The last mile in population health

Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review, Nov. 28, 2016 – Chris Lukasiak –

A focus on population health has been a key factor for many organizations trying to reduce costs.

In fact, a study by HIMSS shows that 81% of providers currently employ initiatives to intervene with at-risk patients. One of the most effective strategies leverages data to target patients in need of care within a selected cohort and then employ call centers to initiate a recommended course of action. These efforts are not only helping close gaps in care, but also are instrumental in reducing costs.

Population health outreach campaigns often follow a similar pattern:
  • A call center employs people and technology such as interactive voice response (IVR) to push a large volume of outbound calls to targeted patients in need of care.
  • If a patient is reached, they are transferred to an agent who then attempts to place a three-way conference with the scheduler of the target provider.
  • If the scheduler is reached, the patient is offered available times to schedule the appointment.
  • If the scheduler is not available, the patient must call the practice back during office hours to schedule the appointment.
While these campaigns are improving clinical outcomes and lowering costs, there is a glaring disconnect at this last step of the process. The scenario above relies on multiple people being available at the time of the call. A string of factors must align for the appointment to be scheduled: IVR, patient, call agent, and scheduler must synchronize to close a single gap in care. It’s a multi-step process, any one of which could cause a breakdown if unsuccessful.

The missing functionality then, for patients and schedulers alike, is a simple schedule-with-a-click button. This feature alone, if done correctly, could simplify access across the entire healthcare system. Let’s see how.
Care with a click
A simple change like this has not been previously been possible because schedulers cannot access disparate scheduling systems across a network. In other words, if agents could see directly into target provider’s calendars, they could book appointments on the spot without additional phone calls. But given the diversity of electronic medical records (EMRs) and the lack of interoperability, the best case solution is limited by the constraints of the telephone. And for patients, the ability to self-schedule when contacted further simplifies the maddening challenges posed by the current process.

To move beyond incremental enhancements, we must focus on real time access to appointment inventory, agnostic to EMR. When schedulers can see appointments in outside systems, the dependence on 3-way telephone tag is eliminated. It creates a seamless experience for all parties involved. At its core, digital self-scheduling empowers patients to take charge and means staff have the most efficient scheduling workflow possible. Furthermore, it ushers in the right type of healthcare consumerism:
  • Close gaps in care with a click: Schedule on the spot for coordinators and click to schedule for patients is the type of on-demand self-service that consumers now expect.
  • Unlock the power of reminders: The common options when you receive a reminder are to confirm or cancel. What if a third option were available – where you could click and instantly reschedule? Automating this capability provides the ultimate convenience for patient and staff alike.
Looking ahead
Thus far, population health efforts have been able to make an impact because of the ability to target and reach individuals in need of care. The last mile, however, of connecting those patients to the next step of care is where change could transform those efforts into results that scale for entire populations. Strategies to simplify care coordination are essential to smart population health management – and place patient satisfaction at the center of care. Scheduling care should be as easy as scheduling any other service with a mobile device – at the touch of a button for anyone at their convenience. Until recently, the technology integration has been the hard part. To see it happening now promises a new era of healthcare consumerism, defined by greater convenience, higher completion rates and timelier care.

See the original article on Becker’s Health IT & CIO Review.

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