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E-Patient Update: Patients Need Better Care Management Workflows

Posted on March 10, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Now and then, I get a little discouraged by the state of my health data. Like providers, I’m frustrated as heck by the number of independent data sources I must access to get a full picture of my medications, care and health status. These include:

* The medication tracker on my retail pharmacy’s site
* My primary care group’s portal
* My hospital’s Epic MyChart portal
* A medication management app to track my compliance with my regimen
* A health tracker app in which I track my blood pressure
* My Google calendar, to keep up with my health appointments
* Email clients to exchange messages with some providers

That’s not all – I’m sure I could think of other tools, interfaces and apps – but it offers a good idea of what I face. And I’m pretty sure I’m not unusual in this regard, so we’re talking about a big issue here.

By the way, bear in mind I’m not just talking about hyperportalotus – a fun term for the state of having too many portals to manage – but rather, a larger problem of data coordination. Even if all of my providers came together and worked through a shared single portal, I’d still have to juggle many tools for tracking and documenting my care.

The bottom line is that given the obstacles I face, my self-care process is very inefficient. And while we spend a lot of time talking about clinician workflow (which, of course, is quite important) we seldom talk about patient/consumer health workflow. But it’s time that we did.

Building a patient workflow

A good initial step in addressing this problem might be to create a patient self-care workflow builder and make it accessible website. Using such a tool, I could list all of the steps I need to take to manage my conditions, and the tool would help me develop a process for doing so effectively.

For example, I could “tell” the software that I need to check the status of my prescriptions once a week, visit certain doctors once a month, check in about future clinical visits on specific days and enter my data in my medication management app twice a day. As I did this, I would enter links to related sites, which would display in turn as needed.

This tool could also display critical web data, such as the site compiling the blood sugar readings from my husband’s connected blood glucose monitor, giving patients like me the ability to review trends at a glance.

I haven’t invented the wheel here, of course. We’re just talking about an alternate approach to a patient portal. Still, even this relatively crude approach – displaying various web-based sources under one “roof” along with an integrated process – could be quite helpful.

Eventually, health IT wizards could build much more sophisticated tools, complete with APIs to major data sources, which would integrate pretty much everything patients need first-hand. This next-gen data wrangler would be able to create charts and graphs and even issue recommendations if the engine behind it was sophisticated enough.

Just get started

All that being said, I may be overstating how easy it would be to make such a solution work. In particular, I’m aware that integrating a tool with such disparate data sources is far, far easier said than done. But why not get started?

After all, it’s hard to overestimate how much such an approach would help patients, at least those who are comfortable working with digital health solutions. Having a coordinated, integrated tool in place to help me manage my care needs would certainly save me a great deal of time, and probably improve my health as well.

I urge providers to consider this approach, which seems like a crying need to me. The truth is, most of the development money is going towards enabling the professionals to coordinate and manage care. And while that’s not a bad thing, don’t forget us!

Why Provide Consumer-minded Communications? Patients Expect Them

Posted on March 9, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Chelsea Kimbrough, a copywriter for Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Chelsea Kimbrough
With technology advancing rapidly, communication has become both more accessible and more difficult than ever before. Today, Americans nationwide communicate with their smartphones via various social media platforms, mobile calls, text messages, applications, and more. In fact, 80 percent of consumers now own a smartphone for personal use, which could include making purchasing decisions and seeking out support with not only commercial industries, but with healthcare organizations as well.

Patients instinctively utilize the communication methods they are most comfortable with when interacting with healthcare organizations. These often include traditional methods such as live voice appointment scheduling and telephone answering. But as healthcare consumerism has grown more prevalent, these methods also frequently include digital and automated solutions such as online self-scheduling, appointment reminders via text message, and other automated messaging options.

As a self-professed consumer-minded patient, I tend to seek out the latter communication methods when it comes time to contact my healthcare provider. If there is an option to schedule an appointment online from the comfort of my own home, I take it. When asked if I’d like to opt in for email, voice, or text message reminders and messaging, I always indicate ‘yes.’ And if given the opportunity to meet with my physician virtually rather than in the office, I jump at it.

These features and functionalities provide me with the freedom to more proactively manage my healthcare needs without disrupting my day-to-day responsibilities. This freedom is also why I’ve become a loyal patient to my local provider. And I’m not alone.

As reported by the Beryl Institute, 87 of consumers say the patient experience is extremely important overall and 67 percent report that it plays an extremely important role in their decision-making process. Communication plays a major part in what patients view as their patient experience. If my healthcare provider were to only provide traditional live voice services, I may not have been as apt to schedule an appointment. Similarly, if they focused solely on digital solutions, they could miss out on other valuable patients.

So, what’s the answer?

Healthcare organizations should holistically approach communications with a combination of traditional and technology-based communication methods. Patients must be able to communicate however they feel most comfortable, including via a traditional phone call or by receiving important appointment information via automated emails or texts. Healthcare organizations that provide a combination of live voice, digital, and automated communication support tools are more apt to meet the diverse and evolving expectations of their entire patient population. In turn, these same organizations are more likely to successfully foster ongoing patient loyalty and satisfaction.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services. Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

E-Patient Update:  Can Telemedicine Fill Gap For Uninsured Patients?

Posted on February 24, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As someone who will soon will need to buy insurance through an ACA exchange – but doesn’t know whether that will still be possible – I’ve been thinking about my healthcare needs a lot, and how to meet them effectively if I’m ever uninsured.

Being an e-patient, the first thing that crossed my mind was to explore what Internet connectivity could do for me. And it occurred to me that if I had access to a wider range of comparatively-affordable telemedical services, I just might be able to access enough doctors and advanced practice clinicians to survive. (Of course, hospital and prescription drug costs won’t be tamed that easily, but that’s a subject for a different column.)

I admit that video visits aren’t an ideal solution for me and my husband, as we both have complex, chronic health conditions to address. But if I end up without insurance, I hold out hope that cheaper telemedicine options will get me through until we find a better solution.

Right now, unfortunately, telemedical services largely seem to be delivered on a hit-or-miss basis – with some specialties being easy to find and others almost inaccessible via digital connectivity – but if enough people like me are forced to rely on these channels perhaps this will change.

What’s available and what isn’t

This week, I did some unscientific research online to see what kind of care consumers can currently access online without too much fuss. What I found was a decidedly mixed bag. According to one telehealth research site, a long list of specialties offer e-visits, but some of them are much harder to access than others.

As you might have guessed, primary care – or more accurately, urgent care — is readily available. In fact one such provider, HealthTap, offers consumers unlimited access to its doctors for $99 a month. Such unfettered access could be a big help to patients without insurance.

And some specialties seem to be well-represented online. For example, if you want to get a dermatology consult, you can see a dermatologist online at DermatologistOnCall, which is partnered with megapharmacy Walgreens.

Telepsychiatry seems to be reasonably established, though it doesn’t seem to be backed yet by a major consumer branding effort. On the other hand, video visits with talk therapists seem to be fairly commonplace these days, including an option provided by HealthTap.

I had no trouble finding opportunities to connect with neurologists via the Web, either via email or live video. This included both multispecialty sites and at least one (Virtual Neurology) dedicated to offering teleneurology consults.

On the other hand, at least in searching Google, I didn’t find any well-developed options for tele-endocrinology consults (a bummer considering that hubby’s a Type 2 diabetic). It was the same for tele-pulmonology services.

In both of the former cases, I imagine that such consults wouldn’t work over time unless you had connected testing devices that, for example allow you to do a peak flow test, spirometry, blood or urine test at home. But while such devices are emerging, I’m not aware of any that are fully mature.

Time to standardize

All told, I’m not surprised that it’s hit or miss out there if you want to consult your specialists via an e-visit. There are already trends in place, which have evolved over the last few years, which favor some specialties and fail to address others.

Nonetheless, particularly given my perilous situation, I’m hoping that providers and trade groups will develop some standardized approaches to telemedicine. My feeling is that if a specialty-specific organization makes well-developed clinical, technical, operational and legal guidelines available, we’ll see a secondary explosion of new tele-specialties emerge.

In fact, even if I retain my health insurance benefits, I still hope that telemedical services become more prevalent. They’re generally more cost-efficient than traditional care and certainly more convenient. And I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one champing at the bit here. Let’s roll ‘em out, people!

Consumers Fear Theft Of Personal Health Information

Posted on February 15, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Probably fueled by constant news about breaches – duh! – consumers continue to worry that their personal health information isn’t safe, according to a new survey.

As the press release for the 2017 Xerox eHealth Survey notes, last year more than one data breach was reported each day. So it’s little wonder that the survey – which was conducted online by Harris poll in January 2017 among more than 3,000 U.S. adults – found that 44% of Americans are worried about having their PHI stolen.

According to the survey, 76% of respondents believe that it’s more secure to share PHI between providers through a secure electronic channel than to fax paper documents. This belief is certainly a plus for providers. After all, they’re already committed to sharing information as effectively as possible, and it doesn’t hurt to have consumers behind them.

Another positive finding from the study is that Americans also believe better information sharing across providers can help improve patient care. Xerox/Harris found that 87% of respondents believe that wait times to get test results and diagnoses would drop if providers securely shared and accessed patient information from varied providers. Not only that, 87% of consumers also said that they felt that quality of service would improve if information sharing and coordination among different providers was more common.

Looked at one way, these stats offer providers an opportunity. If you’re already spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on interoperability, it doesn’t hurt to let consumers know that you’re doing it. For example, hospitals and medical practices can put signs in their lobby spelling out what they’re doing by way of sharing data and coordinating care, have their doctors discuss what information they’re sharing and hand out sheets telling consumers how they can leverage interoperable data. (Some organizations have already taken some of these steps, but I’d argue that virtually any of them could do more.)

On the other hand, if nearly half of consumers afraid that their PHI is insecure, providers have to do more to reassure them. Though few would understand how your security program works, letting them know how seriously you take the matter is a step forward. Also, it’s good to educate them on what they can do to keep their health information secure, as people tend to be less fearful when they focus on what they can control.

That being said, the truth is that healthcare data security is a mixed bag. According to a study conducted last year by HIMSS, most organizations conduct IT security risk assessments, many IT execs have only occasional interactions with top-level leaders. Also, many are still planning out their medical device security strategy. Worse, provider security spending is often minimal. HIMSS notes that few organizations spend more than 6% of their IT budgets on data security, and 72% have five or fewer employees allocated to security.

Ultimately, it’s great to see that consumers are getting behind the idea of health data interoperability, and see how it will benefit them. But until health organizations do more to protect PHI, they’re at risk of losing that support overnight.

A Girl, a Fitbit, and an Already Failed New Year’s Resolution

Posted on February 9, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest blog post by Cristina Dafonte, Marketing Associate of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
cristina-dafonte
Have you ever heard the story of the person who makes a New Year’s Resolution to exercise more and eat healthy, buys themselves a cool new gadget to stay motivated, a fresh new pair of sneakers, and then has already failed by February? This person is me – in February of 2017, I have fallen victim to every New Year’s Resolution stereotype in existence.

Last week, after eating half of a “family sized” bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and thinking about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t eat healthy for a whole two months, someone gave me a bit of great advice. They told me to write down what I had learned since January.

Lesson 1:

I love Cool Ranch Doritos and I have no self-control over my hand-to-mouth motion when I am around them.

Lesson 2:

Eating half of a family sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos is guaranteed to make you feel extremely sick.

Lesson 3:

My “stay motivated” gadget is way cooler than I thought.

I bought myself a FitBit Charge 2 so that I could not only monitor the number of steps I took, but also monitor my heart rate while exercising. I had no idea why this was important, but my triathlete boyfriend had a heart rate monitor, so I wanted one too.

After about 1 week with my new FitBit, I was hooked. I was monitoring my heart rate all day, everyday. I wanted to know where my peak heart rate was and how far it was from my resting heart rate. I used the customized “relax” feature on my FitBit, which took me through guided breathing exercises to lower my heart rate. The FitBit also calculates how many hours you sleep and how many calories you burn while running, all based on my heart rate! I was amazed on how much I learned about my body just by watching my heart rate, which led me and my #HIT mind to thinking about how this data could or should be shared with my primary care doctor.

In a recent study by Stanford Medicine, researchers proved how wearables could tell when a person was getting sick. They discuss how healthcare providers can use wearables and the data they collect to help individualize medicine – by establishing a unique “baseline,” providers will easily be able to tell when something is wrong.

The future of healthcare, and personalized medicine, and the interconnectedness of it all is exciting. I know that given the option, I would gladly share my FitBit data with my primary care physician. I trust that something I wear every single day that monitors my activity, sleep, and heart rate knows me better than the doctor I visit once a year. I look forward to the day where this is a reality, and all of this incredible data that wearables are collecting can be used to help advance medicine and enrich patient data.

Learn more about some of the ways Stericycle Communication Solutions is closing the gap between patients and their providers here.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Top 3 Tips for Taking on Digital Health

Posted on January 18, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby, Marketing Strategist of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series. Follow & engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
The other day I deleted several apps from my mobile phone. One I had downloaded when I was traveling, one took up too many gigs on my phone, and the last was one I downloaded to track specific health activities last January probably hoping to achieve one of my many New Year’s resolutions.  This happens to me all the time – I download an app or tool, use it once or twice, realize I don’t have any use for it or haven’t used it in 3 months and end up deleting to free up space on my phone.

This got me thinking about digital technology in the healthcare industry. Unfortunately, every day there is a slew of digital health tools developed that take a lot of time, money and effort and then go unused by the user for a variety of reasons. I picture something like a digital health tool graveyard that exists somewhere in the cloud.

After I got the mental image of a technology version of the Lion King’s Elephant Graveyard out of my head, I began to ask myself why so many digital heath technologies went stale. What needed to change? The time, money, and beautiful design that is put into development won’t draw patients by the masses.  The thing about digital health is that there has to be something in it to evoke a user’s actions.  Below are 3 important strategies I believe we need to all keep in mind when taking on digital health:

1. What does the patient EXPECT?

It’s no surprise that patients want technology incorporated into their healthcare.  However, it’s essential to couple the right technology with appropriate expectation of the user.  What you THINK a patient expects, might not always turn out to be the case.  According to a recent study by business and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners, 91 percent of healthcare customers say they would take advantage of mobile apps when offered.  However, according to an Accenture report, 66% of the largest 100 US hospitals have consumer-facing mobile apps, 38% of which have been developed for their patients, and only 2% of patients are actively using these apps. When users are met with digital health technology that lacks the expected user experience, they are left feeling disappointed, unfulfilled, and begin looking elsewhere for services.

2. What does the patient WANT?

Patients are longing for a consumer experience when it comes to their healthcare.  New research shows that “patients today are choosing their providers, in part, based on how well they use technology to communicate with them and manage their health,” says Joshua Newman, M.D., chief medical officer, Salesforce Healthcare and Life Sciences.  Patients crave technology, customization and convenience.  There is no doubt that digital health tools satisfy the convenience factor.  However, they are nothing without a customized experience. Limiting your interactions with patients to an out-of-the-box, one-way digital communication strategy can be disadvantageous and could mean you aren’t reaching patients at all.  Digital health that is personalized, optimized, and sent through multi modalities allows you to be sure that you are engaging your patient in a way they want.

3. Where does the patient GO?

It’s no surprise that patients expect a consumer experience when it comes to interacting with their healthcare provider. But mastering digital health must include more than just mobile apps and the doctor’s office.  A digital health strategy that connects with patients across the entire continuum of care will optimize their experience and satisfaction.  In a recent study by West Monroe Partners called No More Waiting Room: The Future of the Healthcare Customer Experience, Will Hinde, Senior Director says “we’re starting to see more providers incorporate the digital experience with their office visit, by shifting to more online scheduling of appointments, paperless office interactions, following up via email, portals, and mobile apps and taking steps towards greater cost and quality transparency.”  Connecting with patients outside of the doctor’s office and in places where they frequent most allows for better changes of engagement, leading to greater experiences.

Tackling digital health can be daunting and unsuccessful if it’s looked at solely from the angle that technology is king. Looking at it from the lens of the patient becomes less intimidating and more likely that your digital health efforts don’t end up in the Elephant Graveyard.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms

Connected Wearables Pose Growing Privacy, Security Risks

Posted on December 26, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

In the past, the healthcare industry treated wearables as irrelevant, distracting or worse. But over that last year or two, things have changed, with most health IT leaders concluding that wearables data has a place in their data strategies, at least in the aggregate.

The problem is, we’re making the transition to wearable data collection so quickly that some important privacy and security issues aren’t being addressed, according to a new report by American University and the Center for Digital Democracy. The report, Health Wearable Devices in the Big Data Era: Ensuring Privacy, Security, and Consumer Protection, concludes that the “weak and fragmented” patchwork of state and federal health privacy regulations doesn’t really address the problems created by wearables.

The researchers note that as smart watches, wearable health trackers, sensor-laden clothing and other monitoring technology get connected and sucked into the health data pool, the data is going places the users might not have expected. And they see this as a bit sinister. From the accompanying press release:

Many of these devices are already being integrated into a growing Big Data digital health and marketing ecosystem, which is focused on gathering and monetizing personal and health data in order to influence consumer behavior.”

According to the authors, it’s high time to develop a comprehensive approach to health privacy and consumer protection, given the increasing importance of Big Data and the Internet of Things. If safeguards aren’t put in place, patients could face serious privacy and security risks, including “discrimination and other harms,” according to American University professor Kathryn Montgomery.

If regulators don’t act quickly, they could miss a critical window of opportunity, she suggested. “The connected health system is still in an early, fluid stage of development,” Montgomery said in a prepared statement. “There is an urgent need to build meaningful, effective, and enforceable safeguards into its foundation.”

The researchers also offer guidance for policymakers who are ready to take up this challenge. They include creating clear, enforceable standards for both collection and use of information; formal processes for assessing the benefits and risks of data use; and stronger regulation of direct-to-consumer marketing by pharmas.

Now readers, I imagine some of you are feeling that I’m pointing all of this out to the wrong audience. And yes, there’s little doubt that the researchers are most worried about consumer marketing practices that fall far outside of your scope.

That being said, just because providers have different motives than the pharmas when they collect data – largely to better treat health problems or improve health behavior – doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to make mistakes here. If nothing else, the line between leveraging data to help people and using it to get your way is clearer in theory than in practice.

You may think that you’d never do anything unethical or violate anyone’s privacy, and maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t hurt to consider possible harms that can occur from collecting a massive pool of data. Nobody can afford to get complacent about the downside privacy and security risks involved. Plus, don’t think the nefarious and somewhat nefarious healthcare data aggregators aren’t coming after provider stored health data as well.

E-Patient Update:  Is Technology Getting Ahead Of Medical Privacy?

Posted on December 9, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

I don’t know about y’all, but I love, love, love interacting with Google’s AI on my smartphone. It’s beyond convenient – it seems to simply read my mind and dish out exactly the content I needed.

That could have unwelcome implications, however, when you bear in mind that Google might be recording your question. Specifically, for a few years now, Google’s AI has apparently been recording users’ conversations whenever it is triggered. While Google makes no secret of the matter, and apparently provides directions on how to erase these recordings, it doesn’t affirmatively ask for your consent either — at least not in any terribly conspicuous way — though it might have buried the request in a block of legal language.

Now, everybody has a different tolerance for risk, and mine is fairly high. So unless an entity does something to suggest to me that it’s a cybercrook, I’m not likely to lose any sleep over the information it has harvested from my conversations. In my way of looking at the world, the odds that gathering such information will harm me are low, while the odds collection will help me are much greater. But I know that others feel much differently than myself.

For these reasons, I think it’s time to stop and take a look at whether we should regulate potential medical conversations with intermediaries like Google, whether or not they have a direct stake in the healthcare world. As this example illustrates, just because they’re neither providers, payers or business associates doesn’t mean they don’t manage highly sensitive healthcare information.

In thinking this over, my first reaction is to throw my hands in the air and give up. After all, how can we possibly track or regulate the flow of medical information falls outside the bounds of HIPAA or state privacy laws? How do we decide what behavior might constitute an egregious leak of medical information, and what could be seen as a mild mistake, given that the rules around provider and associate behavior may not apply? This is certainly a challenging problem.

But the more I consider these issues, the more I am convinced that we could at least develop some guidelines for handling of medical information by non-medical third parties, including what type of consumer disclosures are required when collecting data that might include healthcare information, what steps the intermediary takes to protect the data and how to opt out of data collection.

Given how complex these issues are, it’s unlikely we would succeed at regulating them effectively the first time, or even the fourth or fifth. And realistically, I doubt we can successfully apply the same standards to non-medical entities fielding health questions as we can to providers or business associates. That being said, I think we should pay more attention to such issues. They are likely to become more important, not less, as time goes by.

What Should Coffee Shops and Healthcare Organizations Have in Common?

Posted on December 8, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Sarah Bennight, Marketing Strategist of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
sarah-bennight
Several months ago, I failed to get up in time for my normal coffee brew. So on the way to work, I decided to stop at a local Starbucks to grab a latte. The drive-thru was packed. Panicking, I stepped inside where the line was sure to be shorter. It was not. As I waited, I noticed folks walking in and going straight to the barista bar, giving an order, and receiving it immediately. No line. No wait. What was this amazing service and why didn’t I receive it? I felt left out of cool kids club as I waited my turn and finally arrived 3 minutes late to work. After searching my junk email, I found several emails touting a new order in app and pay service. With my busy lifestyle and love of coffee, I thought this was too good to be true.

Next time I was running late, I opened the app and ordered my favorite beverage with one hand while putting on makeup with the other. I felt like a true VIP when I sauntered into my local cafe and whispered my order to the barista, who had my drink ready and waiting. You can bet, if I need a coffee on a hurried morning, I will remain loyal to the pre-order app from Starbucks. It’s just too easy.

With increasingly busy lifestyles and the need to complete more in less time, consumers look for the quickest and easiest goods and services. We are much more willing to adventure into unknown spaces if it promises to give us precious time back. After moving last month, I received a card in the mail from a well-known grocer saying “welcome to the neighborhood, we now offer online grocery shopping.” Busy people in my neighborhood are celebrating an end to their most hated and time-consuming weekly errand. I have yet to try this service since there are rarely timeslots open, but the Starbucks’ model of order online and avoid the wait is becoming the norm.

We are so accustomed to immediate service that we sometimes get frustrated with even small delays. Take, for example, my two very different experiences at urgent care centers. Earlier this year, I had to take my daughter in for possible strep throat. I avoided the trip long enough that her primary care physician office was closed and urgent care was the only option. We took our chances with the local pediatric urgent care and waited for our sick child to be seen for over two hours – 45 minutes of which was spent in the examination room before anyone came in to see us.

When the need arose for me to visit an urgent care clinic recently, I was already well versed in the advantages of ordering online without a wait. Although I had been to the local ER for the same condition and they had all of my labs and records, the thought of a potentially lengthy wait was daunting. So, I searched for a clinic that could accommodate my schedule and decided to try a new clinic because they offered the “online ordering model” for urgent care visits. I signed up online and was called back within 10 minutes of arriving at the clinic. The doctor saw me within 15 minutes of being placed in a room. The experience was so positive the clinic has earned my loyalty for future care needs. Not only do they have a caring staff, they get me in and out in a reasonable time.

This trend is rapidly being adopted across commercial industries, but healthcare isn’t far behind. And health providers that aren’t ready to adapt will soon feel the pressure as consumers demand convenience. Services and tools such as Amazon PrimeNow and Disneyland FastPasses prove one thing: Americans simply hate to wait.

Recently, I spoke with a client who made the decision to implement our online scheduling solution as a result of increasingly consumer-driven expectations. Competition with retail clinics for primary care visits also played a role in their decision. They stated, “We are now competing with Walgreens and CVS for simple clinic visits because we make it too difficult to get the patient in the door.” A McKinsey 2015 Consumer Health Insights Survey found the same, as two thirds of the people surveyed reported they would be comfortable using retail clinics such as CVS or Walgreens for care. When asked why, the major reason cited was accessibility.

With two very different clinic visits shaping my view, I imagine on demand access and appointment scheduling will continue to shape the healthcare access scene in the next few years. Convenience is king in our consumer-minded world, and those who rely on only traditional methods of getting patients in the door could miss potential opportunities – or worse, lose existing patients to competitors who provide easier access. I won’t return to the first urgent care clinic because the more recent visit offered better access and a more convenient experience by significantly cutting my wait time. With my new found love for ordering online and avoiding the wait, I have also recently changed the family eye doctor to one who offers this service. Now, if they could only offer an onsite coffee bar…

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms

Are Providers Using Effective Patient Communication Methods?

Posted on December 1, 2016 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Cristina Dafonte, Marketing Associate of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
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This year at MGMA 2016, the Stericycle Communication Solutions team had the opportunity to survey over 800 providers about their patient communication strategy. Getting to collect our own data, rather than relying on facts and figures from scholarly articles, was truly invaluable. But what was even more exciting was sitting down and analyzing the results.

Many of the statistics weren’t surprising – nearly 100% of providers are sending appointment reminders, 60% of providers are using technology to send these reminders, and 2/3 of providers surveyed love the idea of online self-scheduling. These statistics all made sense to me… it’s almost 2017, of course providers would prefer to use technology when it comes to their patient communications.

But as I dug more into the numbers, I saw a startling trend:

  • Only 1 out of 3 providers who “love” online self-scheduling offer it to their patients
  • While almost all providers are sending appointment reminders, 1/3 are still manually calling their patients
  • Over 60% of providers are only sending appointment reminders via ONE modality

I started to think about other parts of my life where I booked appointments or used technology to interact with a vendor– did these healthcare numbers match their non-healthcare counterparts?

First I looked to my hair salon. When I go to their website, I have the ability to book an appointment with my current hair dresser directly on their home screen. I get an email reminder the day that I book the appointment with a calendar attachment. The day before the appointment, I get a text reminding me what time my appointment is and whom it is with. Four months after the appointment, I get an email reminding me that it’s time to come in for my next appointment… with a link to book an appointment online. Surprisingly, this didn’t match what I was seeing in my survey data analysis. When I looked at scheduling an appointment to get my car serviced, I saw the same trend – booking was conveniently online, the communications were all automated, and I received more than one reminder.

So why does there seem to be such a difference when it comes to healthcare communication? Our survey shows that providers like the idea of technology, so, I wonder, why are most providers only going halfway? What is it that is holding them back from fully investing in automated patient communications? According to TIME, the average person looks at his or her phone 46 times per day. As we near 2017, shouldn’t we reach and capture patients where they are engaged and spend most of their time – on their mobile devices and computers?

For more MGMA survey results and a sneak peak into how Stericycle Communication Solutions can help you adopt an automated patient communication strategy, download the infographic here.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality call center & telephone answering servicespatient access services and automated communication technology. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms