The health IT research institution, KLAS, recently conducted a survey of patients to learn about their satisfaction with technology that allows them to digitally interact with the healthcare system. Data revealed that while patients want to connect with healthcare organizations via mobile and online channels, the technology offered by their providers doesn’t always meet their expectations. Sometimes, digital communication isn’t even an option.
To understand why these gaps exist, healthcare organizations should first understand what’s standing in the way. These organizations haven’t given patients enough control to manage their healthcare and often over-rely on cumbersome technology or outdated engagement methods ill-suited for the job. As a result, many of the features patients look for aren’t readily available to them in the channels they prefer.
The report revealed that 67% of patients want to self-schedule and reschedule appointments online, but only 37% currently can do so. Younger individuals between 18 and 34 years old value this type of self-service technology—the group is almost twice as likely to choose a provider based on the digital tools they offer. But 60% of patients 65 years and older also reported they want to self-manage appointments. So health systems looking to engage patients across many different demographics will clearly want to prioritize these capabilities.
Other functions of high importance include those that directly impact the ability to receive care, like pre-visit communication with providers and making requests for specialty referrals. For example, less than one-third of surveyed individuals can request prescription refills digitally, yet half of patients want this capability.
These findings raise questions about why hospitals’ and health systems’ existing technology doesn’t satisfy patient demands. Organizations should consider three key issues that stand in the way of patient satisfaction with digital access tools. Then, KLAS recommends health systems evaluate whether new or different technology can solve these problems and bridge gaps between patient desires and available digital capabilities.
Patients don’t have enough control.
Interactions that allow patients to self-manage aspects of their care are most in-demand. But healthcare has been slow to adopt fast, efficient technology that mimics other consumer experiences. People end up frustrated that they can’t successfully take charge of even basic appointment rescheduling without picking up the phone, waiting on hold, or navigating a phone tree before finally reaching a staff member.
These roadblocks can easily be removed through the use of today’s automated patient engagement platforms. In the past, automated patient engagement was largely limited to appointment reminders. But today, it can facilitate a whole host of real-time interactions by connecting individuals and healthcare organizations via SMS text messages and interactive voice response (IVR). Platforms that integrate with the electronic health record (EHR) also enable bidirectional communication. This capability allows patients to self-manage appointments via the devices they already use every day, without downloading an app or logging in.
Healthcare organizations rely too heavily on patient portals.
Existing patient portal technology can similarly bog down processes that people expect to be simpler or faster. Portals require verification, login credentials, and their user interfaces can be challenging to navigate. Some healthcare organizations are making a mistake by confining all patient engagement activities to the portal because patients don’t consistently use these tools. According to the survey, more than one in four (26%) of respondents never access their portal or don’t think a portal is offered by their provider.
Instead, healthcare organizations need to deliver timely outreach in a way that’s more convenient, personalized, and provides immediate insight (for example, via SMS), while relying on portals for more detailed information like patient health records. The non-portal communications powered by this approach complement, but do not replace, the patient portal. In fact, KLAS specifically recommends that healthcare organizations supplement the portal with other technology to offer the most convenience to patients—especially those who rarely or never use the tool.
Patient engagement is still too manual.
Many traditional engagement activities require healthcare teams to manage hands-on communications. For example, staff members may handle scheduling via inbound phone calls from patients, often spending unnecessary time and effort returning messages, leaving voicemails themselves, and rescheduling canceled appointments or no-shows. This gatekeeping process isn’t just time-consuming for staff—it also frustrates patients.
Technology that automates patient engagement can solve for this by eliminating the need for most manual communications, allowing staff to focus only on the interactions that require high-touch intervention. This approach involves leveraging the EHR to identify individuals in need of outreach, generate messages, and allow patients to reply. Then, these responses automatically update in the EHR to document a new appointment, care gap closure, or even a need for follow-up if patients don’t respond. All of this can occur without staff intervention.
Based on the findings from the Patient Perspectives on Patient Engagement Technology 2022 report, hospitals and health systems should consider automated engagement to better satisfy patient needs for digital access. This approach is a streamlined, digital option that addresses what patients value most—simple, convenient communication that gives them control over their care.