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The patient clinical experience

Why we need to start talking about this


Many providers find themselves at a crossroads between the fee-for-service world and more aggressive value-based care. Health systems need to pursue strategies that can work for both.

To prepare for the future while serving the present, you need to hardwire the way you directly connect with the populations you serve.

When we talk about the patient experience, we’re often referring to the financial process patients go through to gain access to and pay for care. But from the patient point of view, that’s only half of the equation. 

Patients experience the clinical process of treatment long before and after they’ve paid their copay, gone home with a treatment plan and picked up a prescription.

Proactive customer engagement

Today many health systems are scaling to manage larger populations. They’re also reckoning with the impacts of reimbursement models tied to risk adjustment and quality performance.

The most progressive providers are exploring how we manage those patient interactions beyond the point of care. They’re doing this in a contextual and integrated way through technology and artificial intelligence.

The health care field has a poor track record of proactive, prioritized and coordinated patient communication. It’s fallen behind other fields that put tools in the hands of consumers to increase engagement. 

We have a powerful opportunity to reshape the way patients think about their participation in their own care plans. This is especially true for populations at risk and with a high burden of chronic conditions that need more active long-term management.

Today, health care is following the lead of many other fields in moving toward concierge experiences. Provider organizations are using superior patient communications to differentiate themselves from would-be competitors.

Cutting-edge health systems reach patients where they are, often via mobile platforms. And they use those interactions to better engage patients to adhere to care plans for better outcomes. 

Make-or-break technology

Most providers already have multiple pieces of technology and software they ask patients to interact with during a single episode of care. For example, a single health system could ask their patients to interact via a mix of:

  • Texts
  • Calls 
  • Emails from a patient portal
  • A care management platform
  • A self-scheduling widget
  • Satisfaction surveys
  • Mobile bill-pay tools

And many times patients are receiving similar — or worse — conflicting information from diverse parts of their care team.

The missing piece is a unified engagement and coordination strategy supported by a communications infrastructure and provider education. And without the right technology to bring those communications together, you end up creating multiple, disparate touch points with the patient. 

That causes confusion, drives down adoption of the technologies, and limits your ability to improve outcomes. 

Within this landscape, I’ve seen how different platforms can help provider organizations take their patient communications to the next level. This can truly impact the patient clinical journey. 

When considering how a holistic communications platform fits into a wider patient engagement strategy, providers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do my communications deliver the right content to the patient, with a high degree of context? 

Email fatigue, like EHR burnout, is a real concern when it comes to communicating with patients. But studies show that most consumers are open to a high frequency of communication when the messages are value-driven and relevant to them. 

The messages must add context and actionable tasks to their clinical journey.1 Drive communications to patients using a rules engine that can:

- Coordinate multichannel communications
- Consider patient preferences and their likelihood to engage and adhere to a care plan

Our tools must easily and clearly communicate with patients about next steps in their care plan. A complete picture of health is often opaque because the care is highly complex. But patients expect their information to be accessible and to transfer with them through the entire care journey. 

  • How do I inspire provider trust in an AI-powered communications platform? 

Providers are often wary of tools that take parts of patient care out of their hands and could contribute to technology burnout. That’s why it is so important for communication tools to work directly within the care team EHR workflow. They must seamlessly and intuitively contribute to a positive clinical experience. 

The best patient communication applications have platforms that are also provider-facing. This allows clinicians to monitor patient communications. They can manually intervene or triage to a real human being with an understanding of the workflow as necessary. 

Most important, when taking on a patient engagement program, make sure you fully engage providers in the project from the outset. They will need training to make it successful.

Health systems across the country are investing in both adequate staffing and developing skills to enable patient-facing staff across the patient financial journey. 

It’s equally important that clinicians have the same support and conduit to have respectful, honest conversations with patients about their clinical path.2 Providing care is a human function, and the technology should support that.

  • How can I use automated and scalable communications to impact the clinical journey? 

The ideal patient engagement solution puts all indirect methods of managing patient adherence (self-reports, prescription refills, patient referrals, etc.) into an integrated platform that interacts with the EHR. You don’t want patient information scattered across multiple, hard-to-track communications. 

Poor clinical journeys impact a patient’s health. Diseases progress. Patients lose functional abilities and have a lower quality of life. Medications are wasted. Medical resources such as nursing homes, hospital visits and hospital admissions are in greater demand.3

These very real impacts on patient health are why it’s so important to make comprehensive and consistent data analytics available to providers. This helps them understand the effectiveness of their messages and adjust their approach. 

Any patient engagement strategy must include this level of insight. The idea is to give providers another data point to evaluate whether patients are adhering to care plans and managing chronic conditions. 

Orchestrating this kind of patient engagement at the enterprise level is no small task. But the investment could have significant impact on a provider organization’s ability to deliver their mission of a superior clinical experience and better outcomes. 

For example, one such health platform, WELL Health, has partnered with provider organizations to reduce office no-shows by up to 75%. This has had a significant impact on the patient clinical experience. An operational leader from a provider user noted the positive change.

“It was amazing to see that nearly all of our patients (96%) took advantage of WELL Health’s modern communications platform to coordinate their care. The platform clearly illustrates a major gap in the ideal customer experience.”

An automated communications platform can give providers a personalized understanding of what a patient really needs. It’s an essential component to scale an enterprise-wide patient engagement strategy and improve the patient clinical experience. 

These holistic patient communications capabilities are gradually emerging in existing technologies, including some of the dominant EHRs. Early results give us reason to be optimistic that we are catching up to non-health consumer platforms.

Patients expect and deserve the same consumer experience they receive in other areas of their lives. We must put as much focus on improving and coordinating the clinical experience as we have invested in the financial experience. 

Only then can we continue to advance our real mission — improving the health of those we serve, together.

  1. Baum D. What is email fatigue? Impact. June 20, 2018.
  2. Wyld S. Achieving a positive patient experience. Optum Advisory Services blog.
  3. Jimmy B, Jose J. Patient medication adherence: Measures in daily practice. Oman Med J. May 2011;26(3):155–159.
  4. Mona Reimers, Director of Administrative Operations, Ortho Northeast.

Contact Optum Advisory Services for help with your patient clinical experience.