How to offer the experience patients expect: Insights from Grady Health System and Boston Children's Health Physicians

Patients increasingly expect their healthcare experience to be digital, convenient and efficient. While healthcare organizations need to deliver on this expectation for a digital-first experience, they also need to ensure that patients who may not be as comfortable as technology aren't left behind.

In a workshop sponsored by Phreesia during Becker's Hospital Review's 7th Annual Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting, Glenn Hilburn, vice president and chief application and informatics officer at Grady Health System (Atlanta), and Emily Sheboy Scarcello, clinical operations administrator at Boston Children's Health Physicians, shared their best practices for enabling a digital-first and equitable patient experience. The discussion was moderated by Adam Rubenfire, a content manager at Phreesia.

Four key takeaways were:

  1. The overwhelming majority of patients are comfortable with technology. A survey of over 4,000 patients conducted by Phreesia earlier this year revealed that:
  • 86 percent are comfortable using technology to manage their health
  • Over 80 percent like digital communication and appointment tools
  • 70 percent would pay their medical bills online, if the option existed

The survey also revealed that certain capabilities are seen as must-haves for patients, meaning "if your organization doesn't have those tools, you risk losing the patient to the competition," Mr. Rubenfire said. Must-haves include capabilities to digitally communicate with providers (41 percent); schedule, reschedule and confirm appointments (36 percent); check in for appointments online (29 percent); and make payments digitally (22 percent).


  1. Healthcare organizations shouldn't ignore patients who are less comfortable with technology — rather, they should invest time in supporting them and engaging them in their care. The main concerns of these patients, who represented just 14 percent of survey respondents, were privacy and security. To reassure them, organizations should prioritize working with technology vendors whose tools are in strict compliance with regulatory standards like SOC-2 and HITRUST, and who use PCI validation for payments, with tokenization and encryption.

Surveyed patients also shared that they would be more comfortable with technology if it were easier to use and if their healthcare organization provided more support. One of the ways to make technology easier and less burdensome for patients is to streamline access, Mr. Hilburn of Grady Health System said. "Patients are hesitant to download applications or to have to remember another set of login credentials."

An added benefit of deploying digital capabilities to meet the needs of tech-savvy patients is that it gives staff more time for those who are not comfortable using such tools. Because patients are self-scheduling appointments, completing pre-visit registration on their mobile device and paying bills online, staff have more time to focus on providing an experience that boosts patient loyalty and retention. "The technology we've used has bridged some pretty severe staffing shortages," Ms. Sheboy Scarcello said. "We would have had much more severe operational challenges if we didn't have tech to support us."


  1. Identifying and engaging the right stakeholders is essential to building out great digital patient experiences. The patient experience should be designed with the input and coordination of a wide variety of stakeholders, including clinical operations, marketing, revenue cycle and IT, among others, panelists said. Mr. Hilburn also recommends engaging patient and family councils in the development and implementation experiences, to ensure successful uptake and high satisfaction. He emphasized that involving patients and family members in the development of digital experiences is of particular importance for safety net hospitals such as Grady, where digital literacy is a frequent challenge. When patients are involved in the pilot stages of a technology projects, leaders can be better assured that users will understand how to use the technology and embrace its benefits.

It's also important to leverage in-office technology to be inclusive and accommodating of all patients, including those who may not have the tools or savvy to use digital tools on their own. "By using things that are not app-based, that do not require a password and…have an option to complete a patient's pre-visit by using technology provided by the office as opposed to a personal piece of technology, we can help break through a lot of the barriers to working with the digital technology," Ms. Sheboy Scarcello said. "We have very few patients in our practices who have a philosophical objection to technology."


  1. Digital tools can help identify health disparities and gaps in care. Digital patient intake tools, which are a core element of the digital front door, enable providers to gain critical visibility into patients' demographics and social needs. When implemented successfully, digital screening tools can equip clinicians with information about social determinants of health and other factors that may not be as easily identified from paper forms or that patients may not be as comfortable providing in a verbal conversation.

"There is an art to talking with the patient in a respectful way to get information," Mr. Hilburn said. "My belief is that as we improve our screening technologies, we're going to see a vast improvement in the quality of data that we are obtaining from our patients relative to social determinants of health. This will enable us to address those disparities not only through resources within our organization, but also by connecting patients to community resources that can help as well."

Learn more about how Phreesia can help your health system help activate patients for better outcomes and provide the experience they expect.

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