Three ways healthcare automation puts an end to patient-provider phone tag

In an era marked by technological advances that significantly streamline access to a service across consumer industries —from food delivery to travel to eCommerce—healthcare has found itself struggling to deliver the same type of transformative change through healthcare automation.

Too many provider groups are still tethered to hard-copy processes and high-touch, human intensive operations instead of embracing this new era of digital consumerism. For example, a recent Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) survey of provider group executives found that 84% of their patients still schedule care with the front desk. It’s a staggering number when you think about all the other services consumers use online self-service options to book (airlines, hotels, home services, etc).  The survey also found that 86% of executives said their organization still relies on staff knowledge or offline resources (such as binders and sticky notes) to manage rules and preferences for scheduling care, instead of an automated tool. 

With roughly two-thirds of Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z patients equating more digital offerings to better service, care providers are increasingly looking to healthcare automation technology to relieve the burden of manual, resource-heavy operational tasks and deliver on the digital expectations of their patient population.  

Healthcare automation may cover the full spectrum of a patient’s wellness journey, but the most important part is often how the journey begins. 

Provider groups are increasingly turning to intelligent scheduling solutions—including online patient self-scheduling and centralized scheduling—to automate the most important, but also most tedious piece, of the healthcare journey. 

Best-in-class scheduling technology should: 

  1. Integrate, optimize, and streamline scheduling across existing platforms and processes

    An intelligent scheduling solution digitizes provider preferences into personalized templates and condenses the hard-copy decision tree into a click of a button. Through centralized scheduling, and self-scheduling, access to care widens as scheduling errors are reduced and more patients make it on to the correct schedule in a timely manner. Data can also be collected to continually refine these templates to increase or reduce types of patients on the schedule, or even duration needed for different visit types.

    Flexible and configurable automation technology will integrate into existing platforms and establish bi-directional data mapping. This will allow a core practice management system to connect directly to patients, as they schedule, reschedule, confirm, and cancel their care and remove the need to manually call, confirm, and update the appointment in the system.

    Shifting to a rules-based automated scheduling solution also removes the need for intensive scheduler training and lets provider groups onboard new staff more efficiently—without losing historical knowledge if there’s turnover.

  2. Improve operational efficiency, wait times, patient retention, and health outcomes with the same scheduling solution

    Automatic workflows can rebook cancellations, reduce no shows, and create an automated waitlist to ensure every available slot is offered to the next patient in line and book those hard-to-fill vacancies.

    While intelligent healthcare automation boosts scheduling access and ease of filling cancellations, it also continues to drive communication with the patients who have self-scheduled their appointments, gotten their appointment reminders in the preference they selected upon first visit—such as email or text—and have already confirmed they will be attending their selected time with the physician found for them via the smart scheduling solution. This use of patient engagement significantly boosts patient satisfaction and outcomes.

    Patients are then moved along in their journey to ensure efficiency exists beyond the digital front door. Configurable intake forms, healthcare education, new clinical results, easy bill pay, and feedback survey collection continue the experience to keep care management streamlined for patients and administrators.

  3. Continue to refine and expand patient access and engagement

    Emerging solutions will continue to augment the technology stack for providers, such as secure chat via a website. According to the MGMA study, only 4% of providers currently utilize chat functions. However, this communication modality is poised for rapid adoption as it allows a much more seamless and integrated routing of information than previous communication pathways, as it can be initiated from either side without unnecessary barriers. 

    For example, chat messages through an online portal can remove hurdles like password resets and log-in challenges, answer basic questions like directions and hours automatically without the need for human interaction, and drive the shift to main chat-based customer service that is being seen across industries. It also opens a new inbound communication channel that doesn’t rely on a text message, email, or phone call from the practice to begin a thread.

    As with other communication modalities streamlined by automation technology, chat offers a recognizable, consumer-friendly method that breaks down barriers to care and saves operational resource time.

    Healthcare automation will become key to profitable and streamlined operations

    Moving from a phone-tag model—where providers and patients sometimes exchange as many as thirteen phone calls just to complete one prescription refill—to an automation model saves time for all involved in the care process. It vastly improves the patient experience by letting patients manage more of their appointments, their time, and their health. 

As healthcare automation evolves, more provider groups will look for real-time, offline, and asynchronous communication channels to meet patients where they are—running the kids to school, at the office in back-to-back meetings, and squeezing in personal errands where they can. The provider groups who move to adopt automation will be able to deliver a better patient experience and see more patients when patients need to be seen, with minimal resource allocation to scheduling, communication, and engagement.

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