Using Tech to Improve Patient Engagement in the New Normal

Although it has struggled to keep pace with other industries in digital adoption, the healthcare industry can move fast when it must. The industry’s response to COVID-19 makes that clear.  Almost overnight, the healthcare ecosystem took action to provide care for those in need and expanded access through telehealth at a scale never seen before.  Looking ahead, there is an opportunity to use this tragedy as a spark for positive change – to sustain and accelerate the digital advances made to engage patients more effectively and reshape healthcare.

Take a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer just before the pandemic spread. With her immune system compromised from chemotherapy, she was concerned about having her infusions at a large medical center.  With this in mind, her oncologist arranged in-home treatments, conducted by a home health nurse. The young woman and her oncologist met via telehealth to review her progress.  She was given access to an array of online tools that offered help ranging from patient support groups to nutrition advice to tips on managing her condition.  When it was time for follow-up scans, she could visit a small facility in her community.  The young woman received care and support at times and places convenient to her, at lower costs, without compromising quality.

That’s a simple engagement model applicable to many use cases—and could have been implemented before COVID-19.  It’s the type of convenient, personalized experience that consumers increasingly expect by digitally adept service providers.  Now is the time for healthcare providers to advance, expand and scale what may have been short-term actions in response to COVID-19 – to learn from the pandemic and harness technology more aggressively to improve patient access, care and support. 

Here are 5 areas for consideration:

1. Give patients digital tools for accessing and managing their care.

Consumers expect to engage and transact online.  They are used to frictionless, intelligent, and digitally enabled experiences, such as seeing recommendations based on purchase histories or securely moving funds on a mobile app.  That’s the standard healthcare providers must match.  Many providers used intelligent apps to help triage and streamline care during COVID-19.  Digital solutions can be broadly deployed to help patients find the right providers, book appointments, check symptoms, launch online visits with their physicians, access their health history, manage prescriptions, get reminders about preventive care, monitor their health and estimate health care costs.  This can all be easily accessible through a seamless, personalized digital front door, representing all the touch points where providers can digitally interact with individuals.  This goes well beyond just deploying a patient portal and mobile app.  If the digital patient experience was not already a strategic imperative, make it one now.

2. Expand telehealth across the care continuum.

A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics showed more than 24% of people who had physician appointments in August chose telemedicine, so uptake of this channel continues.[i] Capturing in-home monitoring and diagnostic data digitally can inform virtual visits and enable providers to expand telehealth to chronic conditions, behavioral health needs, pregnancy and post-delivery care, physical therapy and more. Providers must work with payers to ensure equitable reimbursement and realize the value of giving patients more telemedicine options. Telehealth capabilities must be built into clinical workflows so that data from virtual visits is captured and available to other physicians and clinics in a healthcare system. Data from physical visits must likewise be available for telehealth encounters.  Consumers may sour on telehealth experiences that don’t build on contextual, personalized data relevant to their patient journeys. 

3. Deliver more care anywhere consumers want it.

We live in an on-demand, get-it-now world. Not all of healthcare can be delivered on those terms, but be sure that new entrants into healthcare are focusing on ways to meet consumer demand for convenience.  One example is to extend and tailor in-home monitoring to an individual’s needs. Wearables and new generations of in-home devices can allow providers to capture and set baselines for a single person, then monitor for readings abnormal for that individual. Identifying and investigating signals unique to an individual, such as subtle changes in blood oxygen levels, would set new standards for engagement, early intervention and outcome improvement.  Forward thinking organizations are developing new hybrid care models that effectively orchestrate telehealth, in-home care, Rx fulfillment, and traditional care delivery to give consumers what they need, when they need it, regardless of channel.

4. Make it easier for patients to pay their bills and manage their healthcare finances.

Healthcare providers are retooling their business offices to improve cash flow in the wake of steep losses from deferred elective and wellness procedures.  Through modernized revenue cycle management (RCM), healthcare organizations can enable patients to better understand their financial responsibility, view their bills, make payments, leverage customized payment plans, and receive other communications—all through a convenient, online experience.  This can be part of a more automated, end-to-end RCM process that also improves the provider’s financial health.

5. Post clear prices and adopt outcomes-based and bundled pricing.

While price transparency rules may be the stick, consumers want clear price and quality information.  Healthcare simply needs to do this—help patients better understand what they are paying for and the quality of the services rendered.  Provide better insights to enable more informed decision making.

Other industries, from banking to energy, are treating COVID-19 as a wake-up call to adopting more efficient, digital business practices.  Healthcare can do the same.  Some healthcare providers may revert to business as usual post-pandemic.  However, those with greater vision will use this time to accelerate innovation and make substantive changes to improve the healthcare experience and drive better, more affordable care.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/rands/telemedicine.htm, accessed 10/14/2020

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