Remember when physicians simply viewed patients as the individuals they treated clinically? No, neither do I. Healthcare delivery for the physician practice has gotten so much more complex in recent years. Payers are reimbursing less while practices are pushed to do more. Patients have become more sophisticated and aware healthcare “consumers” who are driving change with a pool of options at their disposal and just as many expectations to be met.
At the heart of this healthcare consumer transformation is technology: from fitness devices tracking everything from steps and sleep hours to iPhones offering select patients access to their medical records. At the same time, the value-based care reimbursement model recognizes that many health conditions or procedures are avoidable. At least 25 cents of every healthcare dollar is spent on treating conditions caused by potentially changeable behaviors. Moreover, highly engaged patients have 8 to 21 percent lower healthcare costs than people with the least skills and confidence to actively engage in their own healthcare, even after adjusting for health status and other factors.
The good news is technology has kept up with today’s market challenges. From integrated workflow solutions solving real business problems to patient-facing apps, customizable tools help physicians deliver not just effective but exceptional care and manage patient relationships. For many, this is the reality of their current practice while others are still considering the potential returns of making such investments and how they’ll get there. Here’s a look at the market’s most pressing demands for staying competitive – and independent – and both current and evolving technology tools to meet them.
Lifestyle management is the next step
While text messaging, email, and phone calls have become commonplace for appointment reminders, there are countless ways practices can more effectively engage with patients and streamline communication. Automatic texts can send prompts for refilling or taking medications. Mobile apps can remind users to report on nightly sleep quality in the morning and mental health status throughout the day. Activity monitors can sync with the practice’s medical records to track patients’ exercise and overall activity level. Similar apps can analyze food intake and help physicians recommend necessary dietary changes for better outcomes.
By using lifestyle management technology, providers engage with patients on an ongoing basis, not just when a problem occurs. Integrating and automating such apps into existing workflows will minimize administrative burden for providers while translating to a more positive care experience and better outcomes for patients.
Unfortunately, with the exception of chronic disease management, the current healthcare system does not incentivize physicians to proactively monitor patient health. Even so, there are signs that the market is moving in that direction. We’ve already seen employers launch preventive wellness programs and negotiate reduced premiums in return. Fewer chronically ill patients and hospital visits translate to reduced costs for payers.
Practices can pioneer new methods of patient engagement for lifestyle management—it has never been easier with the existing technology enabling a steady stream of proactive health initiatives whereby the patient and physician are in regular communication about setting, then meeting, health goals. The results of lifestyle management efforts can be tracked with analytics and benchmarking solutions and then leveraged in contract negotiations with payers. With data that demonstrates healthier patients and higher care quality, physicians’ fees, network presence, and other perks can increase.
Reputation management, engagement
As consumer-type behaviors grow in healthcare, patients more regularly turn to healthcare-specific rating sites, such as Healthgrades, Vitals, and RateMDs, as well as Google, Yelp, and CitySearch to scope out practices before making appointments. In fact, over 70 percent of patients research their doctors online, typically finding a mix of positive and negative reviews. Feedback once meant a conversation with a staff member; now, it’s published for all to see.
Most busy physicians don’t have the time to manage their online reputation by scouring the internet. But a practice is actually a business that draws customers (or not), in part, by the nature of its online presence. The next generation of patients desire their experiences to be valued and known. Physicians should track patient feedback, addressing concerns as soon after the office or telemedicine visit as possible.
The key to success is to make the task fast and simple through automated doctor reputation management software. This type of tool uses automated surveys to gather patient feedback about recent office and telemedicine visits. Physicians or staff members can view ratings in their patient engagement platform and reach out to patients who were not entirely satisfied. Patients who had a good experience can be prompted to post their reviews online right away.
Managing the entire digital experience journey
Taking it a step further, providers can consider how their technology fits within a patient’s entire digital experience journey: A patient seeks out an online review and likes what he sees. From there, he should be able to click to set up an appointment at a time that meets his needs. Requiring a phone call at this point could be the fastest way to lose that potential connection, particularly if a patient is making an appointment after hours or on a weekend. Furthermore, digital connectivity tools like online scheduling and bill pay make patients feel that care is seamless and their convenience has been considered. All of these offerings demonstrate that the physician’s efforts go beyond visits and procedures, a must-do for retaining today’s patients. By engaging with patients in various ways, including through a solid online presence, higher satisfaction and more referrals are sure to follow.
Automation makes such comprehensive patient engagement and management programs possible without adding to the physician’s administrative burden. When all the administrative, clinical, and patient-facing processes are securely automated and interconnected, providers can avoid some of the increasing costs of doing business while being responsive to the needs of patients and insurers. Unifying all areas of the practice with one workflow, one database, and one log-in allows for adding strategic technology tools that solve a specific challenge or add value without interrupting the daily workflow.
The American Hospital Association reports that 70 percent of patients are comfortable communicating with their healthcare providers via text, email, or video, in lieu of seeing them in person. Large health systems and hospitals have responded by offering the telemedicine option to patients, and telemedicine companies are sprouting up near and far. To compete and not lose patients to outside services, practices should consider adding a telemedicine option to the services they already provided. This helps preserve the relationships physicians work so hard to build and maintain, and there is also strong value for patients in consistently seeing the same physician.
If telemedicine software is integrated into the existing technology suite, it helps make the service addition seamless from the technology implementation standpoint and eliminates duplication of data entry and possibility of errors. While there are still variations in reimbursement from state to state and across different payers, the telemedicine market is gaining more consistency, making the transition to virtual services a worthwhile process.
While most practices employ EHR, practice management, and at least some patient management tools, few are using analytics to understand how the technology and their practices are performing. All practices, regardless of the technology they used, will benefit from better understanding the patients they see, the flow of their visits, and the intricacies of how they get paid. Physicians also need to better utilize benchmarking technologies to understand how they are doing in comparison to their peers – locally and by specialty.
Tying it all together
Patients will keep driving trends in healthcare, such as convenient care options and automated data delivery, in their preferred digital formats. Their demands – and our nation’s need – for lifestyle management and pricing transparency are propelling the current market shifts. To stay competitive, practices need to find ways to achieve more with the limited time and resources they have. Automation of all administrative and clinically mundane tasks will free up providers to do what technology cannot do and help practices thrive in the future of modern medicine.
Arman Samani is chief technology officer of AdvancedMD, a pioneer in cloud technology for independent physician practices, located in South Jordan, Utah.
Read the full article on Medical Economics.