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Patient Engagement Tools Create Administrative Simplification

Patient engagement tools such as digital appointment scheduling and patient bill pay can also drive administrative simplification.

Patient engagement tools can improve the patient experience and administrative simplification.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Although many patient engagement tools center on activating patients in their own care, there are some emerging technologies that also streamline the patient experience. More efficient patient interactions may also lead to administrative simplification.

Hospital and clinic administrative staff interact with patients in many settings. However, these professionals primarily conduct business with patients during the appointment scheduling process and the bill payment process.

Healthcare organizations can drive a simpler and more efficient administrative process by adopting new technologies in these areas. This will not only benefit administrative staff, but also patients who are looking for a more streamlined interaction with their healthcare providers.

Streamlining appointment scheduling with Health IT

Online appointment scheduling makes it easier for patients to obtain an appointment with the right doctor.

Ohio-based health system Summa Healthcare uses online appointment scheduling to ease healthcare access for both patients and administrative staff, said Ellen Smith, Summa Health Vice President of Business Development & Access.

READ MORE: 3 Steps to Improving Appointment Scheduling for Patients

“It’s important to get the patient with the right physician and provider the first time because otherwise we create a lot of dissatisfaction,” Smith told PatientEngagementHIT.com in a previous interview.

When patients can’t obtain an appointment, or end up seeing the wrong kind of specialist, it does not result in a positive experience. Patients will end up needing to reschedule an appointment and take more time to tend to their healthcare needs.

Administrative staff and clinicians may also be frustrated with such an experience. Clinicians will have lost an appointment slot to a patient they could not help, and administrative staff will need to coordinate another appointment for the patient.

Online scheduling gets rid of some human error and some of the efforts needed on both the patient and provider side.

Simplifying the call center workflow

Other healthcare organizations have streamlined their call center activities, consolidating appointment scheduling across different patient access points within a multi-site health system. These systems maintain the human touch, which is important in healthcare.

READ MORE: Seamless Appointment Scheduling Fuels Patient Satisfaction

At Aria – Jefferson Health, Senior Director of Health Information Management Sigrid Warrender adopted a tool that allows schedulers to view appointment openings at all of the health system’s care sites.

“The demand for access to physicians and ancillary testing areas is huge. Patients want to have choice of locations and time that fits their schedule,” Warrender said in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com.

“Instead of looking at a single physician appointment book, we can now look at 100 physician appointment books at the same time during a single call,” she said.

The tool also allowed Aria – Jefferson Health to weed out unproductive calls, or calls that do not require a human scheduler. Patients looking for directions to the hospital – which accounts for nearly one-fourth of the system’s calls – can now use voice prompts to get their answers.

These updates benefited patients because it made calling and scheduling an appointment easier, Warrender explained. It also made jobs easier and more fulfilling on the administrative end.

READ MORE: Top Strategies for Collecting Patient Financial Responsibility

“Our employees are important,” Warrender asserted. “We want to be an employer of choice, to retain our staff. We train employees to be great, and we don’t want to lose them because they aren’t engaged in our department.”

Streamlining patient payments with digital billing

Other popular administrative patient engagement tools include online and automated bill pay for patients.

Automated bill pay allows patients to keep a credit card on file and uncomplicates the process of patient billing, according to Tabitha Hickerson, CPC, billing manager at Family Health Care Medical Group of Modesto.

“We had received quite a few patient complaints – it was difficult to reach us, even when they were calling to make their payments and they didn’t have a question about their bill or anything like that,” Hickerson explained, noting that prior to automating payments the process was difficult for patients.

“[Electronic bill pay] pretty much allowed us to be able to solve the problem with our availability by giving the patients an online solution for them to make their payments,” Hickerson said. “No more of that phone tag – us calling regarding the balance, and them calling us back, and then us calling them back.”

Automated patient billing makes the payment process clear for patients, making it easier for them to access and then pay for their care. Digital payment tools also ease administrative burden, making the process of collecting patient payments less burdensome for billing managers. This administrative simplification can also improve the practice or hospital revenue cycle.

While it is a prominent industry goal to better activate patients in their own healthcare and to drive a more positive experience, the means to those ends can be varied and have different benefits.

Even though adopting new administrative tools can help patients better access their own care, these technologies can also improve the patient experience and foster administrative simplification.

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