Top 5 Ways Leading Health Systems Will Step Up Patient Experience in 2019

December 19, 2018

Next year will bring many changes to healthcare. Here’s how leading hospitals will stay ahead of the curve when it comes to increasing patient engagement.

In the year ahead, successful healthcare systems will step up their patient experience and engagement efforts.

That’s because the healthcare consumerism movement is growing, and patient expectations regarding their healthcare providers are increasing. They expect the same level of customer service they’d receive from any retailer, and if they don’t get it, they will seek care elsewhere.

Here are five predictions for how leading healthcare systems will step up their patient experience initiatives in 2019:

1. Broadening efforts to cover more patients

Most hospital patient experience initiatives have focused on small segments of the patient population and individual touchpoints. In 2019, leading healthcare systems will look to expand these programs to engage more patients-from the most vulnerable to the most affluent-and to reach out to them throughout their entire healthcare journeys, from pre-visit to post-discharge.

Broader programs will enable healthcare systems to understand exactly where patients are in their healthcare journeys and what might impede them from quality outcomes, such as lack of transportation to follow-up appointments. This information will help health systems connect with patients in a more personalized way, resulting in system-wide improvements in patient satisfaction and quality.

2. Using technology to build scalable programs

A broader approach to improving the patient experience might seem daunting and costly, but leading hospitals in 2019 will use technology to create more cost-effective, scalable programs.

One of the most important technologies will be an EMR-integrated customer relationship management (CRM) platform where information collected by navigators is stored. It should include everything from past interactions to their social determinants of health.

Related article: Patient-Reported Data: Can Healthcare Execs Trust It?

Leading healthcare systems will also ensure the information stored in the CRM platform is seamlessly distributed to relevant clinical and administrative staff. That way they can continually learn more about patients and create a more personalized approach. For example, if a mother calls to schedule her son’s regular check-up, the staff member should be able to see-via the CRM platform-that the mother’s daughter is also due for a flu shot. That staff member can then offer to schedule the daughter’s vaccination right after the son’s visit, making it highly convenient for the mom and closing a gap in care.

3. Expanding engagement beyond apps and phone calls

While many hospitals have invested in patient portals and consumer apps, utilization is low. A recent ONC data brief shows that about 52% of patients have patient portal access, but  only about

. App usage is much lower, with a recent Accenture report finding that less than 2% of patients use the apps that hospitals offer.

That’s not to say that these technologies aren’t essential, but in 2019, leading hospitals will recognize that engaging patients requires multiple channels, from texting and live chat to portal messaging and phone calls. Using multiple channels will increase the likelihood of reaching patients via their preferred mode. Text messaging, especially, will play a growing role in 2019, as health systems recognize it’s an easy and effective way to meet patients wherever they are in their healthcare journey.

4. Using nonclinical individuals to improve the patient experience

Realizing the ROI on early initiatives, leading health systems will ramp up the use of nonclinical personnel to help patients navigate the healthcare system effectively. These individuals are very effective at reducing costs.

For example, a study appearing JAMA found that nonclinical navigators led to a total savings of $19 million annually. Navigators are also effective at improving quality. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted a program at New York’s Northwell Health that found that laypeople trained as community health workers increased engagement between Medicaid patients and their healthcare teams.

Another advantage of using nonclinical navigators is that they can be hired based on soft skills, such as the ability to offer excellent hospitality and customer service, show empathy, communicate effectively, relate culturally, and speak the same language as patients.

5. Developing, and implementing, strategies to address social determinants of health

Many health systems are investing in programs to improve cultural sensitivity, create a more empathetic approach to care, and improve patient satisfaction scores. But leading healthcare systems recognize that without the right data to underscore those efforts, staff members can only do so much.

Related article: Three Ways to Better Address Social Determinants of Health

Patient engagement programs that capture patients’ nonclinical characteristics, such as their social determinants of health-where they live, work, and play-will help healthcare systems improve retention. They will also have a big impact on care quality, highlighting for example, if a patient might be unable to attend important follow-up appointments due to lack of transportation. In fact, socioeconomic factors are responsible for approximately 40% of a patient’s health, according to the American Hospital Association.

Improving the patient experience is moving up the priority list at leading hospitals as they recognize the large role it plays in their future success. If your organization hasn’t started any of the above initiatives, time is running out.

Paul Roscoe is a more than 25-year healthcare industry veteran who is CEO and cofounder of Docent Health, a healthcare experience company helping health systems adopt consumer-centric delivery models. Over his career, Paul has served as the CEO of VisionWare Inc and the CEO of Crimson (an operating unit of The Advisory Board Company), amongst other leadership positions.