How virtual triage can transform patient access

Patient access is one of the thorniest problems in healthcare. When patients need to schedule an appointment or have another time-sensitive concern, ensuring such issues can be addressed in an efficient and standardized manner is a growing priority for healthcare organizations.

During an April webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Isabel Healthcare, health system leaders discussed how virtual triage can support and transform patient access. Panelists were:

  • Don Bauman, CEO, Isabel Healthcare
  • Heather Francis, RN, clinical director of digital integration, Phoenix-based Banner Health
  • Matthew Hanis, executive vice president of strategy, MedChat (moderator)
  • Reed Smith, vice president of digital and innovation, Ardent Health Services

Three key takeaways:

  1. Securing patient access is a complex transactional problem; virtual triage can solve it. When patients call to schedule an appointment, arrange a procedure or obtain lab results, they are typically met with a complex workflow. The agents who answer these calls must identify the right provider at the right location who accepts the right insurance and can be booked when the patient needs. In addition, agents complete those tasks using EHR systems that were never meant to handle such requests, as most EHR software was originally built for billing purposes.

    "We're asking agents to solve a really complex multivariate equation in less than 10 minutes. This is labor that could be more valuably serving patients in other ways," Mr. Hanis said. "Virtual triage automates the complexity of the patient access experience."

  2. Virtual triage chatbots provide a digital path from symptoms to solutions. Thanks to its design logic, MedChat's Triage Bot generates appropriate guidance to the correct level of care, be it an emergency, urgent or primary care via telehealth or in-person based on the patient-reported symptoms and clinical status. Pulling together this information, clinical evidence and the provider’s protocols, Triage Bot generates a list of possible Conditions and guides patients to the right care without the hassle of calling.

    When an agent is involved on the other end of the screen, Triage Bots helps non-clinical or clinical scheduling agents understand how quickly patients need to be seen, gather necessary documentation such as health insurance details and go through complex workflows step by step. "There's no ambiguity and it's scalable," Ms. Francis said. 

  3. Consumerism trends suggest triage bots are a must-have for health systems. "We really have to start thinking about what the [healthcare] consumer expects based on how they participate online in the rest of their lives," Mr. Smith said. He pointed out that consumers seldom find themselves at a website where there is no option for self-service, and that is what health systems should be trying to replicate. "How do we equip people with ways to find the care that they need without having to either talk to somebody in person or go really deep into a website?  We stood this solution up in 76 days to solve this problem and saved 2,369 labor hours in the initial pilot period".

While the virtual triage concept may sound novel, it dates to 1999, when the near-fatal misdiagnosis of a 3-year-old girl named Isabel inspired the founding of Isabel Healthcare. The company has been building and refining the true NLP AI machine learning platform that underpins MedChat's Triage Bot since then. Today, that algorithm-based clinical engine has evolved into an intuitive tool that serves both physicians and patients, while helping health systems advance toward consumer-centric design.

"We are in this to help both patients get to the right care venue as quickly as possible, and providers get to the right diagnosis" Mr. Bauman said. 

To view the full webinar, click here

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