Virtual Care and Digital Health: Beyond COVID Response
The Tegria Blog Aug 11, 2021
Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the release of new Harris Poll survey data on American consumers’ views on their healthcare providers, we asked two Tegria executives – Rodina Bizri-Baryak, director of patient access, growth and retention, and Emily Tempels, director of patient access, growth and retention – to share their observations on how healthcare leaders are responding. For those attending HIMSS, Rodina and Emily led a session on patient access, retention and growth on Thursday, March 17, 8:30am-9:30am, at Room W208C in the West Building of the Orange County Convention Center.
The survey data seemed to say that people might like their providers, but are also willing to leave them for more convenience. How many providers would you say recognize this and are addressing it?
Only a small subset of providers recognize that this is the case. Most providers believe that patients have loyalty to them and that the bottom-line measure is the quality of care.
Those who are addressing this are aligned with transformation and quality and are looking at digital mechanisms to aid in creating a welcoming and frictionless patient experience.
You recommend that providers be open to ideas from outside healthcare to improve the welcome and overall experience. How should providers think about which ideas are best for them and how to put them into practice?
We can look at this two ways: from the provider’s perspective and then from the patient’s perspective. For the provider, a lot of them are dealing with burnout and their daily tasks have been magnified by the need to do a lot of documentation, which they might consider clerical tasks. To maximize scope of practice and working to the top of their license, we can utilize digital technologies to reduce the clicks that providers do on a very daily basis.
For patients, we can eliminate a lot of the calls back and forth to providers through the use of chat bots for self-diagnosis self-service using SMS and communication mediums like MyChart.
The best providers know, however, that bringing in ideas from outside healthcare – whether it’s through new hires or application of best practices from other industries – requires a lot of prudence. It’s great as long as we are mindful of the nuances associated with the coordination of care. New hires especially take time to understand the risks for managing patients. We shouldn’t oversimplify what it takes to utilize these technologies in a healthcare setting. The devil is in the details.
While other industries have much to offer healthcare from an experience perspective, we also can’t underestimate the clinical nuances that must be accounted for. If you look at Airbnb or American Airlines, you are booking a ticket or a room. There is no need for a clinical person who makes sure that your needs are met physically, mentally, etc.
It’s not as simple in healthcare. The front-end experience should absolutely be much faster and simpler than it is across the industry today, but the clinicians providing care add a level of complexity – “I need to be able to weigh in on where my patients are going, when, and to make sure their treatment is the safest and the best.”
Yes, this isn’t a vacation that you’re booking–this could be life or death. This is your health and there is nothing more important.
What are examples of healthcare leaders doing great work in this area?
The customers I’m extremely proud to have been in the trenches with took risks. They weren’t afraid to try new things, and when they were designing, they valued the consumer’s perspective and empowered their patients to take control of their health. As a result, their designs were much more innovative. They also weren’t afraid to fail and get up and try again until they got the optimal mix of high touch, attention to patients, and use of technology.
How did they account for and minimize the risks?
They did a lot of problem-based scenario planning and simulations. They allowed their IT team, in addition to their process engineers, to take the time to simulate what would happen if these solutions were put into play. This was a great way to mitigate risk. There was also proper governance and communication to ensure buy-in and that all of the perspectives that were necessary to create a holistic solution were captured.
I often see underestimation of the upfront investment required to meet desired ROI in future years. One organization that I’m really proud of determined that investment was (and is) the strategic imperative. They said, “we’re not going to do it on a shoestring. We’re actually going to build the infrastructure and the technology, and marry the workflows to that technology, and hire the right people, and focus on morale. Because the call center is one of the hardest jobs you can ever have.” They took a risk in their investment, but it did pay off in the long run.
Yes, there are some healthcare organizations that are very interested in the bottom line. A lot of the healthcare organizations that Emily and I have worked with were more interested in the patient experience and patient retention, and those were the driving goals behind their investment in technology and taking on these transformations.
What would you say are the top three solutions you’re seeing employed that are have the most impact?
The top three are a client relationship management system, an interoperable telephony system that works with your electronic medical record and an analytics hub so that you can track performance and make actionable change that’s based on data rather than intuition.
Let me explain. A client relationship management system is a powerful tool that helps track communication with your patients and the turnaround time for interactions. It also makes sure that there’s an escalation protocol.
The interoperable telephony system is a telephony system that can connect to anything, essentially–your electronic medical record, your learning management system and more. Whenever you’re on a voice call with a patient, you have access to the information that’s needed to facilitate the interaction with one call.
And, the analytics hub is a reporting center. It’s a powerful tool that extracts data and allows you to visualize it in a way that tells the story of what’s happening to your patient population or your providers.
Investment in training is also vital, or you’ll have great technologies without people knowing how to use them. We want to avoid adding clicks to the process and extending the length of the interaction with the patient for no value.
This ties back to Tegria’s commitment to humanizing each healthcare experience. How each change affects every person involved, and how we prepare each person involved, has to be top of mind for healthcare leaders. It’s especially important now, when burnout is so high and there’s immense need to rally around your people. You can make huge strides in your patient experience process, but if you lose your frontline – the colleagues who provide the welcome – your patients may not call back.
Our survey with The Harris Poll showed the importance of empathy – simple kindness – to help everyone involved feel cared for. As you suggest, that’s more than just being nicer to patients at the reception desk. What’s the best way to accomplish that?
It’s important to make your work environment a positive, and even fun, place to be. It’s also important to give caregivers the tools and resources they need to do their job . And last and certainly not least, you need proper staffing to avoid burnout.
People always want to blame the call center or the frontline staff. I think we need to change the narrative and recognize they are part of the care team and they deserve kindness.
A lot of healthcare organizations have their leading physicians going to their call centers and sitting with the contact center staff to build relationships and help them to feel like they are responsible for the clinical outcomes for their patient population. These education programs also help the physicians to understand the conditions for staff and what the patients are actually going through.
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