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How PRM Will Help Caregivers


Technology creates a more accessible avenue for young caregivers.

baby boomer

The face of healthcare is changing. Baby Boomers, the second largest generation in the U.S., are aging into Medicare and potentially putting a strain on healthcare resources. However, that isn’t the only challenge. They are also straining the resources of their children. Gen X and, increasingly, millennials, are taking on roles as caregivers for their Boomer parents, along with caring for their own children. It’s no surprise that Gen Xers are now just as likely to be called the sandwich generation — stuck between caring for aging parents and young children.

Today, 54 million Americans are living in multigenerational households, according to Pew Research. Caring for parents and children is a big job and many feel there isn’t another choice. One study showed that nearly half of Gen Xers felt that they had no choice when it came to caregiving. In addition, there is the added burden of the time it takes. The study also showed that, for those providing care, usually to a parent, they might be doing so for as many as eight hours a day.

How can healthcare providers support these caregivers and make things a bit easier on them? Using the tools available in a patient relationship management (PRM) system is a good place to start. Most Gen Xers and millennials prefer digital tools to help manage their healthcare. Sixty-one percent say digital services play an important role when choosing a physician. Given the complexity of managing care for multiple people, this makes sense, but it’s more than the tools, it’s how the healthcare organization uses them.

Appointment reminders are a perfect example of how the way a tool is used can be even more important than actually using the tool. Caregivers could be overwhelmed with reminders and other messages. Although there are some best practices for the most effective reminder cadence, patients and their caregivers might want something different. This is why it is so important to ask. Make sure the PRM system that is used allows the healthcare organization to change settings based on patient preferences. The ideal timing of reminders could be three weeks, three days and three hours, but the caregiver might just want one reminder a week before. Asking about patient or caregiver preferences allows them to decide what makes sense for their needs. This is true for the way the message is sent as well. Do they want text, voice, email or a combination? The goal is to make things easier on caregivers by being conscious of their needs.

Another good example is scheduling. Scheduling and registering for appointments is very time consuming. The typical visit to a doctor consumes 121 minutes of the patient’s time — 37 minutes in travel, 64 minutes waiting for care or filling out forms and only 20 minutes face to face with the physician, one study estimates. This equates to $43 in lost time for each medical visit. Another study found that Americans spent 1.1 billion hours per year obtaining such care for themselves or others — time the researchers valued at $52 billion. There are several ways to reduce that time and cost for patients, including digitization of scheduling, form completion and bill pay, in addition to two-way text messaging.

  • Online scheduling: Nearly 80% of patients think that being able to schedule, change or cancel an appointment online is important. It’s not only faster than calling, it also helps patients get in for appointments sooner. The average appointment scheduling call is eight minutes, while scheduling online can be done in a minute or two. The online schedule offers more options at a glance along with alternate providers, which can shorten the wait time to see a provider. Finally, it can be done at any time of the day or night, which is more convenient for those who are working and caring for multiple family members. Ideally, the scheduling solution would auto-populate the patient information for existing patients as well, saving even more time.
  • Online forms: Filling out paperwork can also be very time consuming for patients and caregivers. Fifty-one percent of patients prefer a doctor who lets them fill out paperwork online. Again, when it’s offered electronically it means they can do it any time of the day at their convenience. It also improves data accuracy and reduces the chance of delays at check-in.
  • Online bill pay: The complexity of medical billing is a common complaint from patients and collecting from patients is a top challenge for medical providers. Collection rates increase when providers communicate with patients about billing using their preferred channel. Nearly 70% of patients would prefer an electronic bill and payment option. It comes back to the same issue of convenience. Caregivers are busy and their time and resources are stretched — they need to be able to do things when they have the time.
  • Text messaging: Text messaging has become ubiquitous. More than 70% of Americans have a smartphone and 97% use text messaging, the number one app used on smartphones. In addition, people are more responsive to texts. Nearly all people read text messages within 15 minutes. It is the way people want to communicate, and the younger they are, the more likely they are to want to text back and forth with their healthcare providers. Text messaging is faster than a phone call and can be done from anywhere, even when a phone call might not be appropriate, like at work or on the subway. It also provides caregivers with a quick and easy way to ask questions or confirm information since they are overwhelmed and may need to recheck an appointment, directions or information about appointment instructions like fasting.

Patient satisfaction is doubly important when you are dealing with a patient and a caregiver. Ninety percent of people no longer feel obligated to stay with healthcare providers that don’t deliver an overall satisfactory digital experience. By offering convenient, digital solutions, healthcare organizations can focus on caring for the patient while supporting the caregiver.

Jim Higgins is founder and CEO of Solutionreach. You can follow him on Twitter: @higgs77

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