Digital patient engagement tackles the labor crisis, improves the patient experience

Health care consumers of all ages now expect digital solutions that enable them to engage with their care as easily as they book travel or shop online.

The detrimental effects of COVID-19 changed health care, possibly forever. Patients are demanding more control and a safer, simplified experience. For health care workers, the pandemic has led to increased burnout, concerns about workplace safety and staffing shortages that threaten not only patient care, but also the entire provider ecosystem.

Nearly 30% of health care workers are considering leaving their profession altogether, and nearly 60% reported impacts to their mental health stemming from their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 2021 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey. And, this unprecedented labor shortage trend is expected to continue through 2022 and beyond according to predictions released by Moody’s.

Consumerism and the Labor Shortage

The far-reaching impact of this labor shortage begs the question: what can hospitals and physician practices do to alleviate patient and staff fears, continue delivering an outstanding experience and protect their financial viability? The choice is easy. Do nothing, or move slowly, and you risk the fate of Blockbuster Video. Or embrace technologies other industries have used for decades to solve similar challenges and reap the benefits of greater productivity, satisfaction and financial success.

The simple truth is health care consumers of all ages now expect digital solutions that enable them to engage with their care as easily as they book travel or shop online.

Giving patients the digital tools to self-serve will directly reduce staffing pressure experienced by virtually every healthcare provider in the nation. And there is additional value for hospitals. By utilizing patient-facing technology, facilities can increase patient volume and related revenue, improve efficiencies and decrease costs.

Having been trained on Amazon, Expedia, mobile devices and the like, patients are comfortable, and even eager to take over many tasks that previously required interaction with a registrar or other revenue cycle staff member. Automating self-registration and myriad other tasks associated with appointments reduces the burden on existing staff, freeing them for higher-value tasks, which also creates a clearer path of advancement for entry level staff in turn contributing to lower attrition and recruiting demands.

Bridge Staffing Gaps with Smart Technology

Patient access typically requires a small ecosystem of staff – all of whom are in alarmingly short supply right now.

By adopting proven technology and automation, providers can reduce the resources they need and dramatically increase the productivity of the staff they do require. Consolidating systems and deploying one comprehensive platform that complements the clinical tools of an EHR enables the flexibility for patients and staff to share responsibility for completing the financial and administrative aspects of healthcare. Integrating intuitive solutions for digital patient intake, engagement and access creates a true win-win.

Short-term benefits include increased data accuracy, streamlined patient flow, improved coordination between departments and redeployment of staff to activities that provide higher touch engagement with patients. And, as patients complete more administrative tasks, there is reduced need for as many FTEs. Long-term benefits can include maximized net patient revenue and enhanced brand reputation as a leader in digital patient engagement.

Give Patients What They Want

Implementing technologies that leverage adaptive rules engines, robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) into the patient intake, engagement and access processes doesn’t just reduce the labor resources required; patients prefer the experience because they’re used to it in other aspects of their lives. Easy to use text messaging, email and voice technologies along with highly intuitive digital user experiences on their own devices help automate and simplify the patient journey safely from pre-registration to discharge. Among the benefits for patients and providers:

  • Self-registration saves time, eliminates errors and increases satisfaction by allowing patients to provide, review and edit demographic information, upload identification and insurance cards using their mobile phone’s camera and digitally complete and sign other forms and information necessary for pre-registration and registration/check-in.
  • Patients get accurate out-of-pocket cost estimates they can trust to make payment with a single click which alleviates their financial anxiety while optimizing cash collections and revenue for providers.
  • Health care facilities can communicate timely pre-service information such as fasting reminders and directions to the site of care, and conveniently add the appointment to the patient’s digital calendar.
  • Predefined and custom text messaging can acknowledge patient arrival and provide a QR code that serves as a pass to quickly enter the facility and go directly to their service location, making long, crowded waiting a thing of the past.

The accelerated adoption of digital technology and processes that provide patients more control and influence over their care is a silver lining of the pandemic era. Patients want access to digital engagement solutions that create a safer, customer-friendly experience, while providers need to be nimble to adapt to labor and staffing challenges and reduce costs. Thankfully, it’s never been easier to deliver singular solutions that address both.

David Peterson is chief strategy officer at AccuReg which provides hospitals, health systems and large clinics a cloud-based platform, EngageCare, that combines digital patient access, intake and engagement and intelligently automates the patient experience from pre-registration to discharge. Peterson has more than 20 years of experience as a health care technology and software executive.