Increasing Practice Value via Technology

Written by on June 1, 2017 in Features, Slide - No comments
TechnologyWEB

What is the most valuable part of your practice?  It is your expertise and knowledge?  Your facilities and equipment?  Your hospital affiliation?  According to patients, the most valuable part is the physician-patient relationship.  A 2012 JD Power and Associates study on inpatient and outpatient care showed that interpersonal skills mattered most when it came to patient satisfaction (JD 2012).  Patients want their physician to show a “genuine interest” in their care.  The most frequent complaints had nothing to do with the medical care received or the facilities but about perceived “service” and “attitude.”

So how do you create that relationship and show patients you value them?  The field of medicine can learn from the business world.  Businesses today realize that customer expectations are higher than ever before.  The era of the Internet has changed expectations and raised the bar for businesses, including medical practices and hospitals.  People want personalized service, but they want it fast.  They want options and they want information.  They want to be able to communicate with their health care providers and have 24/7 access.

Think about the convenience in today’s online world.   I can buy clothing, furniture, and toys and have them delivered in two days.  I can schedule appointments, consult with a lawyer, order food, and earn college credit without leaving my couch… and I can do these things 24/7.  My experiences are also personalized.  When I log into an online retailer, the company remembers all of my information.  It suggests items that I might like based on purchase history.   It’s easy.  This age of personalized, fast, and convenient service is now the norm.  We are not pleasantly surprised when we receive it; we expect it.

These customers are also patients.  They expect the same personalized, fast, and convenient service that other organizations provide them.  To keep them satisfied and show them we care, we need to focus on relationships, invest in technology, and invest in our staff.

First of all, physicians should focus on customer relationship management.  Just like the customer hates re-telling their story three times to three different customer service representatives, a patient hates re-telling her story over and over again.  Everyone in the office needs to have access to the patient’s chart and in real-time via electronic medical records.  Each member of the team needs to be held accountable for keeping that chart updated.  If I see my partner’s patient, I should be able to see and have access to her entire history.  Similarly, the front desk should be able to see why the patient is being seen.  The phone nurse needs to know the patient’s history and what happened at the visit.  Phone calls, emails, and other correspondence should all be documented and easily seen by all members of the team.  Keeping up with charting is not just a compliance issue, it is good customer service.

Investing in technology can go a long way in showing customers that you care. Technology that can minimize patient waiting is invaluable.  Customers hate to wait.  A study done in the American Journal of Managed Care revealed that every aspect of the patient experience was negatively impacted by wait times (Bleustein 2014).  They hate to wait on the phone and hate to wait in person even more.   People feel their time is not valued.  Millennials in particular, have no patience for sitting on hold for hours on end (Rubenfire 2017).  If a patient calls your office for a new appointment and ends up on hold too long, there is a good chance he or she will find somewhere else to go.  Investing in an information system that allows for online appointments and cancellations can greatly increase patient satisfaction.

Similarly, customers and patients hate to wait in person. Obviously, emergencies happen.  Some patients are high maintenance and take longer than others.   This uncontrollable and unpredictable variation is inevitable.  However, there are steps an office can take to decrease wait times.  Have patients fill out paperwork ahead of time.  New patient history forms, privacy practices, insurance information, etc. can all be provided (you guessed it) online.  Also, an office can use information systems to analyze the office for any bottleneck steps.  How long are patients in the waiting room?  How long does triage take?  How long are they waiting in the room?  What is the rate-limiting step?  Find out where the backup occurs.  Are the medical assistants too slow in calling them back?  Are you, as the physician, always behind?  Is there a backup waiting for the bathroom to leave urine samples?

Technology can also be helpful in providing 24/7 service.  Patients do not want to “wait until Monday” for their test result or ask their question.  Customers expect 24/7 service.  A patient portal can help here.  Patients can login to their computer at home and browse their lab results, imaging results, upcoming appointments, and prescribed medications.  A website with frequently asked questions can alleviate some concerns.  The ability to email the office or doctor will often satisfy the patient as well, hopefully avoiding that middle of the night phone call.  In addition, patients want up-to-date, real time information.  Automated text messages updating people about office closures or delays can go a long way in improving satisfaction.

Today we are in the age of the customer.  People are tech savvy, impatient, and expect efficiency and ease.  Investing in information systems is not just recommended, but it is necessary.  Those that do not subscribe to the new model will soon fall behind.  A physician can be caring and compassionate, but it is not enough.  The patient needs to perceive that the physician is caring and compassionate.  In order to create a valuable practice, one needs to value the patient and their desires first.

References
Clifford Bleustein, C., Rothschild, D.B., Valen, A. et al.  (May 20, 2014).  Wait times, patient satisfaction scores, and the perception of care.  American Journal of Managed Care.  Retrieved from  http://www.ajmc.com/journals/issue/2014/2014-vol20-n5/wait-times-patient-satisfaction-scores-and-the-perception-of-care#sthash.c78zrn1I.dpuf

J.D. Power Ratings.  (2012).  Patient satisfaction influence more by hospital staff than by the hospital facilities.  J.D. Power.  Retrieved from http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/2012-national-patient-experience-study

Rubenfire, A.  (January 7, 2017).  Provider first impressions matter most for millennials.  Modern Healthcare.  Retrieved from http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170107/MAGAZINE/301079983

By Kaci Durbin, MD FACOG

Leave a Comment

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box