Have you, an experienced provider or practice manager, found yourself asking the question what can I do to increase patient engagement, boost new patient volumes, and strengthen patient retention to ensure my practice’s success? If you haven’t, perhaps now is the time.
Today’s patient population is taking on new characteristics of a consumer-oriented mindset and as a result, practices need to adapt to support a more customer service-based model where the patient experience is focused on time saved as well as quality of care received. The ease and efficiency a patient experiences when interacting with a practice will become a hefty consideration when choosing a physician. This added criteria highlights the shift in priority from quality of care to efficiency or time saved by the patient.
Now, when I talk about today’s population, let’s just cut to the chase: I am talking about Millennials. And when I specify what these “patients” (millennials) want out of a practice today, I am referring to the technological and digital conveniences that are expected in a competitive market that is our healthcare system today.
Millennials, myself included, have grown up in a technology dominant environment their whole lives. We are now at the age where we are most likely looking to establish a relationship with the healthcare system for the first time, and we are quite possibly the primary healthcare consumer for loved ones (parents and grandparents) as well. As we move forward with these decisions, technology will play a major role in the process. We have come to expect technology to work for us and overcome what historically was a limitation for our parents. We are high-information consumers in every aspect of our lives, including healthcare, which is why your practice must work with technology and offer a digitally integrated experience to meet our expectations and engage millennials.
To meet these needs, practices will require these 5 things to not only engage us but to also establish loyalty and retain us:
1) Patient Portal
Now having a patient portal may seem like an unspoken assumption for healthcare practices in the industry, however, I wanted to include it to highlight the functionality that patients are looking for. Patient portal adoption skyrocketed a few years ago when the Meaningful Use program was introduced to providers, and since then the numbers have just kept growing. This specific tool is utilized by your patient population no matter their age or demographics. People, myself included, want access to their health records, they want to be able to review it themselves and share it with others. They consider it highly important to be able to track their medications and results through the portal. Millennials especially want to be able to communicate through the portal with the practice for things like medication refills and questions sent via secure messaging.
2) Online scheduling
I should be able to go online either to your practice website or my patient portal account and schedule my next appointment. I understand phone calls have always been the safest and most reliable form of communication, but patients are pushing the boundaries to a new normal which is online scheduling. Millennials view a phone call as an archaic method that often wastes their time by waiting to get connected and being on hold once they are. Not only that, but this patient population is much more Type A personality than any other, we want to feel a sense of control by scheduling our own visit and having a confirmation email or number that provides undeniable proof of our appointment. Now if patients can schedule an appointment online they also expect to be able to cancel and re-schedule their appointments online again without a phone call. It is a generation that is always on the move that has access and control over their schedules at every moment. If a hair or nail appointment can be made online, why shouldn’t my doctor’s appointment be as well?
3) Text Reminders
The next step up from the patient portal and online scheduling is patient reminders, particularly in the form of texting. Patient reminders are nothing new they have just evolved over the years from the front office staff calling to automated calls to even emails, however, the most recent and most widely expected form is now text messaging. Today’s population is more and more dependent on their smartphones and are used to having data at their fingertips, they expect the convenience of a text to remind them of an upcoming doctor’s appointment. From a millennials perspective, if I can get a text message from a restaurant letting me know my table is ready why couldn’t my physician’s office, which should be much more sophisticated and advanced than a restaurant, do the same?
4) Online Forms
Have you ever heard the saying “in the interest of time we will…”? It means in order to save time or in order to hurry things along, but I am sure you knew that. So I propose the following statement to providers and office managers, in the interest of time we will now be offering patient forms online to be filled out prior to coming into the office. The age of digital data entry is here and gone are the days of filling out paper forms on a clipboard with pens that never seem to work in a waiting room. Not only do patients want the ability to fill things out online before they get to the office on their own time and at their own convenience, but office staff also support this. When a patient fills out their data online the office staff will simply approve and import the data. There is no more manual data entry where mistakes could be made and 30 minutes isn’t spent trying to decipher someone’s chicken scratch. Now this doesn’t have to be completely online it could be done in a multitude of different ways.
The last component to complete this cohesive set of digital and mobile tools patients expect from your practice is telemedicine. It is the fastest growing phenomena in the healthcare industry today, and why wouldn’t it be? We have mentioned numerous times the patient population is about efficiency and technology, and what combines those two things better than saving time by skipping the hassle of a traditional brick and mortar office visit to stay at home and see a doctor almost immediately on your phone or tablet? Nothing! Patients are already drifting more and more towards minute clinics and urgent care facilities that offer quick solutions. Telemedicine is literally a virtual house call for patients and eliminates a lot of the time and money patients would normally spend if this is an option. I understand, as I think most patients do as well, telemedicine isn’t an applicable solution for everything. Nothing can truly replace going in and see a provider to receive the care you need in person. There are some instances, such as follow-ups, chronic care management, etc. where telemedicine can help deliver routine care in a more efficient and patient-friendly manner. This will give you a competitive edge.
If you’ll notice each one of these items or patient tools builds off each other to create a more complete integrated approach to digital patient engagement. These tools appeal to millennials especially, which is important as they are becoming the key decision-makers in the healthcare arena, in order to stay competitive in this industry your practice’s healthcare services need to be structured around this.
At Itentive, we want to ensure a practice’s success and help you serve your patient population in the best way you can by using today’s technologies. We can work with your practice on integration strategies for products and services like the five listed above. We care about you, so you can care for others.
- Lindsey Lanning, Healthcare Compliance Consultant at Itentive Healthcare Solutions