by Jordan Rosenfeld, Medical Economics
Digital changes in consumerism are spilling over into healthcare, and driving the way physicians communicate with their patients, says Kathy Ford, president and chief product officer at Rhinogram, a telehealth platform in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“We are all now conditioned to a certain level of services, based on Amazon and Starbucks and other online tools we all use every day,” Ford says.
As a result, physicians looking to improve their revenue cycle should optimize the way they communicate with patients through telehealth platforms. “If I have something wrong, I don’t want to go wait in a physician’s office for 45 minutes only to find out that I could have just taken an aspirin,” Ford explains.
Patients want the ability to communicate in real time or close to it through some form of messaging, be that text or instant messenger, or a telehealth call. “If I can get a response almost in real time, I’m going to stay loyal to that provider. And I’m going to tell my friends about that provider,” she says.
Communicating with patients is a key part of keeping them healthy. “Practices need to use more contemporary ways to make sure their patients are staying healthy, staying out of the ED, and certainly preventing readmissions,” Ford says.
One way to do this is through virtual check-ins, either through a messaging function within a telehealth platform, or video visits with patients that can save time and avoid unnecessary office visits.
“This hopefully drives down overall healthcare costs and allows those practices to use those appointment slots for higher acuity patients, or new patients,” she says.
Using telehealth to communicate with patients provides them additional access, as well, which, Ford says, drives a better patient experience.
“A better patient experience means better patient engagement. It means improved reputation management, which are all drivers to bottom line performance.”
Telehealth messaging also allows for multiple contacts with patients, rather than a single phone call in which the physician’s time is completely tied up. “[The physician] sends a message, waits for a response, and meanwhile can send another message. So the ability to communicate with multiple patients in a shorter amount of time is an overall office efficiency,” Ford says.
This frees staff up to focus on higher-value activities, she says.
Additionally, physicians can use telehealth platforms to send text messages, which, she says, have a 98 percent open rate as compared to the 20 percent open rate for an email.
It can also help the practice avoid phone calls. “Calling people to tell them what their obligations is or to remind them that they have an outstanding bill is also time-consuming and inefficient,” she says.
She believes that telehealth is one of the ways that physicians can be competitive in their markets, particularly for specialty clinics and services where there’s more competition for the patient population.
Moreover, Ford explains that telehealth’s additional capabilities offer other services such as mobile bill pay and explanation of benefits that support increased revenue for physicians. “Using these technologies is going to drive revenue cycle improvement,” she says.