Better outcomes begin with better intake

Patient-focused technology smooths the path to good health - and return visits

With all the technological innovations transforming the world of medicine, why do so many people still dread going to the doctor?

Because those technology solutions miss a critical part of the patient experience. According to a recent study, most patients are happy with their quality of care and medical staff. What they’re unhappy with are the logistics of getting to see their provider. A large percentage of positive (and negative) online reviewers say their biggest complaint with providers is communication, and more than a third say the problem is long wait times.

Both of these grievances fall squarely in the realm of Customer Interaction Management (CIM), the technological approach that organizations use to engage with customers and facilitate transactions. In the medical world, these are front-office problems that are often ignored in the medical-technology world. The good news is that these problems have solutions that already exist.

Valuing Patience Over Patients
As I mentioned in a previous article, the waiting room is a key bottleneck in patient flow, and ultimately, patient satisfaction. A crowded waiting room elevates stress for patients and staff and siphons away time staffers could be using to resolve other patient issues. And as anyone who’s ever sat in a pulmonologist’s waiting room full of coughing people knows, it can be an epidemiological nightmare.

For all these reasons, CIM technology is sorely needed in the waiting room not only to reduce wait times but to boost the overall quality of communication and smooth the transfer of vital medical information to practitioners. However, the waiting room is not even the first obstacle: the appointment-scheduling system for most providers is a frustrating labyrinth of voicemail prompts, lengthy back-and-forths with staff over limited time-slots, and guessing when the office staff will be back from lunch.

This can also have a cascading effect: faulty communication on the patient’s or provider’s end leads to missed appointments, unintentional double- or triple-bookings, and wasted time for everyone. And on the medical side, the difficulty of scheduling appointments heightens the reluctance of patients to even see a doctor in the first place. This can exacerbate the patient’s health problems, leading to more complicated care and, of course, graver consequences.

So the ideal CIM healthcare application must be more holistic, capturing and streamlining more of the patient’s intake experience. Just as enlightened doctors and providers seek to treat the “whole patient,” their practices and institutions must be there for patients every step of the way.

Retention Deficit Disorder
Even the best new-patient experience does not automatically translate into a long-term relationship, or even a single return visit. And for healthcare providers, like any business, retention is a huge concern. Acquiring a new patient can cost anywhere from five to 25 times more than retaining one you already have, which is why many businesses have been shifting priorities accordingly.

This is where CIM plays a valuable role for its similarly-named counterpart, CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Some have compared CIM to the waiter in the restaurant and CRM to the software that tracks a customer’s order. But a robust CIM application does much more. It is the first step in learning information about the patient, information that can be used to not only enhance care, but to customize the providers’ service to each individual’s needs. As an added benefit, gathering information earlier in the intake process reduces the endless mound of questions that patients must contend with at later stages. This further streamlines flow and frees up staff time for more attention to care. A good platform will also allow patients to opt in to ongoing electronic communications from their healthcare provider, which can remind them of flu shots and the like, while converting one-time visitors into lifetime relationships.

Practice Made Perfect
Fortunately, there are innovative new solutions for better CIM (leading to better CRM) in healthcare. Digital queue management technology and appointment-scheduling applications not only clear away the bottlenecks and start the information flow. They also bring the providers’ practice into patients’ homes – indeed into their hands in the form of smartphone apps and web interfaces.

The patient using such an app or website has the full range of appointments available at a glance, and can change, add, or cancel sessions with one touch. This brings medical care into the same ease-of-use enjoyed by online retailers, social media, telebusiness, and entertainment providers.

Then, after the appointment is booked, digital queue management lets the patient know when their provider is actually ready to see them. This saves patients valuable time to do other things and not be stuck in a waiting room. And in the event of emergencies, unplanned visits, and full capacity, it can detect openings at other providers and direct the patient there instead.

The process of medical care begins when a patient picks up a phone. Now thanks to new technologies, what they see on that phone can enhance the journey for patient and practitioner alike.

Alex is co-founder and CEO of QLess, crowned with the Gold Stevie for the Best Computer Services Company at the last five American Business Awards, and serves on the California Institute of Technology Information Sciences and Technology Board of Advisors. He holds a degree in Biology and Economics from MIT and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Computation and Neural Systems and Biology from Caltech. Prior to starting QLess, Alex held positions at McKinsey & Co., the Center for Computation, Computers, Information and Mathematics of Sandia National Labs, and Caltech.

Alex's research on neural coding and artificial intelligence has been published in the world’s leading publications such as Nature and Neural Computation. He has received a number of distinctions including the 2010 inaugural 40 Under 40 from M&A Advisor Recognition Awards and the 2013 International Business Awards’ Gold Stevie for IT Executive of the Year and the Silver Stevie for Innovator of the Year.

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