Rethinking digital engagement: What patients really want from healthcare

Healthcare leaders say that improving the digital patient experience and increasing patient engagement are top priorities.

But patients are underwhelmed by the digital tools that health systems have invested in, highlighting a disconnect between what patients really want and what healthcare is delivering.

During a November webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Notable, Carle Falk, Notable's Head of Research, shared insights into how healthcare leaders can better deliver a digital experience that matches patient expectations.

Three key takeaways were:

  1. Health systems' digital engagement efforts aren't delivering what patients want. Patient engagement is a priority, with 86 percent of healthcare executives citing it as an essential or high priority for 2023, according to a Chime Digital Health survey. Health systems have primarily tried to accomplish this through patient portals. But 51 percent of patients log in less than twice a year, according to a KLAS report.

The reasons why patients don't use portals, Ms. Falk said, can be illustrated by her own personal experience: when presented with a lab result that showed numbers twice what they should have been, Ms. Falk logged into her portal to message her provider, while separately searching for information through the Mayo Clinic. "I sent a message to the nurse, who then asked the provider . . . and three weeks later I was finally told it was nothing to worry about," she said. "And that is not a very satisfying experience."

Digital tools can present other barriers, like poor interfaces, cumbersome log-in requirements, a disjointed patient experience, insufficient online information and untimely responses.

  1. What patients really want is easy-to-use, practical functionality like online check-in and scheduling. Consumers want to interact with providers digitally. According to a survey Notable conducted in March 2022 with over 1,000 U.S. patients, 72 percent say they are hopeful that tech can improve the patient experience and 75 percent would rather complete intake paperwork online.

However, most patients say that current digital tools fall short of their expectations. For example, 70 percent of surveyed patients said they tried online scheduling in the past year but were redirected to a phone call. And alarmingly, patients even forgo care over a bad digital experience. 61 percent of patients said they have skipped going to a physician in the past year because scheduling was too much of a hassle.

Part of the challenge is that EHRs have been slow to deliver these kinds of consumer-friendly digital features, Ms. Falk said. That has left organizations trying to close the gap with point solutions, which create data silos and more work for staff — something that health systems can ill afford. Meanwhile, the patient experience becomes even more disjointed.

  1. Giving patients the digital experience they want lies in creating a holistic and intuitive patient experience rather than one-off solutions. One of the most popular features of Notable's intelligent automation platform is its ability to pre-populate forms, making the patient's digital experience better because they feel like the system "knows" them. The key is not to create a stop-gap solution, but to create a holistic user experience. "And then leverage the trust you already have," Ms. Falk said. "Use artificial intelligence and automation to actually uncover and prompt digital outreach, based on what is already in your EHR."

Done right, intelligent automation enables patients to engage when and how they choose while collecting high-fidelity information that goes directly into the EHR, obviating the need for downstream work queues. This improves the patient experience and saves time for the care team to focus on higher-value work.

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