Patient Engagement, Telehealth, and the Road to Re-Opening Medical Practices After COVID-19

A recap of our recent webinar, “Patient Engagement During & After COVID-19”

Healthcare leaders and providers are making plans for life after COVID-19. While the threat of the virus remains, many have been given the clearance to begin seeing patients more regularly in their offices and or will receive such clearance soon. But as they begin making those plans, there are new dynamics to consider now that COVID-19 has forced many into the adoption of digital tools they had yet to embrace. Patient engagement, though vital to the health of a medical practice prior to COVID-19, is even more so now that patients have had a taste of a digital patient journey and will be looking for the same access to those tools even after the risk of the coronavirus is gone. 

Telehealth has been key to the provider-patient relationship during COVID-19 and it’s here to stay

In a recent webinar with Relatient CTO, Kevin Montgomery, and Oklahoma Heart Hospital’s Lead Software Architect, Jonathan Minson, the two discussed the many changes that have taken place over the past several weeks and expectations they have for a new normal. The most obvious change has been the rapid adoption of Telehealth, as medical providers make their way out of crisis-mode, they’ll have to start thinking about how to make Telehealth initiatives successful over the long term. But it isn’t all up to providers, Minson explained. The success of Telehealth will depend largely on how CMS decides to define reimbursement models and requirements for Telehealth.

“A lot of what allowed us to be very agile with Telehealth is the government relaxing requirements that previously made Telehealth kind of complicated,” Minson explained. He went on to say that it’s unclear right now what the long-term requirements and reimbursement of Telehealth will look like after COVID-19 is no longer the threat that it currently is today. But one thing is for sure, patients like it and will continue to want access. 

“Oklahoma is a very rural state (…) we service a lot of patients who live 2-3 hours away and so if we can offer them convenience that they weren’t getting before, I don’t know that they’ll want to go back,” Minson shared. 

Minson’s expectations were validated by those who attended the webinar, over half reporting in a poll that they expect Telehealth to make up a minimum of 20-50% of patient appointments even after COVID-19.

Think long-term about the patient journey

Telehealth is only a piece of the patient experience post-COVID-19, for many patients, specialties, and medical needs Telehealth isn’t a solution. Radiology, hematology, and even primary care often require an in-clinic visit, but a visit to the clinic will look different now. A heightened sense of safety and infection control will be factored into the patient journey as the CDC requires patients to wear masks in the physician office and providers who changed processes like intake, registration, and even the process of waiting for an empty exam room will likely maintain those changes long term. As they do, patient engagement will remain key to communicating with patients and helping navigate a new, more digital, patient journey. 

“It doesn’t mean you have to adopt everything tomorrow,” explains Montgomery when asked how providers should plan for the future. “Right now, we’re (healthcare and providers) just dealing with the current situation and cobbling together bits and pieces of tools just to survive. Going forward, we’re asking, “how do we make this a more streamlined experience for patients, how do we make this fit into our office workflows, do we need to change our office workflows?”

Montgomery advises providers and healthcare decision-makers to map their patient journey and consider that their long-term digital front door strategy should look like in order to offer patients the best experience and ensure they are prepared for disruptions. 

Oklahoma Heart Hospital saves nearly $1 million annually, here’s how they’re doing it

Minson rounded out the conversation with some thoughts from Oklahoma Heart Hospital’s own patient engagement journey, one that currently saves them nearly $1 million annually. After struggling with their previous patient engagement vendor, OHH made the switch to Relatient and saw an immediate and sustained reduction in their patient no-show rate. Minson explained that their no-show rate was already low but their process improvement team identified that reducing it even 1% would save them significant revenue. Here are three things Minson says were key to their success: 

Interoperability: A robust integration to Cerner made data easily accessible to OHH schedulers, which empowered them to act proactively and keep patients on the schedule 

In-Workflow Integration: Understanding how staff work day-to-day and making the technology fit into their workflows was key, trying to force staff to change their workflows to adopt a new technology would have failed to yield the same results 

Organizational Buy-In: Minson says this is really key. “We see a lot of patients in a year across our 60 clinics,” Minson explained. “1%, that’s a lot of human lives we’re making sure get the care they need. Once we all bought in, from the top to the front lines of the organization, we all came together and said, “what do we need to do?””.

You can catch a replay of the webinar on-demand here

Download our Post-COVID-19 Checklist here.