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Customer Engagement
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Aaron Bours
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4 Digital Tools to Improve Patient Satisfaction Scores in 2021

A 2019 Accenture survey found that 68% of patients would be more likely to choose a healthcare provider if they could book/change/cancel appointments online. 70% of patients would like to receive reminders via email or text message, and 77% would like to be able to request prescription refills electronically. 


The same report found that 63% of Baby Boomers and Silent Generation patients deem responsiveness to follow up questions outside the appointment (via digital means) as critically important to their satisfaction with the healthcare services they receive, and 44% of Millennials say they are much more likely to choose a healthcare provider that offers easy access to test results via mobile or online. 


Source: Accenture


Two years and one global pandemic later, these preferences are more pronounced than ever. As all facets of life abruptly and universally shifted to the virtual world, the direct effects of digital transformation in healthcare on patient satisfaction scores became abundantly crucial. As was stated in a recent McKinsey & Company report, 'more consumers intend to continue to shop online even as the crisis subsides, with a portion of consumers shifting almost entirely to the online channel.' 


As we embark fully into the age of virtual healthcare, an ever-growing segment of patient experiences will take shape online. The quality of these experiences will have a profound impact on healthcare organizations' bottom lines. How profound? One study found that hospitals in the U.S. that provide a "superior" patient experience gain net margins that are 50% higher, on average, than those that deliver an "average" patient experience.


But what digital tools have the most decisive influence on patient satisfaction? How does a healthcare organization choose the instruments most in tune with its goals in a seemingly boundless ocean of healthcare innovation and tech? 


To help answer these questions, we narrowed the list down to four distinct digital tools that are already moving the patient satisfaction needle and are slated to retain their potency in the decade to come.  


I. Telehealth

2020 was the year that telehealth exploded. This technology, which has been around for several years now, never quite took off, that is, until COVID-19, along with the social distancing measures it forced upon patients, inadvertently hurled telehealth into center stage. Overnight, millions of patients were forced to see their physicians through the frame of a screen, and the rate of adoption since has been truly staggering. 


Here are some (very real) figures:



  • Telehealth and virtual care usage in the U.S. has increased by 1500% compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.


  • Providers have rapidly scaled offerings and are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of telehealth visits than they did before.


In center frame: Dr. Laurie Glimcher, President & CEO, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, speaking at HLTH VRTL 2020 


Although born of necessity, this boom of telehealth adoption is here to stay and will become a must-have service moving ahead. A May 2020 survey by McKinsey & Company found that no less than 76% of all patients would like to continue using telemedicine going forward, even after the pandemic subsides. The same research found that 74% of patients who have used telehealth services reported high satisfaction. As per consumer insight firm J.D. Power, patient satisfaction levels for telehealth services are among the highest in healthcare. In their U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study, released in October, overall patient telehealth satisfaction scored an 860 on a 1,000-point scale.



Source: McKinsey & Company

II. Patient Portals

Patient portals have yet to fulfill their potential, with only 28% of patients making full use of them in 2018. However, healthcare organizations are far from throwing in the towel. In fact, according to a recent poll from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), a whopping 90% of healthcare organizations offer patient portal access to their patients. 


Why?


  1. As was earlier stated, patients are eager for simple digital access to their records and are becoming far savvier and much more accustomed to locating this information online. 


  1. The 21st Century Cures Act, slated initially to go into effect in November 2020 but delayed until April 2021, calls on medical providers to allow patients to view the notes written by their clinicians via a digital tool. This means that 10 million more patients will have access to their clinical notes, which is projected to catalyze a dramatic spike in patient portal usage. 


  1. In a 2020 comprehensive JMIR study, patient portal users reported a high degree of usability and general satisfaction: 93% of respondents felt the patient portal was easy to use, 83% said it made communication more convenient, and 75% indicated it saved time when scheduling an appointment.


III. Conversational AI

More than $800 Million was invested in conversational AI for healthcare over the last decade. Juniper Research forecasts that AI-powered chatbots will soon become the first responders for citizens' engagements with healthcare providers, as the number of chatbot interactions exceeds 2.8 billion annually by 2023. Patients are 'voting with their virtual feet' for conversational AI, and healthcare organizations are paying close attention. 


Take Arizona's Banner Health for a glowing example; Upon noting a concerning dip in patient satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores due to friction at their emergency departments (EDs), the veteran health system chose conversational AI as a tool to stem the negative downward trend. 


Banner deployed an SMS AI-powered chatbot, which served as a digital concierge for patients arriving at the frequently chaotic ED. Patients could opt to check-in through the chatbot by supplying their mobile phone number. "The bots would first orient patients to the ED, providing information about the facility, answering FAQs and setting expectations," Jeff Johnson, Banner Health’s Vice President of Innovation and Digital Business, explained in an interview with Healthcare IT News. "As the visit progressed, the bots would provide status on wait times, labs and next steps. After discharge, the bot would collect patient satisfaction feedback. This whole experience was a fully automated, crafted interactive conversation, which could run at scale across our large ED network."


The results of this experiment exceeded expectations. 46% of patients engaged in conversations with the chatbots, and there was a 41% increase in Net Promoter Scores for patients that used the bots. 

[READ: Closed but Open: How Medical Coverage Truly Became 24/7]

IV. Remote Monitoring and Wearable Devices

As per the CDC, 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from a chronic disease, with 4 in 10 suffering from two or more at once. Care in America far extends the confines of the hospital or clinic, and increasingly so, it is being administered at home. 


In November of last year, Louisiana's Ochsner Health System furnished patients experiencing hypertension with remote blood pressure measuring devices. These devices would automatically upload readings to the patient's EHR, allowing physicians to track any changes and trigger interventions if needed.


As a result of the program, hypertension patient medication compliance rose to 99%, and systolic blood pressure dropped almost 20 points on average, with patients reporting 12% higher patient satisfaction rates. These outcomes and fewer face-to-face appointments translated into more than $300,000 in savings for the health system. 


A blood-pressure home monitoring device. Source: Oxford University


Tying Them All Together


Each one of these digital tools harbors the potential of increasing patient satisfaction scores; put together, telehealth, remote monitoring devices, conversational AI, and patient portals become a full-fledged patient engagement and satisfaction machine. 


These four unique elements can all be connected into a seamless, compelling, and efficient patient journey. Conversational AI virtual assistants can act as a dialogue friendly patient portal, fast-tracking and delivering information to the patient in a matter of seconds. The information recorded by remote monitoring devices can be uploaded directly into the patient portal and automatically set up a telehealth appointment if the incoming results raise a cause for immediate follow up. An AI-powered conversational AI agent can remind patients to use their remote monitoring devices and answer any questions they may have regarding proper usage. 


We could easily go on, but there are, frankly, countless variations to this formula. Healthcare is now more connected than ever, and patient satisfaction will be determined by how well-linked these digital components are and how useful they prove to be. 



[Up Next: How Automating Call Centers with Conversational AI Can Reduce Costs in Healthcare]

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Aaron Bours
January 18, 2021
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