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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.

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.

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.

E-Patient Update: Clinicians Who Email Patients Have Stronger Patient Relationships

Posted on January 26, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

I don’t know about you, but before I signed up with Kaiser Permanente – which relies heavily on doctor-to-patient messaging via a portal – it was almost unthinkable for a primary care clinician to share their email address with me. Maybe I was dealing with old-fashioned folks, but in every other respect, most of my PCPs have seemed modern enough.

Few physicians have been willing to talk with me on the phone, either, though nurses and clinical assistants typically passed along messages. Yes, I know that it’s almost impossible for doctors to chat with patients these days, but it doesn’t change that this set-up impedes communication somewhat. (I know – no solution is perfect.)

Given these experiences, I was quite interested to read about a new study looking at modes of communication between doctors and patients in the good old days before EHR implementation. The study, which appeared in the European Journal for Person Centered Healthcare, compared how PCPs used cellphones, email messages and texts, as well as how these communication styles affected patient satisfaction.

To conduct the study, researchers conducted a 16-question survey of 149 Mid-Atlantic primary care providers. The survey took place in the year before the practices rolled out EHRs offering the ability to send secure messages to patients.

In short, researchers found that PCPs who gave patients their email addresses were more likely to engage in ongoing email conversations. When providers did this, patients reported higher overall satisfaction than with providers who didn’t share their address. Cellphone use and text messaging didn’t have this effect.

According to the authors, the study suggests that when providers share their email addresses, it may point to a stronger relationship with the patient in question. OK, I get that. But I’d go further and say that when doctors give patients their email address it can create a stronger patient relationship than they had before.

Look, I’m aware that historically, physicians have been understandably reluctant to share contact information with patients. Many doctors are already being pushed to the edge by existing demands on their time. They had good reason to fear that they would be deluged with messages, spending time for which they wouldn’t be reimbursed and incurring potential medical malpractice liability in the process.

Over time, though, it’s become clear that PCPs haven’t gotten as many messages as they expected. Also, researchers have found that physician-patient email exchanges improve the quality of care they deliver. Not only that, in some cases email messaging between doctors and patients has helped chronically-ill patients manage their conditions more effectively.

Of course, no communication style is right for everyone, and obviously, that includes doctors. But it seems that in many cases, ongoing messaging between physicians and patients may well be worth the trouble.

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.

WorkFlow Wednesday: Patient Satisfaction and West’s Patient Experience Survey

Posted on July 5, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor. Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare. twitter: @coherencemed

Providers can improve patient experiences and revenue. So much of what improves satisfaction is outside the clinical setting.  West’s Insights and Impact Study titled “Prioritizing the Patient Experience” examines the gaps in patient value perception in the current healthcare marketplace.

West recently conducted a survey of patients providers to get more insights into what patients and providers value.  With value based payment models and consumer focused health providers are increasingly motivated to provide high quality service. Today’s patient is more aware of choice in provider options and will shop around for a provider that matches their needs.

Patients and Value Based Care Provide More Awareness of Choice in the Healthcare Marketplace

Patient experience using current technology and workflows is the space West has been working in for 25 years, including patient reminders for large hospital systems. As a company that specializes in patient experience, they used an outside firm to get insight about how well provider and patient perceptions were aligned. It was impressive to see an engagement company practicing what they preach and being proactive about feedback and improvement.

The most interesting takeaway from all of the statistics and research and report is that we know what the drivers of a good experience are. If you ask patients and providers what their motivation are answers are not usually aligned. This gap in what providers and patients value in terms of healthcare experience can cost providers revenue and patients. Patients value a high level of communication and transparency about cost of care more than providers believe.

Looking at the study, 78% of patients with a Chronic condition are likely to say that their provider cares about them as a person. Personally I’ve experienced this with my son that has a Chronic condition. We researched providers to ensure that we had similar values about communication and follow-up. Social Media groups like mom groups on Facebook have a lot of feedback about provider value. I know his provider gives great care and cares about him.

Patients with a Chronic Condition are Likely to Receive Personalized Care.

My Takeaways From the West Report

  • Current Systems do not always create a seamless workflow. Smooth workflow and patient communications improve patient experience.
  • Patients really want to know about what to expect in appointments. Sending a notification about costs including copays and obligations improves patient satisfaction.
  • Wait times are a huge cause of concern for patients. Electronic messaging or text information about waits can improve patient satisfaction even in cases where delays cannot be avoided.
  • Making payment as easy for patient as possible improves patient healthcare experience. A reminder about a bill with information about how to pay will improve practice revenue and patient experience.
  • Simple workflow improvement and automation improves clinical outcomes and patient retention in an increasingly consumer aware healthcare world.
  • Providers can focus on using the technology to better measure that for further strategy for improvement.

Well developed workflow can ensure that physicians have fewer patient surprises. Rather than waiting for an HCAP you can proactively collect data and brief surveys on specific topics before you are doing emergency triage. Contact recently discharged patients via an automated phone message or email. Have the questions tie back to HCAP survey questions so they can see what they will get.

What can systems do? Select Key measures for patient satisfaction.

What can physicians do? Tell patients that what to expect.

West is following their own advice and getting feedback about the value of communications and technology The survey is a connector for patients and for technology companies in the HealthIT space. Great ideas about Workflow improvement and best practice for business from West.

The report can be accessed online here and these key takeaways and is a great read for providers.

When Scribes Don’t Pay Off

Posted on June 30, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Since scribes first hit the scene, there’s been a lot of debate about the benefits of having them in place, as well as what duties they should handle.

Critics have suggested that using scribes only sidesteps the need to look at larger industry issues. On the other hand, some physicians have found scribe support to be a big relief. Many have reported that scribes have reduced their paperwork and reestablished their face-to-face connection with patients.

Those happy doctors include Peter Leavitt, primary care physician with Bend, OR-based St. Charles Family Care. Dr. Leavitt told a local newspaper that using the scribe cut the two hours per day he spent entering notes into the EMR by 40 percent.

But Leavitt won’t have scribes available much longer. St. Charles Health System, the PCP practice’s parent organization, has decided to drop scribe support for primary care offices on July 1st. The health system said that the $480,000 it invested in scribes didn’t produce enough benefits to justify the expense.

Starting in spring of last year, St. Charles has gradually brought a total of 20 scribes on board.  In an effort to test out their impact, the system brought scribes to only four of the clinics.

St. Charles hoped that rollout within the primary care practices would boost physician morale, increase patient throughput and give doctors time to improve their chart notes and documentation. As it turned out, however, adding the scribes didn’t accomplish what execs had hoped.

Yes, the roughly 20 doctors who used scribes seem to be happier once they came on board. But the scribe experiment seemed to fail by other measures. The clinicians were only able to see one-half patient more per day, which didn’t meet execs’ expectations. What’s more, documentation didn’t improve, in part because scribes can’t perform key functions like ordering tests, Leavitt suggested.

What’s more, the health system ran into some unexpected obstacles. In particular, some patients refused to let scribes stay in the exam room, and others would only share private information with the doctor once the scribe left the room.

It’s impossible to say whether the results seen by St. Charles would be duplicated elsewhere. After all, there are a ton of potential confounding factors which could have influenced the results of this trial, including the nature and level of training the scribes had received and the extent to which the clinics‘ existing processes could support workflow improvement.

Though we’ll never know for sure, it could be that if the scribes had a better education or the workflow around documentation was improved, St. Charles would have gotten better results. And it could be that the EMR is so hard to use that even scribe use couldn’t put a dent in the problem.

Regardless, we don’t need to know much to conclude that the health system may have significantly undervalued the benefits of physician satisfaction. I don’t know what dollar value execs assigned to the happiness of doctors, but even a raw number based on physician recruitment costs and the time needed to train them on your EMR would might capture such benefits.

Meanwhile, I’d argue that the metrics St. Charles used to measure scribe value – patient throughput and improved documentation — may or may not be the best way to approach the problem. I’d love to see a similar pilot rolled out which measures success strictly by patient and doctor satisfaction levels.  After all, you can’t lose by making physicians and patients happy.