- In the age of patient-centered care and strong patient care priorities, healthcare organizations must focus on creating a seamless and satisfying experience for patients. A positive patient experience starts with the appointment scheduling process, which must be well-organized and centralized to facilitate patient healthcare access and patient satisfaction.
However, all too often patients must contend with convoluted or disorganized appointment scheduling processes.
Accessing a healthcare organization’s call centers can be tedious and often bogged down by human error, keeping patients from receiving timely appointment access. When patients do book appointments, they’re often with the wrong provider type.
Appointment access issues detract from the overall patient experience, according to Ellen Smith, Summa Health Vice President of Business Development & Access.
“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.
That dissatisfaction can be on the part of clinicians who had valuable appointment time taken up for a superfluous care encounter. For patients, it can be the dissatisfaction of having their time or funds wasted on an appointment that didn’t improve their condition, and having to come into the doctors’ office again.
When patients can’t even get an appointment, they might forgo care, access out-of-network care, or seek treatment in the emergency department. These scenarios have significant consequences for outcomes, revenue cycle, and care coordination.
“What can occur in this case is avoidable emergency medicine or emergency department visits,” Smith explained. “Long wait times can also create out-of-network types of care. Then you lose that care coordination and the ability to communicate effectively with the primary care provider who should be the patient-centered medical home for the individual.”
Additionally, out-of-network care and avoidable emergency department visits can drive up healthcare costs, creating more financial burden for the patient or the provider.
At Summa Health, an Ohio-based health system hosting a network of five hospitals and an accountable care organization, Smith and her team deployed digital appointment scheduling technology from Kyruus to streamline the treatment access process.
“Whenever we think of a manual process, it can be fraught with human error,” Smith said. “We’ve been diligently working to move as much as we can toward a self-service or automated process, so we’re not having that variability – or at least managing that variability as much as we can.”
In doing so, Smith and her team have tapped into what she calls the “Amazon Experience.”
“Now when you go to Amazon, you can get whatever you need fulfilled within a few clicks of a button and it shows up on your door, sometimes within 48 hours,” Smith noted.
In emulating the Amazon Experience, Smith said she wants to try and automate and digitize as much of the patient experience as possible, streamlining it into one single access point.
Too often, patients can work through a health system online, only to be asked to call the facility to accomplish their need or book their appointment. Smith calls this “changing channels.”
“If you look really closely at Amazon, it’s really hard to find a phone number because you can fulfill what you need through the online experience,” Smith pointed out. “We’re working to provide that. It’s certainly an evolution and a work in progress for us, but if someone selects to do business with us online, we want to fulfill that need through an exceptional online experience.”
Smith doesn’t want patients to have to change channels when working with Summa Health. Instead she wants patients to engage with a centralized appointment scheduling portal. This portal should not only help patients book an appointment, but it should get patients the right appointment with the right provider type – ranging from physicians to specialists to non-physician clinicians where applicable.
“In whatever way people get to us, we want to provide an access experience that meets their needs and doesn’t require them to ‘change channels’ because that can get very frustrating and people can get lost in that process,” Smith asserted.
Ultimately, these strategies are about more than helping patients put an appointment in their calendars. Smith wants to help create a positive patient experience characterized by navigability and care coordination.
When patients can get appointments within their own network, in the right place, and at the right time, providers can better obtain the health data necessary to deliver effective treatment.
“Healthcare in general can be pretty complicated,” Smith concluded. “The tactic and strategies we’re developing are meant to make it as easy as possible to ensure that in whatever way you get to us – whether it’s through our access centers, our hospitals, our ACO – is that we’re working across those entities in a coordinated fashion.”