Are healthcare providers ready to embrace a digital future?

Soprano Design Limited

By Dr Richard Favero*
Wednesday, 11 September, 2019



Are healthcare providers ready to embrace a digital future?

Mobile technology could be the cure for futureproofing doctor–patient relationships.

In his opening comments at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) AsiaPac18 conference in Brisbane last year, eHealth Queensland CEO and CIO Dr Richard Ashby spoke of the changing dynamic between healthcare providers and patients and how we can expect to see patients taking charge of the management of their own healthcare within the next 10 to 15 years, largely enabled by their mobile devices.1

At the same event, a global panel of experts discussed the changes that need to come to ensure healthcare systems are sustainable in the future by utilising technology to reduce pressure on resources. Australian Digital Health Agency CEO Tim Kelsey advised that empowering patients to manage their own health care was an important step and one that is being encouraged by governments around the world — certainly in Australia and the UK. He also indicated that, much like the digitalisation of the travel industry, there will be a turning point where consumers move rapidly from an initially cautious approach to this new way of health management to a much higher demand for it.2

To remain ahead of the digital curve, healthcare providers need to get their ‘house’ in order. This means reviewing their technology requirements and, where needed, looking at new communication platforms that will enable them to transition to digitally enhanced relationships with patients. But how many healthcare providers are ready to take advantage of digital technologies to improve both doctor–patient communication and workplace efficiencies?

Trusted mobile interactions helps hospitals work smarter

Futureproofing benefits aside, hospitals that are investing in digital transformation solutions now are already experiencing better patient engagement, reductions in did not attend (DNA) rates, improved productivity and administrative efficiencies.

Patient no-shows are a burden on the resources of hospitals around the world. In January 2019, the NHS released figures suggesting that the financial impact was in excess of £200 million each year from 15 million missed appointments in the UK — around 5% of all hospital appointments.3 Similarly, in February this year, the Government of Western Australia estimated 8% of outpatient appointments in the state were being missed at a cost of $26 million in lost productivity.4 With the release of these figures, governments are aiming to highlight the problem, urging patients to cancel appointments rather than not show. But central to creating behavioural change is engaging patients in a more meaningful and trusted way.

Communication breakdown

The reasons behind missed appointments are varied and in some cases unavoidable, but undoubtedly busy lives will be a factor. A hospital appointment, no matter how important, is competing with countless other priorities that occupy a patient’s day.   

As with any group of consumers, the key to better engagement with patients starts with using the right communication methods. Until recently, public hospitals in Britain used NHS Mail to manage patient schedules; however, they found limitations in that it was only a one-way messaging tool. If a patient didn’t respond, manual follow-ups were then needed by the admin team to reschedule the appointment. Additionally, if patients made a last-minute cancellation, or were no-shows on the day, clinicians and specialists were left with open appointments, wasting valuable medical time that could have been spent seeing other patients.

Remedying response rates

Last year, one of Britain’s leading paediatric hospitals deployed the two-way Mobile Enterprise Messaging Suite (MEMS) from Soprano to deliver the trusted mobile communication it needed with its patients. Due to the system’s high level of flexibility the hospital was able to roll out the technology incrementally, testing and adapting its methodology to create an effective interactive mobile messaging service which benefits both patients and hospital staff. A critical factor in its success has been the certainty that the correct personalised message is sent to the correct patient.

The hospital uses MEMS to send appointment reminders to patients via text message to their nominated mobile number. An initial reminder is sent seven days in advance of an appointment and again two days prior. Patients are prompted to reply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, but if they reply with ‘No’ they receive a further message advising that it could take several weeks before a new appointment becomes available and giving them an opportunity to keep the original appointment.

If patients do opt out of the original appointment, the clinic’s staff has time to try and fill the vacated slot. This method has reduced cancellation rates at the hospital by 4%. The thousands of incoming text messages are also automatically sorted into specialty folders and sent to the relevant departments to enable them to have clarity about daily and weekly schedules.

Positive side effects

Beyond the scheduling benefits, the hospital has found other ways the two-way messaging service can improve workflow.

For example, the cardiology department uses two-way messaging to send patients a URL link to an NHS post-procedure questionnaire that they’re required to complete. Previously, a staff member needed to contact each patient to make sure they completed the questionnaire. Now they only need to follow up with those patients who haven’t responded, saving valuable resource time.

The hospital pharmacy also uses the system to advise patients when their prescriptions are ready to be collected. The message advises also how long the medicine will be held for them. Prescriptions that aren’t collected within the timeframe can be returned to stock and reissued to other patients, rather than being wasted.

Surgical patients recovering at home are contacted 30 days after their procedure via a version of the two-way messaging service to ensure they’re recovering well and healing without any infection. Again, the message asks patients to respond via text message. This reduces the amount of time staff spend on follow-up phone calls as they then only need to call those that haven’t replied.

Benefits for now and the future

Industry experts are predicting a future landscape where patients take more ownership over the management of their own health care, facilitated by mobile technology, and that this will represent a shift in the dynamic between patient and healthcare providers.

Interactive mobile messaging offers a solution to improve patient engagement and reduce no-show rates. Healthcare providers that build patient relationships via trusted mobile interactions can be on the front foot for the future while reaping the benefits of improved workflow and increased productivity, ultimately creating a better experience for both patients and staff.

*Dr Richard Favero is Founder and Executive Chairman of Soprano Design, an award-winning global software design firm that delivers trusted mobile interactions via its powerful cloud-based mobile communication platform.

References
  1. https://www.healthcareit.com.au/article/patient-dominance-healthcare-imminent-says-qld-ehealth-chief
  2. https://www.healthcareit.com.au/article/how-patient-demand-set-become-overwhelming-driver-digital-health
  3. https://www.england.nhs.uk/2019/01/missed-gp-appointments-costing-nhs-millions/
  4. https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2019/02/No-shows-at-outpatient-appointments-strike-a-costly-blow-to-public-health.aspx

Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Adam

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