The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the healthcare continuum within the past year, creating many roadblocks in the path towards high-quality care delivery. Amid these challenges, we have witnessed a significant shift in patient wants and needs, in addition to heightened demand for accessible, convenient clinical care. Notably, the desire for more care processes to be performed digitally has emerged as a priority among patients. According to a recent survey by Accenture about patient behaviors, 60% of the 2,700 patients surveyed said they want to continue using technology and use it more often, both to manage conditions and to communicate with their healthcare providers.
In responding to the changing healthcare landscape, there is a new exigency to reassess the wants and needs of patients. Providers of all types are exploring new methods, processes and solutions that can help them meet both evolving patient desires and shifting demands for episodic and longitudinal care. However, for modern care providers who operate on a more retail, patient-consumer business model, such as the urgent care market, adjusting the way they operate to better serve their patient populations carries even more weight and dramatically swings the fortunes of both their short and long-term business success. As patients increasingly choose convenient, on-demand care locations, the way urgent care providers engage with patients and foster an ideal patient experience is vital for 2021 and beyond.
Year One of living through a pandemic has underscored the importance of healthcare providers evolving alongside their patients. By harnessing key capabilities of patient engagement technology and delivering the care experience patients expect, urgent care providers will take the lead in delivering what we might consider the healthcare experience 2.0 moving forward.
Moving more of the care process to the digital space
There has been rapid adoption of telehealth and virtual care processes within the past year, along with an escalated awareness of how technology can revolutionize the healthcare landscape. The shift towards more digital and remote care options since the onset of COVID-19 has provided a level of relief to those worried about exposure from standing in lines or spending time in crowded waiting rooms at their local urgent care clinic. With the Urgent Care Association’s annual Benchmarking Report stating that roughly 97% of urgent care experiences are up to or less than one hour for patients, both the practicality of these facilities and their ability to efficiently serve patients in need of quick, accessible, convenient care has been revealed more broadly. The appeal of the modern urgent care experience has captured the attention of new patients, many of which seeking a digitally native care experience, as well. In 2020 alone, visits from new urgent care patients comprised nearly half of all urgent care visits across more than 5,000 U.S. clinics.
To keep this influx of patients safe from infection and physically distanced for as much of their visit as possible, clinics are offering expanded visit-related functionalities through digital platforms. Online portals allow patients to handle almost all non-treatment visit components virtually. Patients can schedule appointments through electronic patient registration (EPR) via a mobile device, fill out required pre- and post-visit paperwork online, monitor the wait time queue at their location and receive notifications and reminders when it is time to arrive for their appointment. Additionally, to add digital convenience beyond online scheduling, EPR increases accuracy in the electronic record, enabling smoother processing of claims, fewer rejections, and quicker payment. While this improves the revenue cycle for providers and simplifies the workload of the front desk, it also gives patients peace of mind, reduces their anxiety, and shortens their time spent in-clinic.
Practicing over-communication with patients electronically
With continued concerns, confusion and questions around the latest status and protocols surrounding COVID-19, many patients seek more direct communication. Providers must recognize the intensified human component of healthcare today, understanding that the needs and emotions of patients have amplified due to fears emanating from the pandemic, resulting in more questions to be answered and more expectations for guidance. With this understanding, providers are maximizing their use of digital and electronic communication solutions to ensure patients are engaged, educated and assured in the ways they need.
To enhance engagement between on-site providers and off-site patients, urgent care providers can harness technology to stay connected with their patients before, during, and after a visit. For example, by using online surveys as a timely follow-up, providers can quickly gauge patient satisfaction levels and patients are able to share feedback with ease. For urgent care practitioners, access to a comprehensive suite of solutions and EMR can facilitate operations including ePrescribing, charting, and retrieving patient information. Through administering digital services that make it easy to collect visit reviews and patient feedback data, providers can see what works well and what needs to be adjusted at their clinic to ensure patients feel positive about their visits on a consistent basis.
Transparency is also key to gain the trust of patients, and can be also achieved through patient portals and EMR software, which provide a seamless care path that is approachable and user-friendly. Text-based surveys and virtual wait rooms also offer patients insight into operations, which can provide them the assurance needed around any hesitations with seeking care. Finally, technology can uphold safety measures by reducing errors and securing patient information. With an integrated suite of software solutions, urgent cares can gather and interpret data to better understand the wants and needs of patients and unearth new ways of improving experiences while ensuring their concerns are being addressed. The adoption of technology goes beyond streamlining overall workflow processes – implementing digital tools enables providers to better serve patients and ensure safety.
Technology plays a necessary role in transforming healthcare, and the rapid implementation of digital solutions and tools following the COVID-19 pandemic attests to this. Patients, like consumers in all other industries, make decisions based on their feelings. In urgent care, these feelings are shaped by more external factors than ever. Evolving alongside patient expectations and introducing effective patient engagement solutions in the urgent care setting not only helps providers manage the patient experience, but it can also have a significant effect on patient outcomes – the best of both worlds.
Article By: Tim Dybvig