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Change the Way You Communicate, Not How You Practice


Health systems can use these 3 tools to increase patient engagement.

woman texting

Patient engagement has become a major component of every successful healthcare organization. Organizations that focus on patient engagement encourage positive behaviors in patients (like showing up for their appointments, following treatment plans and staying up to date with preventive care) in order to improve health outcomes. The importance of patient engagement has been widely researched, resulting in mountains of evidence suggesting that patient engagement leads to lower costs, increased frequency of patient visits, happier patients and better health outcomes.

Unfortunately, for many larger organizations, the entirety of their engagement strategy is to send out postcards to get patients back in the office — or they have no strategy at all. These postcards are often tossed directly into the trashcan, without even a glance. With the high workloads that healthcare professionals face, technology and automation are key to implementing a successful patient engagement strategy. And yet healthcare is way behind when it comes to patient engagement technology. Nearly two-thirds of healthcare providers readily acknowledge that they are behind the curve when it comes to using the latest technology. Research suggests that the healthcare industry is lagging about a decade (PDF) behind other industries when it comes to adopting business technology that would help with patient engagement.

The No. 1 reason experts give for this disconnect? Clinician resistance to adopting new solutions. That’s right — it is usually the physicians themselves who are the barrier. Change can be hard and scary — and easy to put off until another day. Physicians worry that focusing on patient engagement might get in the way of how they run their practice. But that shouldn’t be a concern. They don’t need to change the way they practice. They just need to modernize the way they interact with patients.

It is time to join the ranks of those who use modern communication technology. Some of the most desired features are:

Real-Time, Two-Way Texting

Texting is everywhere. It’s the most widely used feature on a smartphone, which isn’t hard to believe. People prefer texting to phone calls. Studies have shown that people actually see an incoming phone call as an intrusion in their lives. Most people don’t answer incoming phone calls, and leaving a message doesn’t combat that because 19% of people never check their voicemail. Ever.

People aren’t just texting their friends and family. They text to communicate in nearly every plausible situation. This includes contacting their healthcare providers through text, too. Forty-seven percent of patients want the ability to text back and forth with their provider, but few have the ability to do so. Providing the convenience of two-way texting can be the difference between a patient returning to the office and choosing another provider who will communicate with them the way they want to be reached.

Payment via Text Message

Patients want their payment experience to be a whole lot more like they find in the retail and service world. Unfortunately, 86% of providers still use paper-based patient billing methods (with nearly half of those providers saying that paper billing is their only option). This is true even though the vast majority of patients say they would prefer to receive their bill online. Take into account a recent study that found that nearly two out of three patients say they would switch healthcare providers for a better payment experience and you can see how this is quickly becoming a priority.

Making the change to sending billing notifications (along with the ability to pay right then) via text message is one of the latest ways to keep patients happy, in good standing and ready for their next appointment.

Online Scheduling

Seventy-seven percent of patients want the ability to book their doctor appointments online. Want to get patients back in the office? Make it easy for them to schedule their appointment. It takes more than eight minutes to schedule an appointment over the phone. That’s a long time. Online scheduling is an easy answer. By giving patients instant access to all available appointment slots (without the need for lengthy phone calls), the eight-minute scheduling time can be cut down to just 30 seconds or less. When patients find a provider who makes things easy and convenient for them, they are more likely to stay loyal and make and keep their appointments.

Fear of change shouldn’t stand in the way of progress. It’s time to take advantage of all technology has to offer when it comes to improving patient engagement.

Jim Higgins is the founder & CEO of Solutionreach. You can follow him on Twitter.

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