The recent data from KLAS, the highly regarded health IT research firm, reveals that capabilities which allow patients to digitally interact with healthcare organizations aren’t always available. More people are connecting with care providers via online and mobile channels than ever before, yet there is work to be done to meet patient expectations.
In the Patient Perspectives on Patient Engagement Technology 2022 report, surveyed patients identified in-demand digital tools and expressed their desire for more “actionable” capabilities. These include functions that add convenience—like appointment self-scheduling or requesting a referral—and provide easier access to manage healthcare services like prescription refills. Most respondents also stated that better, more frequent communication about healthcare visit preparation could enhance their experience.
Yet healthcare organizations don’t consistently have these types of features. For some, cost and infrastructure inhibit adoption. Others have attempted to add functionality via patient portals, but this technology offers limited real-time interaction and can be complicated for patients to navigate.
The KLAS report recommends exploring other solutions, including automated patient outreach or engagement, as one way to bridge this gap between patient needs and existing capabilities. Automated engagement involves sharing real-time messaging, links, education, and instructions via text or other methods that don’t require manual outreach. This simple communication option is preferred by many individuals.
Data highlights show what matters most to patients
Responses indicate that patients insist on online appointment scheduling abilities. Sixty-seven percent of respondents want the ability to schedule/reschedule an appointment, yet only 37% report the ability to do so.
Prescription refill services are also important. Half of these individuals indicated they want to be able to request prescription refills digitally, yet this is only available to 29% of those surveyed.
This desire for appointment management and prescription functions is aligned with general consumer demand for more digital interaction with the healthcare system. Another industry survey of millennial patients revealed that 92% want two-way communication with their healthcare providers, and 71% expect online scheduling abilities.
One area where digital tech has arguably met patient expectations is in the realm of virtual interaction. Now, this feedback is informing how healthcare organizations provide this popular delivery channel.
For example, KLAS found that pre-visit preparation and post-visit follow-up are of high importance to patients when it comes to virtual care. Respondents who felt neutral or some level of dissatisfaction with the quality of their telehealth experience stated that better preparation is needed.
This preparation could take a variety of forms. Nearly one-third of respondents said sending appointment links (32%) and receiving information about their condition and its appropriateness for a telehealth visit ahead of time (33%) would improve their experience.
Patient engagement technology also has the potential to drive improved outcomes following regular, in-person healthcare interactions. Studies show that nearly one in five people experience an adverse event within three weeks hospital discharge—but almost 75% of these could be prevented or corrected. Staying in contact with these individuals via digital channels can help care teams stay abreast of changes in status and offer patients an easy way to provide feedback or updates.
Giving patients control over their care improves experience, outcomes
All of these in-demand capabilities can impact the patient experience, close care gaps, and improve outcomes. As evidenced by the report, respondents most value technology capabilities that directly impact their ability to receive and control their care. The question is how to deliver these capabilities without overwhelming health system staff or patients with complex technologies.
Automation may be one answer, according to the report. It states automated tools can provide simple communication options and access to information. It also recommends that organizations evaluate new technology to enhance system capabilities and meet patient needs.
What does automation look like in the realm of patient engagement? In its early days, it began with basic reminders sent before a scheduled appointment. But today, it involves multichannel communication (including SMS text, interactive voice response or IVR, and email) to interact with individuals for all types of healthcare needs and services.
Some platforms offer interactive functions like two-way messaging. This means patients can respond to notifications just like they would during a one-on-one interaction. For example, patients can schedule or reschedule an appointment, or request support prompting pre-visit instructions, education, or clinical preparation in advance of a procedure. In this way, automated engagement can improve care gap closure.
This automated approach aligns with several specific recommendations outlined by KLAS. For one, multimodal outreach gives patients the option to participate in the way that is most comfortable for them. And enabling bidirectional communication means patients can stay involved in their care.
Given these benefits, why aren’t more health systems deploying automated engagement today? Some use technology to engage, as evidenced by the study. But they may not offer the right tool for the right job.
Patient portals are still widely used for engagement, but they have significant limitations. Portals are more complicated, less user-friendly interfaces, and require logins and passwords. In comparison, rescheduling an appointment over text happens via a device most people already use every day. Portal technology should be reserved for more complex tasks like reviewing test results or medical records. KLAS recommends that healthcare organizations supplement the portal with other technologies to engage patients in ways they find convenient and useful.
How automation works in practice
Automated patient engagement works best when integrated with the EHR, meaning it can tailor outreach based on information contained in this system. Such platforms interpret patient record data to identify care gaps, pending referrals, and other needs for care, in addition to honoring scheduling “rules” and communication or language preferences.
Then, as patients respond, their replies are captured and written back to the EHR. Health teams can then document care gap closure and even a lack of patient response (indicating a need for follow-up).
One example of this level of automation in action was demonstrated by a health system looking to reduce its bad prep rates for colonoscopies and canceled procedures. Two-way appointment SMS text and IVR reminders were sent so that patients could respond and confirm, cancel, or reschedule their appointment. Patients received additional reminders to pick up the required prep from the pharmacy, were sent educational information about the procedure, and received a final appointment reminder. After implementing the workflow, the health system saw a marked reduction in canceled procedures, and this approach involved no additional manual lift from staff members.
How health systems can address patient needs
As recommended by KLAS, healthcare organizations should consider new and different technology to enhance engagement. Here are three ways an automated engagement approach can improve experience scores, close care gaps, and meet patient technology needs:
Automation can power digital, self-service tools. The report states patients 18-34 years old are almost twice as likely to choose provider organizations that have digital access tools.
Automation can bolster virtual care. Pre-visit preparation can make or break care delivery. According to KLAS, health systems should share instructions, emails, texts, and educational materials to help individuals make the most of their healthcare visit.
Automation can allow for multi-modal communication. One recommendation from the report suggests providers include other solutions that can automate access to information and provide simple communication options.
Based on these findings, hospitals and health systems should consider implementing automated patient engagement technology that supports functions individuals value most—those that directly impact their ability to seek and receive healthcare. With benefits spanning patient experience improvement, a reduction in staff burden, and more easily delivered care that encourages higher visit volumes, this approach is poised to address today’s patients’ expectations.