It wasn’t just the data.
What was clear to Sentara Health & Medical Group was that they needed to make some serious changes if they were to keep up with how patients choose healthcare today. The data told them everything they needed to know: three out of every four patients search online before making their choice; and, when they do, a third of patients look at reviews first.
The data was clear, but it was more than that. Most providers know the data. The difference with Sentara is they allowed the data to change their fundamental approach to new patient engagement. They put a logical and decisive stake in the ground and said (and I quote): “Just because it’s the way we’ve always done it, doesn’t mean that’s the right way.”
Then, as covered in our previous entry in the series as the 1st step to decreasing patient no-shows, Sentara decided to stop being afraid of embracing transparency. But merely becoming open to feedback would mean nothing if it didn’t turn into action. Sour reviews would just lead to sour grapes for everyone. Beyond reactively addressing all the problems exposed by transparency; e.g., unfavorable reviews, providers must get out in front of the patient experience.
This article is all about action: how can providers proactively “own the experience?” Continue to follow the path below to new patient engagement nirvana and patient no-shows will decrease. How? Read on.
Open hands, meet tight fists. You two are going to be spending a lot of time together.
2. Innovate and own the digital patient experience (but don’t tell anyone you’re just mimicking Amazon)
(Looking for #1 on the list? Check out Part 1 of our patient no-show series)
Consumers have spoken. Out of ten sectors, they ranked healthcare at the very pinnacle of the list of industries that should consistently meet consumer expectations. It’s important to begin taking cues from Amazon.com by noting the irony of where “retail” ranked on that very same list. Breathe deeply and be careful to not be driven to a state of existential incapacity when you read that retail was ranked near the bottom - ninth out of the ten; and yet ironically, retail is clearly, like Usain Bolt in desperate need of a Gatorade, outpacing the competition by far when it comes to meeting consumer expectations and driving revenue.
The silver lining peeking through the clouds is that healthcare providers and physicians can mimic all the innovation Amazon and other retailers have spent umpteen gazillion dollars, years, and sweat to pioneer. Swimming in their wake is possible, and as we argue, highly encouraged.
Many physicians take issue with being compared to retail, for good reason. Physicians are expert healers whose mission is to care for the sick. Researching and purchasing bluetooth speakers isn’t directly comparable to a patient trying to deal with a serious malady. Healthcare is certainly different from retail, but the ease of searching and selecting a healthcare appointment online doesn’t have to be. The providers and physicians that take control of their digital marketing and build a smooth searching and booking experience will see big returns.
This is where the idea of “patient-generated healthcare” comes into play. Building a robust and smooth digital experience actually allows patients the freedom to engage with their healthcare. Giving them the opportunity to access physicians’ reviews and philosophies of care, and simply clicking to book a time that is convenient for them will produce engaged patients and, therefore, a reduction in no-shows. As this Patient Engagement Playbook puts it:
“Because engaged patients have the knowledge, skills, ability, and willingness to manage their health and care and act on providers’ recommendations. Providers that invest in patient engagement can expect returns in the form of better outcomes and lower costs.”
On top of that, logistically this just makes sense. On average, it takes a little over 8 minutes for staff to schedule appointments over the phone. Add that up and that’s a lot of minutes in a week and in a year. Freeing staff to manage the experience after appointments are scheduled is the next step (see #3).
Practically, owning the digital experience means several things, like investing in digital marketing to attract ideal patients. Spending on Google advertising and SEO tactics to be first-in-line for patients at their “zero moment of truth” would be a great start. Other crucial approaches include innovating your doctor profiles based on what your ideal patients care about. This implies a deep level of patient understanding, which takes research. Finally, it’s important to find a way to put the exclamation point on the digital journey and implement open access scheduling. This sounds difficult to many, but actually there are very easy ways to accomplish this. One simple way is to allow a digital platform to book “double-booked blocks,” as opposed to a total integration with back-end systems already in place. This way, patients could book online and providers’ staff would receive an email with a drag-and-drop appointment that easily slots into their in-house scheduling systems. This is one way ImConnect easily solves the problem (and avoids IT, which makes an otherwise really easy thing to do much more complicated than it needs to be).
At the end of the day, it’s pretty similar to Amazon.com’s purchase experience, but just keep that to yourself.
3. Own the experience after an appointment is booked like it’s your job, because it is
We’ve waited until the denouement of our series to tackle the typical approaches to decreasing patient no-shows for a reason.
Behavioral engagement strategies are usually the knee-jerk reaction, but they have varying results. We propose that they never really dig deep enough to heal the problem of no-shows. ut, they really can help if they piggyback on the sound foundation of embracing transparency and owning the pre-booking (i.e., digital) experience.
There are a lot of studies on behavioral engagement strategies and their relation to patient no-shows. Here are some tactics we’ve compiled for you:
- Reminder phone calls can reduce no-shows (sometimes up to 19%).
- Overbooking can reduce no-shows and has minimal implementation costs.
- Effectively collaborating with referral sources has received limited attention, but can decrease no-shows.
- Reducing lag times between scheduling and appointments decreases cancellation.
- Discharging patients after two no-shows coupled with other strategies can bring results.
- Employing a liaison between physician, referral, and call center is an out-of-the-box approach that has helped.
Most importantly, each practice, hospital, health system, and physician has unique challenges. The above strategies should inspire further research based on your particular client base. Getting data is important, but acting on it is essential, as Sentara’s experience shows. Regular audits and data collection are key to tracking improvement and innovating further against engagement strategies.
Now, hop to it. Show up for your patients by designing a patient-centered, transparent experience and they'll show up for you.
Interested in seeing how ImConnect can help you embrace transparency, own the patient experience and decrease no-shows? Learn more.