Patient outreach is a critical component of engaging patients to keep them current in their care, help them remember their appointments, collect their feedback, and even prompt them to pay their bills. Consistent, dedicated effort is needed, but can be difficult to achieve with manual outreach processes that are dependent on available FTE’s.
Patients have a lot of distractions competing for their time and attention, which means that reaching them with important information about their health and prompting them to take appropriate action is harder than ever.
Gaps in patient engagement can create gaps in the schedule, lower provider productivity (and reimbursement), higher costs as a result of no-shows, rescheduling, phone tag, and more. The far-reaching negative impacts of low patient engagement affect everything from costs and revenue to clinical outcomes.
Maximizing the effectiveness of your patient outreach program requires you to follow a set of proven practices that help ensure patients remain engaged with their medical care. Equally important are the common pitfalls to avoid when building your practice. The proper and effective use of patient data is also a key component of successful patient outreach.
What Is Patient Outreach?
Patient outreach refers to any outbound communication to patients, whether manual or automated, to keep them engaged in their care, drive better adherence to care plans, and prompt them to take action. It often involves contacting patients who are overdue for appointments, lab work, screenings, vaccines, or other preventive and follow-up care.
Why Is Patient Outreach Important?
Staying connected with patients between visits is vital for maintaining your relationship with them. Education is also a critical component of patient outreachbecause it keeps patients informed about their health, which in turn improves their outcomes and increases their loyalty. This process helps patients see you as a valuable source of health information by helping them remain engaged with their health and your practice.
The education you offer doesn’t need to be directly related to the services you provide for your outreach program to be effective. However, it’s more helpful to target patients with information that is relevant to them or their families. You can accomplish this goal by grouping patients based on clinical criteria contained in the EHR and customizing educational content for each segment.
Guidelines for Effective Patient Outreach
The most effective patient outreach program is one that is reliable, consistent, specific to the patient, and bidirectional so patients can respond to the messaging. A strong automation platform makes it easy to deliver this kind of consistent communication to patients in a way that can capture their responses and update other systems appropriately.
Technology and automation should form the foundation of your patient outreach strategy because it’s both intelligent and reliable. Technologies such as appointment reminders, broadcast messaging, and patient chat and secure messaging make getting critical information in front of patients fast and efficient.
Key features of market-leading patient outreach software include adding appointment confirmations directly into the practice management or scheduling system, self-service for fast script changes, and the ability to configure messaging based on appointment type, provider, and location.
Train Staff in Patient Outreach
Make it easy for your staff to engage in patient outreach by equipping them with training, FAQs, and best practices. Though technology and automation should initiate and drive your patient outreach strategy, your staff’s manual outreach should also complement the automation, creating an overall communication plan that is not only effective but feels natural and human to patients.
How to Leverage Data to Improve Your Patient Outreach Strategy
Automated technologies such as appointment reminders are used across most medical groups, hospitals, and health systems. These technologies allow healthcare providers to save time and money by scaling their patient outreachstrategies. In addition to increasing patient volume, data can also be used in value-based reimbursement programs to refine patient outreach initiatives, thus improving community health and wellness.
Leveraging meaningful patient data drives more informed decision-making for patient outreach strategies. Specific methods of leveraging data for this purpose include segmenting patients, mapping the patient journey, and personalizing communications.
An effective patient outreach strategy requires organizations to understand what their patients need. They should rely on modern data analytics to identify patient populations and group them according to criteria found in their electronic health records (EHRs), including the following:
- Hereditary Diseases
- Social Determinant of Health (SDOH) data
- Utilization History
Map the Patient Journey
Once you have identified and grouped your patient population, you can use EHR data to determine what patients in each group experience as they move through your healthcare organization.
A customer relationship management (CRM) solution that specializes in healthcare is often crucial for this step because it can identify opportunities for patient engagement throughout this journey. This capability allows you to refine your patient outreach strategy at each of these touchpoints.
Healthcare communications are already personal because providers talk to patients during their most vulnerable moments. Nevertheless, the right data analytics can help you narrow down the patient groups you need to communicate with for a particular outreach initiative. Once you accomplish this step, you can then customize your message based on the specific needs of those patients and their location in their healthcare journey.
You can easily cover your entire patient population by using an automated patient outreach solution to communicate at scale via campaigns delivered through text and email as well as secure text messages for HIPAA-compliant one-to-one patient conversations.
You can also tailor automated messages to provide general information on chronic conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Delivering these messages proactively helps prompt patients to visit their healthcare providers before diseases progress and outcomes decline.
Monitor and Adjust
Outreach software also allows healthcare providers to monitor and adjust their patient outreach strategy in real-time. This process typically involves the use of automated dashboards to obtain insight into an outreach strategy’s performance by measuring patient response to these efforts.
You can then adjust the strategy based on data such as keyword trends, response rates, and opt-out rates, which are key metrics for improving the message content.
The Dos & Don’ts of Patient Outreach
Medical practices are leaning on automated patient outreach for more than just appointment reminders and scheduling updates. They often leverage this technology to deliver marketing communication as well. It’s important for healthcare leaders to be mindful of HIPAA as they work to build awareness, visibility, and credibility in the market.
Good practices for complying with HIPAA while building a market presence include the following:
- Protect patient testimonials
- Don’t spam
- Get consent
- Be personable
Protect Patient Testimonials
Patient testimonials can be a great way to promote your practice and validate a superior patient experience, but patients must first approve them. Furthermore, you must use release forms approved by HIPAA, as a standard release form is insufficient for protecting your practice. As with other aspects of healthcare, documentation is the key to avoiding legal problems. It’s especially important to obtain and keep releases before using patient photos in advertisements.
The possibility of sending unwanted emails, commonly known as spam, is another aspect of patient outreach that requires caution. Direct marketing is acceptable, but you generally can’t use mailing lists derived from personal records. One exception to this rule is that a healthcare practice can use its patient list to announce new specialties, which may include services or equipment.
The only other exception is that a practice can send direct mail to patients who are about to become eligible for Medicare. In this case, the marketing material may only provide information on Medicare and an application form.
HIPAA requires patients to provide their consent before providers can use their personal health information (PHI) for advertising or marketing purposes. The primary exception to this general rule is when the provider offers a promotional gift of minor value. The only other exception is when the promotion is a face-to-face encounter between the provider and patient.
Providers also need to ensure they’re highly personable when performing patient outreach. Patients want physicians to listen to them and act on what they hear. It’s especially important for doctors to recognize the needs of older patients and take their concerns seriously.
Leverage Reputation Management
One of the easiest ways to help new patients find your practice is the use of regular patient satisfaction surveys that direct patients to leave their happy reviews on a public site like Google or Yelp.
Today’s patients look to the internet to learn about their options for healthcare and will often regard an online review with the same consideration they would a personal recommendation. Automated patient satisfaction surveys, delivered via text, should be concise, include a “likelihood to recommend” question, and be accessible outside of an app, portal, or user account.
Patient outreach should be an essential part of any practice as the healthcare industry grows more competitive. The use of modern software in patient outreachwill continue to grow, but providers must still ensure they respect patient rights when using PHI. Outreach software should also be able to help you refine your overall outreach strategy.