Patients receive communication when and how it’s most convenient for them; they want the same from patient access.

“Society today is more mobile, thus, demanding communications ‘on the go’ and equally mobile,” says John Woerly, RHIA, CHAM, FHAM, principal director of Accenture Health Practice.

The biggest challenge for patient access? To accurately capture contact information. “Getting the patient’s preferences for mode of contact right is key,” Woerly says.

However, texting and emailing information can lead to complaints if not handled appropriately.

“We need to be respectful that if the patient does not want emails that we follow these restrictions,” Woerly advises, noting that the same is true of texting. “We need to utilize this communication pathway sparingly to be respectful of those individuals who may not like this interruption.”

Generally, texting should convey “must-have” information in a professional, concise manner. When it comes to texting, examples may include appointment reminders, directions to service sites, and delays or adjustments to appointments.

“Again, it is important that we respect the patient’s preference,” Woerly adds.

Increasingly, consumers want digital-based health services, which is shaping a new care model, Woerly says. The new-look model allows patients to use intelligent technologies to not only locate doctors but also learn more about and participate in healthcare delivery, according to a survey conducted by Accenture.

The survey results show that survey respondents use several digital self-service tools to manage health. For instance, 41% use mobile and tablet health apps. Twenty-one percent accessed their electronic health record over the past year, primarily to obtain information on test results or their prescription history.

“People are becoming more accepting of technologies having a significantly greater role in their overall medical care,” Woerly says, noting that this includes artificial intelligence, virtual clinicians, and home-based diagnostics.

“Driven by experiences outside of healthcare, consumers increasingly expect to use digital technologies to control when, where, and how they receive care services,” says Pablo Sanchez Cassinello, who leads Accenture’s health practice in Spain.

Leading-edge revenue cycle operations are taking note of this. “They’re moving toward a higher level of automation,” Woerly says. One example is robotics process automation (RPA). This technology can screen accounts to determine eligibility for financial assistance, eliminating the need for manual review. Another example is artificial intelligence (AI) used for scheduling, billing, and collections.

“Patients are looking for experiences that mirror what they are getting in other aspects of their life,” Woerly explains. He says factors for success include time to research customer requirements and solutions, funding and organizational commitments, successfully designing and deploying the technology to meet business needs, consideration of all operational impacts (including people and processes), and deploying change management methodologies.

“This is a journey, and will not be done overnight. One size does not fit all,” Woerly advises. It’s necessary to customize technology to meet the department’s business requirements. For instance, a large health system may consider using RPA and AI to generate staff work schedules, based on historical volumes, employee preferences, employee skill sets, requested time off, or other criteria.

“Bots can compare scheduled work time to actual work time, providing needed information for employee evaluation discussions,” Woerly notes.

  • New job descriptions, role changes, and staff training to align with technology.

In the future, patient access staff may be editing data rather than conducting traditional patient interviews. But cases that fall out of the “norm” still require human interaction and personal attention. “Although technology skills are important, we cannot lose positive behavioral skills,” Woerly notes.

  • Transparency about upcoming changes and how they’ll affect staff.

“It is evident that most healthcare organizations are initiating strict operational cost containment measures,” Woerly offers.

Although technology could result in staff reductions, most departments will see reallocation of staff. Technology also may allow staff to work virtually from home or from other regions of the country.

Regardless, says Woerly, “it is important that patient access leaders lay a strong foundation by initiating open communications and staff involvement early.”