How medical practices can boost patient engagement, aid efficiency
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Patients are increasingly engaged in their care, armed with technology tools available on their laptops, tablets and smartphones, according to research from the Medical Group Management Association, which partnered in the study with Cedar, a vendor that offers a patient payment and engagement platform. Even as consumers have more digital tools to help them connect with their care, healthcare organizations are struggling to determine how best to engage them in their care.

The research of MGMA, a trade association representing large group practices, and Cedar has identified six IT tools that hold the most promise in supporting expanded patient-provider engagement—and 70 percent of practice leaders responding to the survey say they plan to adopt the technologies.
First things first: Practices must prep for adoption
While the six technologies can profoundly impact patient engagement and practice workflow, practices need to revamp their visions to use and perfect their application of these technologies. Practice leaders can expedite technological improvements in five ways:

• Examine the current practice environment to find opportunities for automation.

• Review how existing technologies address patient engagement.

• Learn from best practices and avoid the common mistakes made by peers.

• Identify three “easy wins” to pursue to achieve greater patient engagement via technology.

• Start conversations among stakeholders to initiate changes in the practice.

Here are the six technologies with the most promise in engaging consumers and aiding practices that are ready to use them in delivering value-based care.
Patient portals
In 2017, Mainstreet Pediatrics in Parker, Colo., opened a completely digital office. Before opening, Lorri Phipps, owner of the practice, surveyed the community and found many millennials in the population, which provided a solid business case for implementing a patient portal and creating a seamless digital experience. From the start, patient portal adoption was high. When new patients arrive for a first visit, the front desk sends parents the portal link via email or text messaging, and parents have the option to sign up on-site using iPads available in the office. An early glitch arose as there was difficulty linking multiple children to a single family’s account within the portal. This caused frustration for all and the practice created a new workflow to address the issue.
Automated appointment reminder systems
The Bonjour Sante website. Photographer: Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg
These systems have been around since 2003, reminding patients of upcoming appointments two to four days prior to a physician visit. Patients were prompted to call back if they had to cancel an appointment. Now, vendors offer automated systems that prompt text messages or voice-activated responses that provide scheduling changes to practice staff. Many systems now connect the patient to a live operator after a cancellation to reschedule the appointment, which helps fill all available appointments, including same-day, which has been proven to contribute to patient satisfaction.
Check-in technologies
Online kiosks or tablets are increasingly used by practices to avoid the clipboard and pen lag time when setting up appointments. During check-in, front desk persons meet and guide a patient to a kiosk to sign financial responsibility and other forms, and staff can flag patients who need to re-sign or update insurance information. For instance, Atlantic Surgical Group in Oakhurst, N.J., had more than a dozen documents for patients to sign. Now, iPad tablets are tethered to the waiting room seats and the tablets integrate with the electronic health record system, which prompts each patient for appropriate updates, freeing the front desk to expedite check-in.
A one-week old was in severe circulatory distress and rushed to the ER at Sonora Regional Medical Center in California. But the transport team from UC Davis Children’s Hospital was two hours away, and specialty care was urgently needed. Two physicians at Sonora used a telehealth cart to connect with Francis Poulain, a pediatric neonatologist who was working on his laptop at home. In the time it would have taken for the transport team to arrive, Poulain worked remotely with Sonora physicians to evaluate and stabilize the child, which the providers agreed was life-saving care.
Digital payment options
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Multi-specialty practices often collect only slightly more than half of accounts receivable within 30 days and that means up to two-thirds of physician practice revenue is lost because of billing leakage. Roger Hovis, operations manager at El Paso Pediatrics Associates, implemented digital payment options for patients via a credit card on file in the patient portal. But many providers still do manual billing with 58 percent of providers in an Advisory Board survey reporting paper statements remain the primary method of collecting payment from patients. “We have gained the ability to turn each wait station into a credit card processor,” Hovis says. He urges taking time to prepare for automated payments and make sure everyone is included in creating new workflows for the payment system.