2020 has been a watershed year in healthcare. Covid-19 has forced providers into providing care remotely and accelerated a cultural shift to thinking about patients as online consumers. Patient access professionals have now been thrust into the limelight as they take the lead on rethinking digital patient experience.
To learn more about how hospital systems are coping with this shift, we conducted a survey of 68 healthcare leaders in large hospital systems with over 25,000 appointments per month. We asked about their challenges, opportunities, and priorities as healthcare cements its operations for the foreseeable future around a hybrid model that mixes in-person care with virtual visits.
Respondents reported that top differentiators for their hospital in 2021 will be patient experience (90%) and access to care (81%). Patients are experiencing healthcare in new ways as we rely more on the Internet, and providers believe that hybrid care is here to stay. Providers interviewed believe that 20-30% of their patient visits over the next 12 months will be via video.
Considering this reality, it’s clear that healthcare providers must strive to provide the best possible experience to make sure that patients come back to their brand, particularly in the market-based U.S. system.
How providers are improving the digital experience
To satisfy patients, online and hybrid healthcare has got to be easy, purposeful, and smooth. Unfortunately, this is frequently not how patients experience it. Instead, the experience too often feels fragmented and filled with stumbling blocks. While patient experience already suffered from fragmentation even before the pandemic hit, that problem has only worsened, with patients feeling more than ever that their care is fractured instead of a consistent, guided journey.
According to our survey, more than half of patient access leaders (57%) are acutely aware of fragmented processes, identifying them as the leading obstacle to achieving their goals. As a result, these leaders are rethinking the nature of patient access in three related areas: process, technology, and experience.
Process improvement and streamlining workflow has become the priority for patient access departments. Our research shows they are focusing on easing the burden on staff, reducing manual and repetitive tasks, and optimizing and automating workflow to help achieve patient access. Complex workflow creates difficulties in coordinating patient journeys and ensuring patients are appropriately guided through the right access journey.
The fragmentation of patient journeys is compounded by fragmented IT systems. As hospital systems look to bolster patient experience within the hybrid care model via virtual care and decision support, and to recuperate revenue lost during the pandemic, many are looking to consolidate technology vendors and integrate platforms wherever possible.
Almost three quarters of our survey respondents believe telehealth offers an excellent patient experience. With the belief that digital visits can improve wait times and patient satisfaction. But regardless of the experience of a patient on an individual telehealth call, healthcare systems will fail to create excellent experience for patients if they fail to address the problematic fragmentation of care overall.
How providers are solving for patient experience
Providers are focusing on three important goals to improve patient experience over the coming year and beyond:
- Improving processes and streamlining workflow
- Reducing appointment wait times
- Increasing patient satisfaction
To meet these goals, hospitals focus on automated tools, followed by virtual care and decision support. Only 12% of respondents said they are looking to hire more staff over the next 12 months, so automation is key to reduce the burden on staff and improve patient experience.
2020, the turning point
Covid-19 has been a strong catalyst for healthcare systems to deploy virtual care and to think far more deeply about patients’ digital experience.
There is no longer any question that virtual care will be an ongoing component of patient experience for the foreseeable future. The biggest question that remains is whether healthcare systems will be able to leverage available technologies to make these changes work to their advantage, and that may depend quite strongly on reimbursement. Indeed, reimbursement will play a key role in whether virtual care is likely to remain in play, and as such, 85% of our respondents agree that CMS needs to continue to reimburse for virtual visits.
Change is in the air in healthcare, and many questions remain regarding how providers will implement operational shifts in the coming months and years, as well as how patients will experience their care.
Read the full survey report to see how healthcare leaders are grappling with these challenges right now.