a whole lot about how you and your practice are measuring up to patient expectations. The more you focus on patient happiness, the more likely you are to make it a priority. So always send out patient surveys following patient visits.

In the past, you may have asked patients to fill out paper surveys in the office. That method of collecting surveys is difficult to track, less likely to be completed, and may have answers that are skewed. Using technology to email or text your patients a survey after their appointment increases the likelihood that they will give more honest responses. It also makes it a whole lot more likely that they will be filled out.

When it comes to making patient satisfaction a priority, it’s critical to gauge if your current technology is up to the challenge. Technology can greatly improve how your patients view you and your entire practice. It can also improve the productivity and efficiency of you and your staff.

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.

4 Tricks to Help Busy Practices Stay Organized

Posted on June 13, 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

Over the past several months, we’ve been discussing how to use surveys to find out what your patients think of you—and then how to make the necessary changes. In addition, we’ve been looking at some of the most common complaints uncovered in patient surveys. These include:

* Excessive wait times (read more about that here)
* Inadequate communication (read more about that here)
* Disorganized operations

Today we are discussing the importance of keeping your practice moving smoothly and efficiently. No one likes going to a doctor’s visit only to find that they are running behind, have forgotten you were coming, or have lost your patient records. And yet that happens all too often.

Office managers and physicians are constantly balancing a huge number of tasks, including patient problems, staffing challenges, budget planning, payroll, and more. Unless you consciously strive to improve the organization and efficiency in your practice, you end up spending a whole lot of time putting out fires instead of preventing them from happening. This inevitably leads to more stress for you, lower productivity for staff, and poor satisfaction from patients.

With today’s consumer-focused patients, it’s imperative that you keep your office running like a well-oiled machine at all times. Otherwise, they are likely to simply move their business to the practice down the street instead. So here are a few tips to make juggling all the balls in your life a little easier.

  1. Schedule time for planning.
    One of the best ways to make sure you’re staying ahead of everything is to plan out your day in advance. Do you have a shipment of new supplies arriving? A new employee to train? Emails to be created? In this industry, every day brings something new. In order to make sure that nothing interferes with the patient experience, you’ve got to plan ahead. The best way to do this is to actually block off some time on your calendar where you decide what needs to be focused on—a simple 15-30 minutes each day is usually all you need. Many people find that the end of the day is a great time for this. That way you can be prepared for whatever the next day may bring.
     
  2. Batch your tasks.
    When doing your planning, give batching a try. Batching is when you select similar jobs and schedule them to be completed in one setting. Productivity experts have found that when we batch tasks, we are more focused, efficient, and, ultimately, more productive. We simply work better when we can focus on one thing at a time. Many large tasks can be batched by day. For example:

    • Mondays—Staff communication and training
    • Tuesdays—Payroll, billing, and other financial tasks
    • Wednesday– Marketing to get new patients (running ads, managing online presence, etc)
    • Thursday—Patient outreach to get returning patients (newsletters, social media, etc.)
    • Fridays—General administrative tasks and planning for the following week

     
    Of course, there will be times when things come up that need your attention. Be flexible in addressing those issues.

  3. Maximize efficiencies.
    Your practice should make life easier for patients. This means that you need to take a close look at everything from appointment scheduling to the check-in process to the way patients move within your facility to see if there can be improvements. Consider:

    1. Implementing an online scheduling tool, where patients can schedule their own appointments. This will help cut back on time on the phone.
    2. Using an automated wait list to fill last minute cancellations. Using a system to automatically send out an email or text message blast to everyone wanting to be seen sooner can free up time for staff and fill those exam rooms.
    3. Making your reception area easy to locate and clear of clutter so that patients can use it to sign forms. You may also try using a digital check-in process with a tablet or computer.
    4. Reviewing the flow of your practice. Patients should move from the waiting room to the exam room and back without much confusion. This is done best when they always move in a single direction—much like a highway.
       
  4. Take advantage of technology—but be wise.
    There are a lot of things still being done manually in an office that can be put on “auto” instead. Everything from recall to appointment reminders to birthday messaging and more can be done in a way that doesn’t require daily supervision from you. We have so many amazing technologies that can help us stay organized. Apps, calendars, to-do lists, and so on. It is important, however, to not let technology distract you. Did you know that every time you switch between tasks, you lose around 15 minutes? So every time you check email, for example, in the middle of another task, you lose precious amounts of productive time. Instead, set aside a time when you check your email (or complete other tech-related tasks) each day and stick to it. Perhaps you do it first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before leaving. That way you do not waste tons of time.

Ultimately, every practice wants to deliver exceptional patient care, and a big part of that is practice organization and efficiency. Ask yourself, “Is my office making a real effort to improve processes and make life easier for patients?” If not, implement procedures to do so. It will have a lasting, positive impact on both office staff efficiency and overall 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.

The Importance of Patient Experience for Small Practices

Posted on June 8, 2018 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.

Small practices are in a really interesting and challenging place right now. Every doctor I know wants to practice medicine in a small practice, but they’re increasingly getting squeezed out of the equation. Most are succumbing to large health systems or migrating to larger group practices that can leverage their power against the larger health system. History shows that this ebbs and flows, but my gut tells me that this time it’s a bit different because of technology.

Without going to deep into the dynamics of small practices, I want to highlight how a unique patient experience is one place where a smaller practice or even group practices can differentiate themselves. At large health systems, there are very different dynamics when it comes to patient experience, but there are also a lot of barriers to creating a great experience for patients. This is where smaller practices should take advantage.

The reality is that small practices have a tremendous opportunity to offer a unique experience because of their lack of scale.

As I’ve seen recently with a company I advise, CareCognitics, there’s a great opportunity with chronic care management to create a unique patient experience. Initially this can be funded with the chronic care management CPT code, but it’s just the start of building the deep relationship with your patients that I’ve written about many times previously.

One doctor I talked to about chronic care management pretty bluntly said “When a patient walks out that door, I’m not going to think about them again until they come back into my office.”

While this hurts to write and even more to say, it’s the reality for most doctors. They don’t have the time to think about all their patients once their out of the office. In fact, with all the reimbusement and regulatory requirements heaped on them, they can barely think about the patient while their in the office (but that’s a story for another day).

We need to shift this paradigm and I think practices that don’t are going to have real issues in the future. Certainly your doctor isn’t going to be thinking about you much outside of the office. However, our systems can think about you all the time. Our health data can be there and available and queue the physician in when there is something that needs addressing. The technology to do this is basically here and ready. What’s holding it back?

The real challenge we face is accepting that these systems won’t be perfect. At Health IT Expo, we had a great discussion about perfect being the enemy to good and that doing nothing can cause a lot of harm. I think this is the route we’re

How to Improve Communication So You Can Improve Satisfaction

Posted on May 9, 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

In attempts to boost revenue, practices often find themselves mired in the complex tasks of generating marketing, improving scheduling, reducing inefficiencies, and more. And while these practice management pieces are important, sometimes we make things more complicated than they really need to be. When it comes down to it, the foundation of a financially-healthy practice is simple—keeping your patients happy.

Happy patients are the patients that show up—and come back. They’re the patients that refer you to their friends. They are the ones who leave those all-important online reviews. They truly are the bread and butter of your practice’s bottom line. Research backs this up—multiple studies have found a direct correlation between revenue and patient satisfaction. In fact, one study found that those healthcare practices delivering a “superior” customer experience achieve 50 percent higher net margins than those providing just an “average” customer experience.

Use Surveys to Uncover Problems

Obviously, creating a happy patient base is key to a successful practice. But how do you know if your patients are happy? Well, you ask them—in person, in focus groups, and online. The most effective way to gather this data, however, is through surveys. Surveys are an easy and efficient way to find out where you may be falling short.

And since a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96 percent of all patient complaints are related to customer service rather than care or expertise, every person in your practice can be involved in making improvements.

Some of the most common complaints of patients include:

  • Excessive waiting times
  • Inadequate communication
  • Disorganized operations

Last month, I discussed the importance of reducing excessive wait times. You can read that article here. In this post, we will be exploring how to avoid those communication problems that lead to low patient satisfaction.

There are two main areas where communication tends to break down within a practice—between staff members and between the practice and the patient. How can you improve?

Communication within the Office

From the front desk to nurses to doctors and even to the billing department, it is critical that everyone within the practice works as a team to support your patients. Failure to do so leads to errors, confusion, and unhappy patients. Unfortunately, experts estimate that problems take place in 30 percent of all intra-team healthcare communication. There are some ways you can combat poor intra-office communication.

  1. Daily team huddles. A daily huddle meeting is not a full staff meeting. It is a quick (10-15 minute maximum) meeting where each member of your team gives a status report. It’s a great way to align your team and know what to expect that day. Do you know an incoming patient is celebrating a birthday? Just graduated? Do you have holes in your schedule? All of these types of issues can be addressed during a quick huddle.
  2. Escalation processes. While critical care specialties have an acute need for escalation processes, every practice can improve their communication by implementing a designated process for difficult or complex situations. Decide which situations in your individual practice may warrant extra care. Lay out a plan for handling and monitoring these situations. Include the way you refer patients to other offices and communication between practices as part of this process.
  3. Use of a standardized communication tool. While your daily huddle is a great way to get everyone together each day, it is also important to have ways to communicate in real time as new issues arise. Healthcare is definitely a dynamic environment—constantly changing throughout the day. The best way to make sure everyone stays on the same page during the busy day is through the use of an instant messaging app to make communication accessible at all times.

Communication Between Provider and Patient

The vast majority of providers work hard to communicate with patients. But the sad truth remains—patients struggle to remember your instructions. One study showed that patients only recalled 40 percent of the information they were given. Even worse, around half of what they did remember was actually remembered wrong. This means that the way information is conveyed to patients is just as important as the actual information communicated. There are a few tips to improving your communication with patients.

  1. Use open-ended questions. When speaking with a patient, make sure to ask questions that leave room for patients to expound on their thoughts. Yes or no questions often leave many things undiscussed.
  2. Read non-verbal cues. Much of the communication that takes place between a patient and their provider occurs through nonverbal communication. So pay close attention to the patient’s face and their body language. After explaining something to your patient, do they look confused? Are they worried? If so, there is a good chance they will not follow your instructions. Follow up based on the body language of each patient.
  3. Use the teach-back method. One of the best ways to ensure your patients have a good grasp of the things you’ve taught them is to ask them to teach you. This may take an extra few minutes, but can have a lasting impact on patient outcomes (and satisfaction!).
  4. Continue communication between visits. Communication does not end when a patient leaves the office. Continue sending educational tips and encouragement through regular newsletters, social media, and email.

Communication is one of (if not THE) most important component of the patient-provider relationship. It is also the cornerstone of the financial success of every practice. Effective communication helps practices and patients better understand each other and develop a closer bond. It makes for not just healthy—but happy—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.

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.

Positive Patient Experience with an EHR is Possible

Posted on August 30, 2017 I Written By

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

Last week I had a rare healthcare experience – something that I had only read about in blogs and on Twitter – a physician showed me what he was entering into him EHR while I sat beside him in the exam room! I’m not ashamed to admit that my first thought was “I can’t believe this is really happening”.

The doctor must have noticed how I quickly moved my seat closer to the large monitors because he chuckled and asked me: “How long have you been in healthcare?”. After sharing a laugh he went on to say “It’s rare that patients take a keen interest in what I’m keying into the system. It’s usually other healthcare people that want to see what’s going on. Are you a nurse or a physician?”

When I told him I was in Healthcare IT field he smiled and said “Ah that would have been my third guess.”

For the next 20 min he would type a line of notes, point to the screen and then share his reasoning with me. I asked him questions on clinical terms that I did not understand, at which point he would bring up a resource that had a definition. If he didn’t have a ready resource, he explained it as best he could and then encouraged me to look it up on a trusted site like Mayo Clinic’s.

Near the end of the appointment, the doctor asked me if I was involved with EHRs. When I asked him why, he said the most intriguing thing – “because it’s clear to me that the people who design EHRs (a) have never actually seen a patient in an exam room – it’s ridiculous how awful the screens are and (b) never thought that one day doctors would sit beside patients to let them see what they are entering.”

The latter statement has been churning through my mind ever since.

There is little doubt that the majority of EHRs are less-than-well-designed. Physicians everywhere complain about the amount of clicking required to navigate their EHRs and the number of fields they have to enter. The prevailing opinion is to improve EHRs by getting closer to physicians and actually studying how they really conduct a patient visit. This will certainly yield positive results.

But what if we designed an EHR that was meant to be displayed on a big screen? One that had screens that the patients would see as the doctor entered his or her notes? I believe that designing for this type of usage would result in a more significant improvement in usability and have a more positive impact on patient experience than building EHRs based on better observation of physician workflow.

Consider the phenomenon of open kitchens in the restaurant industry. For diners, being able to watch the kitchen staff prepare meals helps to pass the time while waiting for your order. It also allows the diner to see how talented the chefs are – because they can see them working. For staff, an open kitchen often means that the restaurant has put a lot of thought into optimizing food prep workflow. After all, no one would choose a layout that had staff constantly bumping into each other in full view of diners.

If a company designed an EHR that could be shared with patients, they would not only improve the interface for physicians, but they would also provide a means for that physician to improve the overall patient experience.

I hope that more physicians adopt the practice of sharing their EHR screens with patients during a visit. Doing so will immediately improve patient experience and will push vendors to improve their solutions at a far greater pace.