Today, it’s all too common for healthcare providers to treat patients on a one-off, situational basis based on information provided at the moment. A patient’s healthcare journey doesn’t begin or end with a single appointment or medical procedure. On the contrary, it is a continuous cycle that requires consistent, personalized attention and communication throughout a patient’s lifetime to ensure optimal health outcomes.
Providers and health systems need to keep this at the forefront, and focus on delivering value and care throughout the patient’s healthcare journey. This is no small task, but a new breed of patient relationship management technologies are providing critical support for value-based clinics and physicians to maintain regular interaction with patients, support improved health outcomes and enhance the patient-provider relationship.
Value-Based Care and the Patient Journey
Under the new tenets of value-based medicine, providers are compensated based on patient outcomes and experiences, rather than on completed appointments and procedures. Consequently, healthcare providers are incentivized to deploy solutions that help them more quickly and effectively deliver care to their patients that drive maximal outcomes.
Rather than focusing on individual appointments or hospital visits, value-based care drives a more holistic approach to the patient journey. The patient journey starts before a patient’s first office visit and continues all the way through end-of-life care. It includes medical appointments and procedures, but also the care and wellness in between visits. Appointment reminders and confirmations, education about specific ailments or procedures and guidelines on how to prepare for a procedure are among the types of regular communication patients require throughout their journey to keep them informed and engaged.
To comply with the new goals under value-based care, providers are modernizing their infrastructure and processes to sustain the relationship management required to provide adequate patient guidance to maximize health outcomes.
Telehealth: Providing Patient Value Across Distances
The patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is 13.5 fewer physicians per 100,000 people than in urban locations. Similarly, there are only 30 specialists per 100,000 people in rural communities, versus 263 specialists per 100,000 patients in urban areas. In an effort to better reach and serve patients in rural areas, providers are increasingly adopting telehealth technologies.
The federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as the “use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” Earlier this year for example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled its first Rural Health Strategy to improve patient access to high quality and affordable healthcare in rural areas of the U.S. Objectives within the strategy include the adoption of health IT to enhance patient access to health information and removing barriers to implement telemedicine. For example, Alabama, which ranks 46th for both overall health and diabetes, uses telehealth technology to educate diabetes patients and provide them with the tools they need for more effective self-care and self-management for optimal well-being.
Telehealth technologies support the patient journey by removing barriers such as distance and access, making it easier for patients to not only get to care, but also to maintain control of their own health with the tools they need to sustain the level of self-care required in between doctor appointments and follow-ups. Though not yet widespread, a recent MGMA poll among practices found that 26 percent of organizations offer telehealth services, compared to 23 percent the previous year, and that another 15 percent plan to offer them in the future. Efforts such as that of CMS are likely to help telehealth continue to grow even further in the future.
The power of mobile
There is also an ongoing cultural shift within the industry that recognizes the role of the patient as a consumer. Consumers use mobile phones to manage almost all aspects of their lives, such as banking, making dinner reservations, shopping for groceries and scheduling babysitters. It is logical for the healthcare industry to follow this path to the mobile device to drive patient-provider communications and engagement.
Modern patient relationship technologies leverage the power of mobile to help patients manage their healthcare journey and to allow clinics to become more effective delivering care. Based on data from thousands of providers, results show that clinics that deploy mobile-first text messaging, for instance, (and automatically feed that data into the EHR system for smart waitlists etc.) communicate more effectively with patients. This includes:
- 45-50 percent patient response rates, compared to the current industry average of 10 percent
- 15 percent increase in patient capacity utilization
- 25 percent lower patient cancellation rates
- Monthly referral schedule rate of 65 percent, compared to the 54 percent industry average
New advances in mobile technology also power clinical feedback and advice to ensure consistent guidance throughout the patient journey. Bot-powered text messaging can be customized based on medical specialty or the type of procedure in order to address the specific requirements of each patient. For example, if a patient has a scheduled colonoscopy, a few days before the procedure they will receive customized text reminders from their physician to ensure they are following the correct procedures, such as avoiding high-fiber foods in the days before, or taking a certain medication. Communication can continue after the procedure as well, reminding patients to get plenty of rest and fluids and to make sure their recovery is on track.
In this age of advanced technology, provider-patient communication too often occurs in the form of pre-appointment emails or voicemail reminders. As providers continue to adjust and adapt to the ubiquitous use of mobile, so will the patient frustration decrease and clinic capacity increase. The metrics of success depend on delivering the right care to more patients effectively and at scale
What can we expect for the future?
In an era of value-based care that places an increased emphasis on health outcomes, engaging with patients throughout their journey is critical. Telehealth and mobile technologies enable providers to connect and engage with patients before and after appointments, as well as in-between to provide pre-emptive guidance and self-management instructions. These efforts and technologies provide patients with control of their patient journey and they will only become more important. We’re only now seeing the beginning of how modern technology can improve the healthcare system as a whole. Ongoing advancements to extend physicians’ ability to easily view and track patients’ medical history and treatments will further power the patient journey and build a lifetime of value for patients through constant education and improved access to care.