In today’s healthcare environment, creating a positive customer experience isn’t any longer just a nice thing to do. Providers literally can’t afford patient dissatisfaction. It’s about more than avoiding a low rating on a survey. Poor patient-to-provider communications can result in more – and more serious – illness, and that translates into higher healthcare costs. In the U.S., poor clinical outcomes can also result in lower reimbursement rates for healthcare entities.
Where’s the pain?
When people are sick, they don’t want to wait. Whether it’s in an emergency room, physician’s office, on the phone or even at home waiting for test results, they want to communicate with their healthcare professional as quickly as possible.
In a world where there seems to be an app for everything, patients expect technology to handle almost any issue in their everyday lives. They want reliable electronic access to records and information, self-service in scheduling appointments, WiFi in waiting rooms and hospitals and the ability to communicate via multiple channels – email, phone, SMS and web chat.
At the same time, healthcare providers struggle with communications and technology, and for them the pain of a dysfunctional system translates into real dollars:
- For a missed appointment, the average cost per practice-physician/day is $411.
- The average cost to hospitals for a patient readmission within 30 days is over $14,000.
- Care teams lose 19 minutes per hour due to patient transfer delays caused by communications bottlenecks.
- Critical care nurses are interrupted 15 times per hour because of a lack of control over how and when they can be reached.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. healthcare providers are being held more accountable for patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. For reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, there has been a shift from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance. Higher readmission rates can translate into lower payments.
How can technology help?
In the 2016 HIMSS Leadership Survey, 95 percent of Health IT executives and professionals rated improved patient satisfaction and improved patient care and outcomes as their top three priorities for the coming year. How can technology help achieve those goals?
BMI Healthcare, the United Kingdom’s largest private hospital group, discovered that many patients had difficulty getting through to its hospitals because staffers were often busy attending to patients. Its solution was to route calls to a dedicated call center where trained agents could serve the callers’ needs.
As a result, abandoned calls fell from over 40 percent to under 1 percent. The average time to answer is now 20 seconds for more than 80 percent of calls. And, reported BMI IT Director Dan Morgan, “our conversion rate has gone from sub 30 percent to 75 percent plus.
“That’s translated directly into an improved bottom line response for our business, with the hospitals that are participating in the project seeing growth in excess of the rest of the group,” Morgan said. “That’s equally benefited patients by giving them much better service, and them getting through to the information they need when they need it.”
Hospitals are also using contact centers to continue care to discharged patients by coordinating follow up appointments, providing prescription refill reminders and other post-discharge support.
Multiple sites, different telephony systems and difficulty reaching the right person all complicate healthcare professionals’ ability to communicate efficiently. And that directly impacts the customer experience.
Think of it this way: Nurse A can’t get a hold of Doctor B while a patient struggles with pain. What if the hospital had secure instant messaging between smartphone devices, enabling the nurse to send more detailed questions or updates? Or if the system had individual, customized profiles that define how on-call staff can best be contacted, based on dynamic user-maintained schedules?
Another example: Giving patients access to their electronic records is now mandated by U.S. law. But more than just looking at records, patients want the ability to communicate directly with their healthcare provider. As a result, some hospitals have introduced features that allow a patient to enter a question into the hospital’s portal and receive an answer electronically. No need to make a call or wait on the phone.
At one time, all medical communications were synchronous, person-to-person, in the same room. Hopefully that kind of care will never disappear. But in today’s increasingly hectic and understaffed healthcare systems, new technologies can lead to better customer experiences and outcomes by allowing healthcare professionals to use their skills and time where it’s most needed.