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Using Onboarding Automation to Drive Specialty Care Access

Onboarding automation improved patient specialty care access by 21 percent.

Onboarding automation can help improve patient access to specialty care.

Source: Thinkstock

- As the healthcare market becomes increasingly competitive, many specialty practices are looking for the safest and most streamlined strategy to increase patient volume. For many facilities, that means turning to onboarding automation, ensuring that patients can access specialty care in a timely manner.

Too often, patients must jump through numerous hurdles to access a specialist. Between the referral and onboarding process, it is not uncommon for patients to simply give up, seek care elsewhere, or forgo post-acute care altogether.

This was the case at Mentis Neuro Health, a specialty provider focusing on traumatic brain injury (TBI) rehabilitation in Texas and Ohio. Prior to Chief Technology Officer Morgan Porter’s arrival at Mentis in 2015, the practice was facing low patient volume problems because it was dragged down by an arduous patient onboarding process.

Morgan Porter implemented patient onboarding automation technology.
Morgan Porter Source: Mentis Neuro Health

“Even though the rehabilitation program was excellent here, the patients were typically going elsewhere because it was too hard to get into Mentis,” Porter told PatientEngagementHIT.com in a recent interview.

“It took too long to go through the process so that was a big challenge,” he added. “I came on board to help figure out how we could best package what Mentis does in a way that is scalable and reinvents the entire process around patient satisfaction and patient engagement.”

READ MORE: How Patient Portal Use Improves Business in Specialty Groups

The convoluted onboarding process took several enormous steps, Porter explained.

First, patients must receive a referral to the specialty group. Following a traumatic incident – falling off a ladder or experiencing a stroke, for example – patients receive their acute treatment in a hospital. Mentis steps in upon hospital discharge.

Patients can be discharged into the care of their families, but more often they also look in to rehabilitation options.

These patients have experienced perhaps the most traumatic experience of their lives, facing serious limitations to their daily routine, Porter explained. This engaged subgroup of patients – and their family caregivers – are often engaged enough to seek continuous rehabilitation care until the patients are more stable.

“Patients are breathing the sigh of relief that they’re alive, but there’s the question of what their life will be like going forward and how much they can get back,” Porter stated. “They’re fully engaged. They’re learning as quickly as they can about what their options are and what to expect from treatment.”

READ MORE: What Providers Should Know to Improve Patient Access to Healthcare

After hospital discharge, Mentis must assess the patient for other comorbidities. Mentis is sometimes limited in this part of the process because it takes an assisted living center model. For example, it cannot serve patients who require a feeding tube.

This step also requires interviews and back-and-forth communication with the acute care hospital.

Next, Mentis and the patients must undergo the long process of payer approval.

“Because it’s a very specialized kind of treatment and it’s costly, each approval we get from a payer isn’t something that would happen like for a doctor visit,” Porter said. “We present the patient’s case to their insurance company, explain why it’s medically necessary, and then we obtain that approval.”

This entire process can take weeks, which is far too long for a patient waiting on important specialty care, Porter pointed out.

READ MORE: Easier Appointment Scheduling Can Boost Patient Access to Care

Patients often turned to other care options, like skilled nursing facilities, or simply went home to recover in a familiar and comfortable environment. Porter and his team wanted to get patients admitted in time to commit to the specialized care Mentis provides.

“Our challenge was really engaging with them in a way that gets them into our facility quickly enough before they decide to take a different direction,” Porter asserted. “Our job is to show them quickly in that process that there is a better way. If they stay with us for 12 weeks, they will come out of that 12 weeks a lot more higher functioning.”

When Porter arrived at Mentis as both CTO and Chief Compliance Officer in the summer of 2015, he shifted the practice’s onboarding process toward automation. Using technology from Bizagi, Porter condensed the onboarding process from several weeks down to several days.

“We drop everything into the system starting with the first contact with the patient and then automated each step of the process,” Porter explained. “We set service level agreements and time limits for each step of the process, doing everything in parallel when we can. We escalate our efforts whenever those time limits are exceeded. That’s how we squeezed several weeks down to just a couple of days at this point.”

Streamlining the patient onboarding process sped up the patient care access timeline and also increased the number of patients who can benefit from TBI rehabilitation. Mentis has seen a 21 percent growth in patient volume since utilizing onboarding automation.

Onboarding automation has also improved patient and family satisfaction, Porter reported. These individuals are usually extremely engaged patients, so getting information about specialty care access as fast as possible has helped them cope with the upsetting experience of a TBI.

“Patients and families are trying to get information as quickly as possible because that is something that lowers their stress,” Porter explained. “They make a commitment to say that they are going to Mentis and here is what they have to gain from us. Getting them through that period of uncertainty very quickly has raised satisfaction.”

Mentis’ success with the system came from putting the patient at the center of all strategy, Porter explained. Instead of simply shifting its pre-existing onboarding procedures to digital, Porter started from scratch and framed all of his efforts toward serving the patient.

“We put the old process in the trash,” he said. “Don’t try and make incremental improvements. Start with a piece of paper and say, ‘when I replace my old process with a digital backbone, how will we do this as quickly and efficiently as possible?’ You can open up creative ideas and things you can do in parallel that you never realized you could.”

Going forward, Mentis plans to completely revamp its patient services down to the clinical level. Porter is currently working on a patient- and family-facing patient portal that will keep all stakeholders in the loop about patient care and progress. The specialty group is also looking into integrating AI into its treatment plans.

All of this is a part of an overall effort to support the patient first, Porter said.

“We asked what the patient experience looks like today and what, through patient eyes, would make it better? What are the pain points we have now?” Porter concluded. “The future for us includes a digital transformation of our entire clinical process by taking that patient experience from the time they walk through the door all the way through to discharge and rethinking that entire process."