Three Ways to Use Automation to Deliver Better Patient Experiences in 2023

Nearly half of provider group executives cite quality of scheduling as the most important factor for patient experience in a recent survey; optimizing patient communication will pay big dividends in 2023.

A study of 217 healthcare executives recently conducted by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) for Relatient found that poor use of automation technology and rising patient expectations are correlated with ongoing staffing challenges and burnout. Given that many clinics are still experiencing a post-pandemic patient surge coupled with shortages in administrative staffing without optimizing their reliance on technology, that correlation intuitively makes sense: The more time physicians and staff spend doing administrative work rather than medically serving patients, the more frustrated everyone will be.

Given this reality, providers who do not proactively change the status quo will likely find that converging trends related to patient experience and staffing shortages are headed towards a head-on collision in 2023.

Consider the staffing problem alone: A full 87% of executives say they’ve faced administrative staffing challenges over the last 12 months. Many of those providers report that staffing shortages have had a negative impact on the patient experience in their organization.

Conversely, the survey showed that a quality patient experience leads to strong engagement and high patient satisfaction. Further, a central defining factor of quality is the scheduling processes and technology providers use, not surprisingly as this is often the first interaction a patient has with their provider, even though a physician is not yet involved. While most provider groups currently leverage outbound communication technology, patients still rely heavily on human-driven interactions—whether in-person at the front desk or by phone—at a time when the overwhelming majority of executives say they are continuing to face administrative staffing challenges.

Survey findings point to three actions provider groups can take in the coming year that will not only lead to higher patient engagement and satisfaction, but also contribute to greater stability and less burnout among providers and administrative staff:

  • Automate scheduling—and keep staff off the phones. This is a way to empower patients: Most clinics have a web presence today, and the reality is most patients prefer the convenience of self-scheduling, which, in turn, saves administrative staff time and money. Today’s provider groups identify patient scheduling as the most critical part of patient experience, and almost half (47%) of organizations rate patient scheduling as their “most important” patient experience function. Seventy-five percent rate quality of patient scheduling and communication as “very important.”

    Overwhelmingly though, patients still pick up the phone to make an appointment: 84% of providers report patients schedule care through the front desk, and almost 6 in 10 (58%) say patients schedule through a contact center. (The use of contact centers was most common for practices with 100+ physicians.)

    Helping guide patients toward self-service scheduling improves the experience for patients and administrative staff alike.

  • Optimize scheduling around provider preferences. Managing provider preferences is the top scheduling challenge, according to 31% of executives surveyed. Notably, 58% rely on internal staff knowledge (tribal knowledge, binders, and sticky notes vs. automated technology) to navigate the issue—a high-risk problem when staff turnover occurs.

    Provider groups should instead leverage technology to account for provider preferences auto-adjustment as the provider’s schedule fills in. A provider might prefer to only see patients with certain conditions on Wednesday mornings since she’s found it helps her better focus and concentrate attention on the specialty. However, if a particular season or factor dictates a change, it helps to have planned out “if-then” rules that automate scheduling based on changing priorities.

    Today, providers have both extensive data and technology is available that’s powerful enough to analyze that data so that they can know much more about patients’ needs and preferences. Provider groups can leverage this intelligence to make the best decisions for both their patients and practice operations to keep providers schedules fully utilized while delivering a quality patient experience.

  • Strategically engage in patient outreach. Most provider groups are leveraging outbound automated communications (text, human call, automated call, or email). But patient outreach is only the first step. Digital strategy should close the loop by effectively nudging or motivating patients to actively engage in the next best action in their healthcare. If you can make it where patients can easily respond with actions like clicking on links to set up or reschedule appointments, even better! That’s not yet happening in great enough volume today. Even with providers’ current use of automated outbound communications, 73% of patients are still calling to cancel or reschedule, which requires human staff.

    Today’s technology can help better engage patients and moreover gather and leverage more detailed information (when their birthday is, which vaccines they’ve had, etc.) that can provide natural prompts for further outreach and engagement.

    Finally, a full 96% of providers are not yet utilizing automated chat, a function that all sorts of consumer-facing businesses—from restaurants, retail and financial services to transportation, media, and grocery stores—are using to great effect. Automated chat can gather information, help patients solve problems with decision-tree troubleshooting, and direct patients quickly to answers they need, requiring administrative staff involvement for only more complex questions and interactions.

Forward-thinking providers are prioritizing technology use and optimization

The good news is that the survey findings suggest that many providers are already taking a thoughtful approach to solving for these challenges by exploring comprehensive scheduling and engagement solutions available today to both improve patient engagement and operational efficiency. Given that scheduling is cited today as the top factor in establishing a positive patient experience, solutions such as intelligent online self-scheduling, connected call center scheduling, and chatbot-assisted scheduling are poised for significant market adoption in 2023.

Next year is also likely to find providers continuing to leverage automated outbound communications such as appointment reminders. When doing so, providers should also evaluate optimizing for the resulting inbound engagement from patients like asking questions, canceling, or rescheduling appointments via automated channels in order to reduce staff burden.


Jeff Gartland is Chief Executive Officer of Relatient, a leading intelligent patient scheduling and engagement technology company that utilizes a data-led approach to improving access to care.

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