New Research: Scheduling and communication technology integral to patient experience 

Consumers now have digital expectations for most experiences—booking hotels, hiring a ride to the airport, and buying groceries, for example— and as a result, the healthcare industry is facing a rise in demand for the same type of consumer experience. In fact, according to a recent survey by Relatient and Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), provider groups are recognizing that adopting technology to make patient scheduling and patient engagement more convenient is quickly becoming foundational to successful care delivery. 

The new survey of over 350 provider group executives highlighted key challenges and solutions related to patient scheduling and communication with three themes emerging: 

Smarter scheduling and dynamic engagement are keys to a better patient experience 

Three out of four survey participants rated patient scheduling and communication as a “very important” part of the patient experience, while almost half rated it as the “most important.” But in an increasingly point-and-click world, healthcare still heavily relies on human interaction as a gatekeeper to services. Some 84% of provider groups said that patients still schedule care with the front desk and 73% say patients call to reschedule or cancel appointments. Reliance on internal resources to schedule, rebook, and send health or appointment reminders can create a bottleneck—and unnecessary hurdles—for already overburdened administrative staff and patients looking for a quick response. 

The complexity of scheduling is often a barrier to improving the overall process. Provider preferences—their specialties, insurance mix, hours, and locations—are listed as the top-ranked challenges to overcome. In fact, the survey noted that 86% of executives said their organization still relies on staff knowledge or offline resources to manage rules and preferences instead of an automated tool.  

With consumer’s digital expectations driving trends toward more self-service and personalized options, provider groups will need technology that can help patients and schedulers quickly navigate provider preferences in a user-friendly way. Meeting patients where they are—booking or rescheduling appointments, paying bills, or filling out intake and registration forms on their own devices in their spare minutes between daily obligations—can boost provider utilization and prevent gaps in preventative care

Provider preferences should be stored in a central, digital location instead of staff memory 

Traditional communication and scheduling processes rely on manual workflows, where those 86% of organizations without a digital solution lean heavily on individuals to remember all the provider preferences and rules and respond to patients in a timely, frictionless, and accurate way. However, decreasing staff availability in healthcare means that these organizations are losing this historical knowledge with turnover, with a third of providers citing that it takes up to four weeks to hire and onboard someone new. 

The challenge of call volume, process intricacy, and reduced manpower takes a toll on both patient experience and staff morale. The survey found a third of providers reported a negative impact on staff and 18% reported longer wait times.  

Providers who adopt an intelligent scheduling solution can ease the administrative burden and drastically improve access to care. More configurability in the system allows for routing of care needs beyond initial appointments requests, where only the requests that require human touch are handled by staff. 

Healthcare innovation is available, but not yet widely adopted 

Available technology on the market can range from patient text messages to emails to chat, though, notably, only 4% of providers said they had adopted chat options. Already, 60% of providers have implemented some version of mass communication to patients and nearly half send targeted or segmented messages. 

However, this leaves room for further improvements to the technology stack to ensure it serves the varied and unique needs of the organization. From scheduling to appointment reminders, cancelling or rebooking appointments, billing options and payment reminders, and patient intake forms, a seamless experience would incorporate each aspect of the care continuum, especially if the patient is in a longer-term treatment with multiple appointment types or specialists. 

In addition, communication and engagement technology should integrate with leading practice management and electronic health record systems to complement what exists—without needing to make changes to core practice platforms or move data from an external portal to the main system. 

With technology advancing, and patients making lifestyle choices based on information available at their fingertips, now is the time to adopt the tools needed to meet this next era of healthcare. Download the full survey report and learn more about how providers can meet evolving patient expectations in the 2022 Patient Engagement Report: Provider Perspectives on Optimizing Patient Scheduling and Communication.