Healthcare organizations have become increasingly aware of the need to improve the patient experience. They now also recognize that patients are customers as well as patients, and improving the experience means more than providing top-notch medical care. To be successful, healthcare organizations must reduce the friction across patient touchpoints, including administrative functions — and take patients’ emotional needs into account. At a time when they’re dealing with staff burnout, resource shortages and the need for more efficiencies, that’s a tall order.
Nevertheless, in response to this demand, healthcare providers are reevaluating the technologies and platforms they use to communicate with patients and undergoing major shifts in how they deliver healthcare, including the phone channel. In fact, results of a recent Forrester Consulting study, commissioned by Neustar, a TransUnion company, show 60% of respondents identified “improving the patient experience” as their top business goal for the next 12 months and 100% said the “voice/digital experience” is important or critical to improving the outbound call experience. Ninety percent said the phone is their most important outbound channel.
TransUnion's Barton Pesavento recently attended the Consero Patient Experience Forum, in California, along with close to fifty healthcare delegates. The goal of the event was to discuss current challenges in connecting effectively with patients and identify best practices and solutions that can help overcome those challenges.
The event provided the opportunity to meet with twenty healthcare industry experts in just a few days. This unique experience afforded us valuable insights into the issues with which healthcare organizations are grappling, how they’re currently communicating with patients and why the phone channel is particularly important when it comes to patient care - especially for urgent, complex and personal issues. Following is a recap of what we learned.
Although any providers are looking to text and other channels, patients prefer the phone channel for issues that are complicated, personal or urgent. While texting can be helpful for quick reminders, it’s often inappropriate when passing on concerning test results or explaining what can be expected from a procedure. Delivering a positive patient experience requires empathy, so the channel through which information is shared matters.
The phone is in fact still a key tool across many patient touchpoints, from pre-check-in to post care. This includes setting appointments, the visit itself, asking for medical advice, scheduling tests, filing insurance, and providing feedback. Patients frequently experience frustration when they can’t speak to an actual human being and must play phone tag or check confusing portals for information. Some of the topics we discussed at Consero include:
Referrals from one physician to another often results in the physician reaching out to patient to schedule appointments. Industry experts noted that sixty percent of referrals turn into appointments — an important revenue generator. In addition, inbound calls to healthcare providers generate more outbound calls. Twenty-five percent of inbound calls result in callbacks due to providers not answering calls or putting patients on hold. That turns into a game of phone tag between offices and patients, a frustrating and inefficient scenario for everyone. There are also many times when a specific department calls a patient, and they don’t pick up. When the patient calls back, they end up calling the general number for that provider. However, the individual answering the phone doesn't know who called them. There’s a real need for improved coordination between department telephone numbers.
Telehealth is here to stay and was accelerated by pandemic. According to the Harvard Business Review, “when used appropriately, it improves patient health and reduces costs. It also makes care more equitable and accessible to the 89% of U.S. adults and 78% of adults globally who own a smartphone, including those in medically underserved communities.”
However, issues with telehealth include missed appointments, patients not having access to computers or video and/or the need for doctors to move or cancel appointments if they’re running late. When doctors are late, an outbound call must be made to reschedule appointments. Today’s emergency rooms (ERs) are overwhelmed by patients that use the ER for routine issues, putting a strain on already overworked staff. Healthcare providers would like to have the ER focus on emergency cases.
Many organizations mentioned that patient surveys are not only an important way to measure performance, and improve, it’s also one way healthcare providers are being evaluated by CMS and impacts their Star rating. Those evaluations have a direct impact on insurance reimbursements.
What’s more, 69% of Americans surveyed said they would switch to another provider that offered better services. Dissatisfied patients are also more likely to never visit that particular healthcare organization again or recommend it to others. Not only can this hurt business outcomes, but it can also negatively affect the long-term clinical outcomes of patients.
The Consero Patient Experience event offered vendors a chance to directly meet the front-line staff delivering care, hear their stories and understand the challenges they face today. The unique structure of the event facilitated a casual and effective forum to have one-on-one conversations and delve into the root cause of a problem.
The health industry believes phone channel remains a valuable resource for delivering a positive patient experience and this was an opportunity to truly understand how we can help provide a better patient experience.