Considering patient preferences is one way to help fix healthcare

The American healthcare system is facing unprecedented challenges today.

Every week there is news about what may or may not happen at the White House or in Congress, leading many health plans to uncertainty as to how to plan for the coming year. In one example, a health plan in Montana announced they had two plans–one plan had a six percent rate increase and the other had an increase of over 20 percent–based on things staying the same versus changing.

While all this plays out, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have stood behind changes to incentive programs. For the time being the Quality Payment Program stands in an attempt to continue the shift to value-based care. Many commercial payers are continuing along this route as well. Anthem Blue Cross, UnitedHealthcare, and others have invested heavily in shifting to value-based payment programs over the last several years.

At the end of the day, however, what’s happening in Congress or with payers won’t improve outcomes unless providers make changes. It’s time to put the focus back on how providers can be more innovative in the ways they engage with and support patients, regardless of value-based incentives or shifts in the insurance market.

Unfortunately, innovation is often a challenge in healthcare. Technology historically lags behind other industries. At least in part, this is because there is heavy regulation in healthcare. Providers spend so much time on compliance and requirements for incentive programs they feel they can’t implement other solutions. One annual survey has showed year-after-year that providers feel their biggest challenge is too much third party interference.

What providers need is encouragement to make innovative changes that improve both their practice and the patient experience. One approach that has the potential to improve care and reduce costs—no matter what the reimbursement structure is—is the use of patient relationship management (PRM) technology. PRM software gives practices a way to offer patients options so they can engage with the practice using their preferred methods, timing, etc. Patients are more responsive when they receive reminders, recare messages and education customized to them and their needs..

A recent study showed that patients want more interactions via text and email as well as expanded access through online services like scheduling and bill pay. The survey surprisingly showed that this was true regardless of age. Baby boomers were nearly as likely as Generation X to want to receive text messages from their healthcare provider.

While patients clearly want these services, the study found a huge disparity between what patients would like and what their healthcare providers actually offered. Some examples of this lag in meeting patients where they are, include:
• Only one-third of patients can currently get a text appointment reminder, but 60 percent of patients say they want one. If you break down the interest by generation, the numbers increase significantly as the age goes down. Seventy-three percent of Millennial patients want text reminders. This isn’t to say that Baby Boomers don’t want to communicate via text. They do. Nearly half of Baby Boomer patients said they also wanted to get text reminders.
• The same is true of email, only more so. Currently, just under 40 percent of patients receive email reminders while 63 percent say they would like to.
• Today, just 15 percent of patients can text back and forth with their healthcare providers. However, 50 percent of all patients say they would like to engage in real-time, two-way texting. When you look at this by generation, that number also increases substantially with younger patients. Virtually all Millennial patients want to be able to both send and receive texts from their provider.

Considering the experience people have with other industries, this interest in more electronic solutions shouldn’t come as a surprise. Today, over two-thirds of Americans have a smartphone and nearly all of them use it to text, according to Pew Research. Consumers expect a virtually seamless electronic process for their interactions. They want the same experience in healthcare that they have in an industry like the airlines. You can use your smartphone to book reservations, check-in, get alerts about flights, pay for add-on services, and rate your experience. If you are sitting on a plane and your flight is suddenly cancelled, you can rebook instantly on your phone.

It’s time to make that the healthcare experience, and PRM can help providers do that. By integrating with a practice’s practice management and electronic health record systems, PRM can allow patients to find providers online, see patient reviews, book appointments, receive reminders, get follow up surveys, and more. And, it can do this using patient preferences around how they are contacted and when. PRM goes one step further with the ability to send customized, targeted communications based on factors like diagnosis, appointment types, gender, or age.

This connectivity can help improve collaboration with patients, resulting in better care adherence and outcomes. This may be why Kaiser Permanente study found that one-third of chronic-needs patients who exchanged emails with their healthcare providers said the communication improved their care. Patient outcomes are heavily impacted by things like missing appointments or not scheduling appropriate follow ups. But these issues are easily fixed with a PRM system, and the result is improvements for patients, providers, and payers.

About Jim Higgins
Jim Higgins is the chief executive officer of Solutionreach, which he also founded. Higgins launched the company in 2000 to help support practices with the common, yet costly problem of patient no-shows. Since then, Higgins has innovated and guided the direction of the Solutionreach technology to meet all the patient relationship management needs of practices. Follow him @higgs77.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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