In a recent blog post about patient engagement, we told you that patient portals are not the answer to the patient engagement problem.
Still true – but they are an important component of a well thought out engagement strategy that also includes patient workflow kiosks, patient payments, and patient notifications.
An easily accessible and well-designed portal can provide a patient’s first opportunity to appreciate the efforts that a healthcare provider has made to create a person-centered environment and to minimize the inefficiencies – such as being placed on hold while trying to schedule an appointment or spending an excessive amount of time in the waiting room – that can have a negative impact on patient satisfaction.
When selecting the technology that you employ for your practice, you’ll want to consider what it offers to enhance patients’ options for self-scheduling and pre-registration. When patients call to schedule an appointment the traditional way, they may be provided limited options, with many factors taking precedence over patient preference.
With a solid digital self-scheduling solution, however, patients can easily see when appropriate appointment slots are available and can select the date and time that works best for them.
Providers may be concerned that allowing self-scheduling will reduce their control over their schedules, but such concerns can be easily addressed by the way that patient appointments are structured in the scheduling system and by keeping the schedule template up to date in order to reflect internal needs.
Additional benefits to self-scheduling may include:
- reduced no-show rates
- earlier cancellations (which allow the appointment slot to be filled again)
- more time for staff to address in-office needs, rather than spending several minutes per patient to schedule appointments by phone.
Improving Patient Engagement Workflows
Your workflow efficiency will also be greatly improved if, upon scheduling an appointment, patients are able to immediately provide necessary medical history and fill out any forms that your practice requires.
Providing this opportunity has enormous benefits both to the patient and to your staff. Instead of juggling a battered clipboard and an insurance card while trying to locate emergency contact numbers, patients can complete forms from their own homes, where they have the opportunity to more easily find the information that you have requested.
This also eliminates the need to arrive a half-hour before an appointment and can drastically reduce the time spent in a waiting room. Likewise, a healthcare practice can have medical history and other patient information before the patient even arrives, which necessitates only asking for any items that may have been overlooked.
It also means far less time spent waiting for new patient paperwork to be completed by someone who did not arrive at the requested time and is now having an impact on subsequent appointments by completing paperwork during his or her scheduled exam time.
Another area of the workflow where the patient portal has a large impact is results access.
In 2013, Consumer Reports found that not getting test results quickly enough was the #2 complaint patients had about doctor visits. (The only “gripe” rated higher was unclear medical explanations.)
Traditionally, patients have had to wait days or even weeks for a phone call or a letter about results, which can be particularly unsettling if the test performed was anxiety-provoking for the patient in the first place.
With a portal, patients can directly receive results, such as those from imaging or lab work, with a significant decrease in wait time and without the phone tag often associated with the process. Portals can also make it simple for patients to see visit summaries and prescription histories or to track changes in measures such as weight or blood pressure over time.
The ease with which patients can access their own medical information empowers them to be active participants in their care and to make well-informed decisions about next steps, including referrals, second opinions, and follow-up appointments.
Given the amazing ways we use technology on a daily basis, all of this sounds pretty simple, right? The truth is that it can actually be quite complicated to make something simple.
To have a well-designed patient portal and a seamless workflow, healthcare providers need a technology partner that understands how to make the complicated simple and has the tools needed to achieve the goals of true patient engagement.