Patient access departments are increasingly offering self-service options to increase patient satisfaction, but the technology has important limitations.
- Patients can only request, not schedule, appointments with online portals.
- Patients dislike giving demographic information repeatedly.
- Giving Up Control To Patients Requires Cultural Changes.
Patient access departments routinely use electronic tools to verify insurance, identify patients, and check eligibility, but what about keeping patients happy?
The revenue cycle could be “at the forefront of a wave of change that will significantly impact the way we interact with customers,” predicts David Betts, a principal at Deloitte Consulting’s Life Science and Health Care practice in Pittsburgh, PA.
Patients clearly want to interact with the healthcare system in the same way they do with retailers, airlines, and hotels: through mobile phones, texting, and online, according to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions’ 2015 survey of U.S. healthcare consumers. “But the study also showed there is a gap between that desire and actual utilization,” says Betts.
One reason is that tools used by even the most progressive patient access departments don’t fully meet the needs of today’s patients. “They may not be robust enough to actually be meaningful,” Betts explains. For example, patients might be able to request an appointment with a provider via an online portal, but the tools often stop short of actually scheduling the requested appointment.
“We have made tools available to patients that help the health system solve some problems, but they’re not solving the patients’ problems,” says Betts. Patients simply want to get in to see a provider or obtain a diagnostic test, for example, and they resent providing the same demographic information every time they present for services.
“Every time patients show up at the doctor’s office, they are handed a bunch of forms that are basically reiterating the information that we think they should already have,” says Betts. “It just doesn’t make sense to a patient.” Registration kiosks often go unused, he says, because they don’t necessarily change this problem for patients; rather, they just digitize an existing process.
Betts says patient access is “taking a step back and really looking at the customer experience differently.” This change means that online scheduling and registration processes need to be changed internally, which is no easy task.
“It means we may have to give up some level of control to the customer. This will require cultural changes in many institutions,” says Betts. “Well, the customers are going to demand it.”
FUTURE OF KIOSKS?
Poor patient satisfaction has caused some hospitals to remove their registration kiosks, reports Bob Stearnes, CHFP, CHAM, a Frisco, TX-based patient access leader.
“The premise sounded good,” says Stearnes. “But it resulted in a self-checkout feeling, leaving the patients on their own in an unfamiliar environment.”
Many times, patients had questions a kiosk was not intended to manage. “Kiosks seem to be an impersonal approach that sends a mixed message,” says Stearnes. “We offer technology, but you still have to stop in the lobby to complete the process.”
Also, kiosks are sometimes placed where others can overhear or view information on screens. If kiosks are placed in more private areas, however, patient access employees won’t be able to see that a patient is having difficulty, says Stearnes.
Registrars frequently hear patients complaining during the registration process about giving the same demographic information they already provided at pre-registration. “Patient access employees may be tempted to bypass questions for the sake of patient satisfaction,” explains Stearnes.
Kiosks do little to solve this frustrating problem; at least how they’re used currently doesn’t fully address it. “If we could develop secure systems similar to that of airlines and credit card companies, that allow patients to verify information online with each scheduled event, and close those tasks to prevent repetition, we might increase usage,” says Stearnes.
Patient access needs to make sure that patients aren’t left to struggle with kiosks. “If a patient remains dormant on a screen for more than 30 seconds, a window can appear to offer live chat assistance,” suggests Stearnes.
If kiosks can verify insurance, obtain authorizations, determine the patient’s financial responsibility, and handle financial counseling and scheduling, says Stearnes, “we may be able to use technology as a game-changer for patients.” (See related story in this issue on how patient access can use data to improve financial counseling.)