Like many other healthcare providers and payers, you've got a patient access problem.
It's not that patients aren't aware of your services, or even that they aren't reaching out to you when they decide to seek care.
However, when they do reach out to you, you're unable to respond to their questions, connect them with the appropriate resource, or schedule appointments in a timely matter.
The result is a pretty lousy patient experience and a lot of missed opportunities for your clinical team to impact patient outcomes.
Expectations Set By The New Healthcare Consumer
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in how patients interact with healthcare providers.
Driven by customer-centric companies like Amazon, Zappos, and Netflix, consumers now expect a service experience that prioritizes highly personalized, on-demand interactions—all on the device they prefer.
As these consumers become patients—and look to you for healthcare—they expect you to communicate in a similar way. This means that organizations such as yours must expand their availability to be 24x7x365 and be capable of managing patient flow by offering nurse triage, dynamic referral/escalation to relevant resources, and appointment scheduling.
Building The Five Pillars to Patient Access
Patients will choose to reach out to your organization based on their preferred method of communication and what they believe is a viable channel offered by your organization.
To ensure you are capable of connecting with patients in a responsive, consistent way you must have a communication infrastructure in place that allows you to engage patients across multiple communication channels at anytime.
1. Telephone (Contact Center)
Your contact center serves as the centerpiece of your patient access strategy, managing all telephone based engagements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Staffed by Registered Nurses and Healthcare Service Representatives, your contact center manages patient flow through your healthcare system by providing your patients with access to routine and urgent based care in the language most appropriate for the patient.
The functions performed by your contact center include (but are not limited to): nurse triage, navigation assistance, health-risk assessments, physician/facility referral, appointment scheduling and reminders, prescription refill support, navigation assistance, pre-admission education, and post discharge support.
2. Website / Patient Portal
While your contact center serves as the centerpiece of your patient access strategy, your website serves as the public face to your organization.
With one in three U.S. adults using the Internet to diagnose healthcare conditions, long gone are the days when a static, brochure website was enough to meet your patient’s online demands—and with half of those adults going on to consult a medical professional about what they found online, your website must provide a seamless escalation path to your healthcare services (e.g. your contact center).
In addition to providing information about you and your services, your website must offer some functionality that allows your patients to find relevant healthcare information. Specifically, this may include the ability to request physician referrals, medication refill assistance, appointment scheduling, or follow up contact by a Registered Nurse.
3. Mobile App / Websites
Smartphones provide your patients with access to the Internet—and subsequent health information—wherever and whenever they need it. With 53% of U.S. adult cell phone owners using smartphones, mobile applications and websites are quickly becoming a vital patient access point for healthcare organizations.
Similar to your website, mobile apps and/or websites should go beyond static content and provide functionality that allows patients to review health information, search for physicians, and locate other relevant healthcare services. Additionally, immediate escalation to your contact center should be incorporated into your mobile strategy, allowing patients to quickly transition their Internet engagement into a phone call.
4. Secure Notifications (Email, Text Message, and Paging)
Beyond the telephone, your websites, and mobile apps, there are other ways your patients will likely expect you to communicate—which include secure email and text messaging. This secure, two-way electronic communication process allows you to send appointment reminders, receive confirmation, alert patients of pending test results, or respond to specific healthcare questions.
For example, using a secure web form on your website, a patient can submit a healthcare question to be answered by a Registered Nurse who will respond to the patient via email within a predefined amount of time (typically within 24 hours).
5. Social Media
In patient-centered care models, patients are encouraged to take ownership of their healthcare and form trusted networks of individuals (e.g. practitioners, other patients, family members, etc.) that will help them better navigate the healthcare system and understand their treatment options.
These networks will invariably consist of both on and offline communities. Social media provides you with a way to make your organization (and specific healthcare professionals) available to these communities. Not only will you be able to provide your patient population with helpful information and resources, but you’ll also be able to listen to how your patients perceive the care you provided—giving you important insight into how you can improve your services.
Enhanced Patient Access Critical to Patient-Centered Care
Responsive patient access capabilities have become even more important now that millions of people have access to health insurance for the first time—ultimately, increasing the number of patients who are actively choosing to utilize healthcare. In fact, while many industries have seen their consumers spend less time on the phone, patient calls to physicians are up 25 to 50% since 2008.
As you implement new patient-centered models of care (such as Accountable Care Organizations and Patient Centered Medical Homes), your patient access goals will take on even more complexity. Not only will you be required to respond to patient requests at anytime, you’ll need to be able to connect and guide your patients to appropriate healthcare practitioners, settings, programs, and administrative resources based on what you know and learn about each patient—regardless of their original reason for contact.