By Abhi Sharma, Chief Product Officer, Loyal
Today’s patients want two things from their healthcare providers: personalized care that happens at their convenience. Indeed, a survey of more than 223,000 healthcare consumers found that 51 percent said that convenience and access to care are the most important factors when choosing a health system or provider – even when considering issues like insurance coverage, reputation, and quality of care.
For many consumers, their first interaction with a hospital or health system occurs when they begin researching providers to find and arrange care, most commonly through online searches, chatbots, online directories, and scheduling tools. The more pathways support this process, how easy they are to use, and whether they help healthcare consumers find care to reflect the level of access offered and compromise health systems’ “digital front door.”
By connecting these systems and understanding consumer health journeys, health systems can better align with consumer expectations and meet their need for greater personalization and convenience. With that in mind, it’s vital that digital front door systems be interoperable, leveraging automation and artificial intelligence to deliver tailored recommendations, with three examples below of how to make these systems function effectively.
Use chatbots and symptom checkers to create a positive first impression and drive more informed consumer decision making
Patients’ first contact points are crucial because they set the standard for their overall relationships with health systems. When finding the resources they need to choose a provider or book an appointment is easy, patients are more likely to continue care with the same system.
To improve access, health leaders must carefully consider the different paths and technologies a patient may use when interacting with their hospital or health system. For organizations that have adopted chatbots, for example, it’s important to understand common questions a patient may ask to ensure they have convenient access to the information they need. Symptom checkers can likewise help consumers feel more confident in their decisions to select a provider or schedule an appointment, and when these systems work together, they can help increasingly short-staffed, resource-strained health systems more efficiently guide patients toward better outcomes.
For example, before visiting the emergency room, a healthcare consumer may try to see if their condition is serious by sharing a few details about themselves and how they’re feeling via an online symptom checker on the health system’s website. Let’s say they have been experiencing abdominal pain for several days. By asking some basic questions about the visitor’s health background and their latest symptoms, leveraging an AI-driven backend system that understands clinical conditions and consumer intent via natural language processing (NLP), the health system can help triage the patient for emergency care or provide a list of outpatient locations, names of relevant physicians (if appropriate), and available appointment slots that can be booked right then and there.
Seeing side-by-side comparisons allows people to deliberate their choices easily. Then, after comparing their options for clinics, providers, and appointments before booking, patients can rest assured they have made the right decision.
Regularly refresh clinical taxonomies and appointments for improved scheduling
With providers sometimes being booked months in advance, health systems need a more efficient way to guide patients to care promptly. Provider directories and clinical taxonomies can easily become out of date, and health systems need to prioritize periodic reviews to show accurate results to patients. To aid this process, it’s helpful to have detailed, up-to-date analytics for what patients are searching for. It’s also important that scheduling data remains accurate across all channels – including web, chatbot, and SMS – by integrating these systems into the EMR.
Once these systems are connected and regularly updated, machine learning and predictive analytics can help suggest appointments that streamline scheduling and workflows. For example, the system can be optimized toward booking appointments around certain days or providers based on their availability. This technology can also help suggest updates to clinical taxonomies and appointments using algorithms that learn over time via machine learning, helping avoid tedious internal reviews and save patients time and stress.
Automate messaging to offer personalized recommendations across different stages of care
Another way that health systems can provide greater access to care is to actively recommend resources and next steps to patients throughout their care with AI-supported automated messages.
Recognizing that the information a consumer seeks when first seeking care will likely differ from what they seek amid treatment, the messages health systems share should be catered to meet them where they are in their care journey. For example, health systems can automatically recommend post-care procedures after the patient completes a procedure at the clinic or hospital. They can also check in once every few months to ensure the patient’s overall health and book outpatient appointments as needed.
The opposite can also be true, with health systems recommending specific lifestyle changes before seeing a specialist. This proactive communication helps patients stay engaged with their providers and health, leading to positive care experiences and healthier communities.
In a society where convenience is king, healthcare is no exception. Patients expect personalized care that’s easy to access, an ongoing challenge that the industry is trying to solve. Health systems can help bridge that gap and boost access in their first digital interactions with patients by using consumer engagement tools that are interoperable with each other, deeply connected with the EMR, and leverage automation and AI to deliver personalized recommendations.
As health systems create more touchpoints with patients throughout their care journeys, these are opportunities to create a more engaging experience that keeps patients coming back. In conclusion, as the patient experience has fundamentally shifted from pure service exchange to a partnership between patient and provider, now is the time for health systems to rethink and open up new digital access points that work together to strengthen consumer relationships for the future.