When specialty providers observe that “My patients often don’t do what I tell them,” they are usually describing an issue of engagement. Patients obviously want to be healthy, or they wouldn’t make appointments in the first place. But when appointments are difficult to secure or aren’t kept—and when a kept appointment is the only time the patient connects with the specialty practice—there is an opportunity to increase patient engagement by leveraging technologies for patient access.
Making and keeping appointments
The first way in which technology can improve patient access is ensuring that appointments are easy for patients to schedule. Consumers have become extremely accustomed to managing much of their lives from their computers and mobile devices, conveniently and at the time of their choice. When a medical appointment can be secured only by phone during business hours, that’s highly inconvenient by comparison. Yet surveys consistently reveal that fewer than 20 percent of physicians offer online scheduling—and most patients would prefer that convenience. By accommodating them, physicians can better fill their calendars. That’s especially important to specialty practices, which typically see more patients in a given time period than primary care practices do.
Of course, it’s important that appointments be kept, and a messaging system can help eliminate skipped appointments by issuing effective reminders. The key is to contact patients in the manner they prefer. Some respond best to personal phone calls, while others prefer email or text notifications.
Connecting between appointments
The second area in which technology can improve patient access is the patient portal. Just as most patients prefer online appointment scheduling, they also prefer to communicate with their physicians and access health information online. Unfortunately, while patient portals have been widely adopted due to their inclusion in EMRs, a recent Xerox survey found that 35 percent of U.S. patients did not know a portal was available, and 31 percent said their physician had never spoken to them about portals. Interestingly, among those who do use online patient portals, 59 percent say they have been much more interested and proactive in their personal health care since they received access.
These statistics all point to a central fact: online access increases patient engagement. It starts by making it easier for patients to make and keep appointments, and to engage conveniently at any time they choose between appointments.
To learn more about maximizing patient engagement, check out this white paper.