By Alan Knitowski
As patients have begun to choose and engage their health care providers in new and increasingly flexible ways, innovation has become a hot-button issue in the health care industry. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, patients can shop for their health care provider like they shop for a restaurant or a spa. And thanks to recent changes like the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores, provider reimbursement is now directly tied to patient experience and satisfaction. As a result, health care executives face newer, bigger challenges than ever before.
Just as retailers endure the challenges of finding and keeping customers, health care providers are seeking more effective ways to win and retain patients. And, like retailers, many health care providers have turned to mobile for a boost, both in patient satisfaction and the bottom line.
Quality Care Starts Before the Appointment
Contrary to popular belief, a positive patient experience doesn’t start inside the doctor’s office. While warm greetings, short waiting times, efficiency and expertise remain at the core of quality customer service, a truly engaging experience starts before the patient steps through the door. And, at its most basic, that means helping patients remember their appointments and locate their doctors’ offices.
In 2010, the James J. Peters VA Medical Center launched a “Don’t Be A No-Show” campaign, not only to remind veterans of the importance of keeping appointments, but to combat the U.S. health care system’s enormous financial losses due to missed appointments — approximately $150 billion per year.
But, with mobile technology helping providers proactively address many root causes of these missed appointments, no-show patients are finding fewer and fewer reasons to renege. For instance, wayfinding apps are making struggles to find the right location — or a place to park — a thing of the past by providing turn-by-turn navigation from the home to the appointment. Mobile also allows more effective appointment reminders that aren’t as easily overlooked as emails, which tend to get lost in crowded inboxes. These developments make appointments run more smoothly for patients, and increase efficiency for providers—ultimately reducing the cost of health care for consumers.
Conversely, what happens after a patient leaves an appointment is equally crucial. Once a patient pays the bill and picks up the prescription, the traditional next step is to return the file to the drawer until their next appointment months later. But the gap between appointments is more than just weeks on a calendar — it’s an opportunity to add tremendous value and drive healthy outcomes between appointments.
Health care providers can use mobile to continue engaging the customer between appointments by following up with scheduling reminders or medication instructions. Mobile also enables deeper patient-provider relationships by offering information on nutrition and exercise, flu vaccination reminders and useful tips for protecting against nasty bugs or emergency situations — all in one central, portable hub. Patients no longer have to sift through WebMD for answers to their questions and, as a result, they feel better informed and better prepared.
Providers can take another cue from the hospitality and retail industries — they can leverage their apps to gain insight into their performance to ensure they’re satisfying the customers who are more and more likely to shop around for health care. Mobile patient feedback platforms, for example, give providers direct and actionable feedback on the patient experience to drive better care, better outcomes and better reimbursement.
To Innovation and Beyond
The reality is that health care is catching up with its consumer industry counterparts, with technology and mobile tools — from apps to wearables to telemedicine — driving improvements benefitting both providers and patients. For the first time, patients have a way to plan ahead, voice feedback and access key information, all in the swipe of a screen. And as investments in these spheres increase, it will be critical to measure the short and long-term impact for providers and patients alike.
Today’s providers have to take action on the growing demand for digital integrations that improve the entire patient journey — from everyday office visits to emergency medical situations. And with a phone in every pocket, mobile is quickly shifting from a supplemental approach to a non-negotiable.
Alan S. Knitowski is Chairman & CEO of Phunware, Inc. He is a successful serial entrepreneur with multiple exits over a 15-year period to companies including Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO), Level 3 Communications (NASDAQ: LVLT) and Internet Security Systems (now NYSE: IBM). Alan was a 2014 Finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award for Central Texas and has been a Founder, Executive, Angel Investor and Fund Manager throughout his career in the private sector after serving in the United States Army as an Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger qualified Captain in the Corps of Engineers.