In many ways, patient communication systems are the gateway to improved patient engagement, as these communication systems play a key role in nurturing the doctor-patient relationship.
Many medical practices primarily use patient communication systems for common doctor-patient communications, like sending appointment reminders, and most don’t dispute the ROI of these systems. Staff is freed up to take on other necessary tasks, and there are clear reductions in patient no-shows, meaning more patients are being seen and cared for.
However, streamlining the delivery of appointment reminders is only a small part of what patient communication systems are capable of—and quite often, these systems aren’t as effective as they could be.
With the New Year quickly approaching, many executives like you are evaluating their current patient communication systems, and possibly looking into more effective options.
As you review your options, there is a handful of important factors to help guide your assessment of whether your patient communication system is on target, and they include:
- Whether your patient communication system is helping you achieve your goals
- How you measure your progress
- What your process is and whether you take advantage of the tools available to you
- How you use patient and staff feedback
- Whether your patient communication system addresses your patients’ needs
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Gauging Your Patient Communication System: Is It Helping You Achieve Your Top Goals?
The majority of patient communication systems can really only do three things:
- Improve workflows/make a practice more efficient by, for example, reducing manual processes, like sending reminder messages
- Increase provider productivity by, for instance, streamlining recalls and reactivations as well as reducing patient no-shows
- Improve patient satisfaction and retention by, for example, sending messages via patients’ preferred method of communication
The complexities and nuances of these three areas are many. And each practice is different, offering varying specialties to different patient populations in various geographic regions.
All of these variables make it super important to prioritize your goals and ensure they align.
As an executive, you know that formulating and prioritizing distinct goals is the first step toward success. The same applies to measuring the success (or lack thereof) of your patient communication system.
As such, you must set clear goals, prioritize them, and because your goals may be conflicting, make smart decisions as to how you intend to achieve them. The fact is: You can’t do everything, so you have to pick what is most important and work toward that.
For example, perhaps you’re running an ophthalmology practice that targets an affluent demographic, and your goal is to first improve patient satisfaction and then to reduce patient no-shows.
You have determined that sending out five reminders per week to patients who have upcoming appointments will help you achieve a reduction in no-shows. However, if improving patient satisfaction is also a goal of yours, sending this many messages may very well have a negative impact on patient satisfaction because patients are getting annoyed with the frequency that they’re receiving messages.
In this case you have to decide which is more important and prioritize accordingly. Most likely, you are going to reduce the number of reminders and ensure your patients are as satisfied as possible.
On the other hand, however, if you’re running a Federally Qualified Health Center and experiencing high no-show rates, your focus, then, is much more on getting these patients to show up for their appointments than it is on patient satisfaction scores. So you make the decision to send five or more reminders a week, even if this approach may lead to a few unsatisfied patients.
So, sticking with this example, in certain cases and for certain populations, I strongly believe sending multiple reminder messages in a week’s time makes sense, while with others it would be a catastrophe.
That’s why it’s essential to be specific on what you want to accomplish and align your strategies with your goals.
Gauging Your Patient Communication System: How Are You Measuring Results?
It’s impossible to know whether something is working if you don’t assess its success (or lack thereof). The same applies when measuring the success of your patient communication system.
When assessing the efficacy of your patient communication system, here are six solid metrics for patient communication and engagement I recommend using:
- patient no-show rates—what the percentage of no-shows are and how much this figure has been reduced
- staff time—how much time staff is spending using the patient communication system
- recall success rates—how many patients are scheduling appointments after recalls
- patient retention rates—how many current patients are choosing to stick with the practice
- revenue per provider—how much of an increase or decrease in revenue there is
- patient satisfaction—how patient satisfaction scores are measuring up (I personally like a simple Net Promoter Score.)
While these are some of the more major metrics that practices can focus on, there is a wide variety of metrics that practices can use when measuring the success of their patient communication systems.
Gauging Your Patient Communication System: Do You Have a Clear Process in Place?
One of the most common problems our team sees when working with both current and prospective customers is a lack of process, as well as a failure to follow-up on the data available to them via their patient communication systems.
We typically see the most successful patient communication systems in cases where a practice is dedicated to interacting with and using the system.
With that said, here are four influential factors to consider when developing a process for working with a patient communication system:
- When and how staff will generate and use reports
- Whether your practice will use a centralized follow-up process or a decentralized one
- How you can ensure follow-ups are completed
- Which aspects you can automate and what the risks are of automating them
Gauging Your Patient Communication System: Obtaining Feedback from Patients and Staff
The most well-run practices I’ve observed consistently seek feedback from patients and staff alike to assess how things are going. Getting feedback enables you to note certain trends that aren’t in line with your goals and then make changes as needed.
When obtaining feedback, though, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to patient communication systems, it’s inevitable that you will always have some complaints. However, the majority of patients won’t have any grievances, as patient communication systems are designed to streamline doctor-patient communications.
From our experience, we’ve found that if you make communication with patients as easy as possible, you will see far more positive responses than negative.
Gauging Your Patient Communication System: Are You Staying Focused on Your Patients’ Needs?
This may seem like common sense, but effective patient communication requires first and foremost focusing on the patient.
The winning question is: What do your patients care about most, and how can you deliver or help them achieve their goals?
Perhaps you serve a low-income population, for instance, and paying very little for services is most important. Or maybe you’re the exec of a high-end dermatologist’s office, and the most important thing to your patients is the professionalism displayed by the provider. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
Regardless what your patients’ top priorities may be, here are some questions to help you hone in on your patients’ needs:
- How can you make certain processes—such as paperwork, scheduling, eligibility verification, payment, etc.—simpler for patients?
- How can you help cut down patients’ wait time?
- How can you reduce patients’ out-of-pocket costs?
- What is the simplest thing you can do to help make your patients healthier?
- What do you want your patients to think of when your office comes to mind?
In short, you can gauge whether your patient communication system is right on the money by:
- Identifying explicit, measurable goals
- Having a way to measure the progress of your goals
- Developing a well-defined process for using your communication system and following up with patients
- Getting valuable feedback from patients and staff
- Focusing on patients’ needs
At Vital Interaction™, we work hard to ensure the highest quality of patient communication—and we’re here to support your practice every step of the way. Get started today by calling (512) 487-7625.