A new survey from the Center for Connected Medicine and KLAS Research finds patient access still ranks first for most healthcare system leaders, with telehealth, artificial intelligence and scheduling tools the most popular tools in the toolkit.
Healthcare leaders are focusing on using digital health technology over the next year to improve patient access, according to a new survey from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) and KLAS Research. And they’re more interested in using telehealth and AI to improve engagement and help patients find what they need.
While “patient access” is a broad term, it underscores the emphasis health systems place on patient-centered care and forging new and better connections between patients and their care teams, particularly at a time when the competition is fierce for health care services.
The Top of Mind for Top Health Systems 2023 report, released this week by CCM, the innovation arm of UPMC, and KLAS Research, represents the thoughts of 61 leaders from 59 healthcare organizations and marks the second consecutive year that patients is at the top of the to-do list. About 28% of respondents to this year’s report rated it as the issue that has the most potential for improvement through digital health and which has been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“It’s no secret that healthcare systems have faced significant challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and must respond to consumer demands for greater convenience and affordability from their healthcare providers,” Joon Lee, MD, vice president UPMC executive and president of UPMC Physician Services, said in a press release, “This report reflects the priority we and others are placing on patient access, including more options for virtual care, greater self- scheduling and increased engagement with patient portals.”
The biggest challenge to improving patient access, meanwhile, isn’t the technology, but the people behind the technology. It could be the patient who isn’t overly concerned about healthcare or the healthcare providers and staff who aren’t too keen on changing the status quo.
“Respondents specifically cited the difficulty of involving patients in their own health care,” the survey reported. “Many have also talked about organizational change management, in other words, guiding people in healthcare organizations to accept and make changes. This is especially important for implementing patient access tools.”
With this in mind, the top priority for improving patient access is process change, according to the survey.
“One CEO explained why this focus on process is so vital: ‘Process varies from practice to practice and hospital to hospital,'” the survey notes. “’Trying to standardize these processes is infuriating. Our organization used to be a hospital, but now we have over 15. We haven’t been able to get all those people on the same processes so that we can actually make efficiencies of scale.’ Healthcare organizations often look to vendors to help drive effective processes around new or existing technologies.”
When it comes to technologies considered important for improving patient access, telehealth tops the list, with 56% of respondents placing a high value on virtual care. This is followed by the patient portal (55%), patient appointment reminders (55%), online bill payment (52%), online registration (49%), an online provider list (47%) and reminders for patient planning (46%).
[See also: Planning and Preparation Are Crucial in Adopting a Patient Self-Scheduling Platform].
Those best technologies also have their drawbacks. Patient portals are considered the foundational technology for interacting with patients, but patient adoption has been low. Patient self-scheduling technology is seen as vital to meeting the needs of today’s consumers, but healthcare systems are reporting problems with achieving provider buy-in and finding the right technology that can handle such a complex task . And while telehealth technology is seen as effective and improving patient access, there are problems with ensuring that access, ranging from broadband issues to lack of resources for underserved communities.
The survey also found that:
- 65% of healthcare system executives see price transparency and cost estimation as important aspects of patient access, yet nearly all say they are mandated to do so by federal regulations, rather than a desire to improve the patient experience. patient. And the majority of respondents say the biggest challenge to ensuring pricing transparency is the complexity of determining a patient’s bill.
- Just over half of healthcare executives use AI for patient access, and nearly 70% believe it will be important in improving access in the future.
- Telehealth use has declined since the pandemic, with most organizations reporting using it for less than 20% of appointments. Patient convenience is the most cited benefit of telehealth, and many want to use it more often, but the uncertain reimbursement landscape is the biggest obstacle to growth.
- The majority of healthcare system leaders surveyed say that telehealth is adequately addressing physician workflow and care delivery needs, although about a third say the technology is not effective, mainly because it does not integrate with the ‘EHR or there are too many solutions on the market. The majority of respondents believe that telehealth adequately addresses the needs of the patient experience.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.