In the United States, we have certain expectations as consumers. We expect to shop around, read reviews, and select the best-performing and most cost-effective product. We can do this in essentially everything we want to buy, from a new television set to a vacation package. There’s plenty of information available to us so that we can make an informed decision. Yet, when it comes to the most important service of all – our health – we can’t shop around, so to speak. Consumers of healthcare – patients – are limited to picking a physician within their insurance network. Or be limited to only doctors they can afford. When they do go, they blindly accept the treatment plan outlined to them by a physician, without knowing what it might cost in the end. Yet, today more and more technologies are emerging that give patients the tools they need to make more informed decisions about their healthcare. These tools range from public physician reviews, online scheduling, text reminders about appointments or medication refills, and even digital access to review their own medical records. Are you making these tools available to your patients? Here are the pros and cons of improving patient access in your practice and why it is important to do so.
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Why Improving Patient Access is Important
There are many meanings to patient access, from their proximity to the hospital to affordability. In this article, patient access means how patients can access information or data about their healthcare. Therefore, an increase in patient access will help patients feel more in control of their healthcare experience and its outcome. Today patients are engaging with their healthcare more so than ever before. A study conducted by tech company IBM found that each person will generate enough health data in their lifetime to fill 300 million books thanks to modern technology. During the past two years, people have collected more data about their health than they have in all of human history. IBM predicts that by 2020, medical data could double every 73 days. Now, for the first time, humans can process all of this data and actually use it to better themselves.
But why does this matter? First of all, improving patient access to healthcare data gives patients more control and gets them more invested in their treatment plans and their preventive care. In a perfectly stated quote published on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website, Dr. Mary P. Griskewicz said, “There’s a gap in educating patients that they have a right to their health information and need to become active participants in their health care.”
When patients become active participants in their healthcare, everyone benefits. The patients feel better, and physicians have an easier time getting their patients to a point where they experience true, whole-body wellness. There are so many tools out there that can help you improve patient access at your practice, from those that measure and monitor the workflow in your practice to help your office assistant schedule and better identify patient symptoms before their appointment. Yet, like everything else in life, more knowledge can be a good or a bad thing. There are definitely pros and cons to consider when it comes to improving patient access. Below is an outline of three pros and cons for you to think about when taking steps to improve patient access in your practice.
Three Pros of Improving Patient Access
Increased Patient Satisfaction.
The first benefit of improving patient access is related to patient satisfaction. It is likely that by having more knowledge and control of their healthcare, your patients will feel more satisfied with the care that you provide to them. When there are fewer unknowns in the care management process, and patients don’t feel in the dark about what’s happening, that control gives them comfort. Many times, patients don’t see the whole picture or understand why something is happening. The more they understand what you’re doing and why they have more peace in accepting what is coming next.
The second benefit to improving patient access in your practice is improving your communication with patients. This is especially relevant to those patients who are chronically ill. Chronically ill patients require a lot more attention and feedback. Naturally, when people are very sick, there’s a lot more medication, testing, and data to keep track of. Being able to digitally get this information to your patients to read it and reread it is a huge benefit for them and you. It means fewer phone calls explaining the information over again. It means your patient can double-check it, show it to their family members, or even seek advice from other physicians who may be involved in their care.
Before the days of electronic health records, all patient charts were on paper. Let’s face it – those paper charts were transferred to the electronic health records, but how accurately? Patients who received a diagnosis years ago may not be noted on their medical records today. Giving patients access to their health records and medical information can actually save you time and money in the long run. When patients can see their own information, they often catch mistakes or inaccuracies regarding their medical history, their family’s medical history, or what medication they’re taking or have taken in the past. Improving accuracy in your medical charts is a huge incentive to improve patient access to their electronic medical records.
Now that we’ve discussed the top benefits of improving patient access let’s explore the negative aspects of patient portals.
Three Cons of Improving Patient Access
Obviously, when we put such sensitive information on a digital platform, no matter how good our cybersecurity is, there’s always that small chance that the data could get hacked. This is a huge con to improving patient access in your practice. Although it shouldn’t deter you from improving patient access, it should entice you to make sure you do so smartly and safely. Do your research, and make sure you know how to keep your medical records safe from hackers. You might wonder why someone would want a stranger’s medical records. Well, it turns out that stolen medical records are often more valuable in the black market than stolen credit cards. Medical records contain a lot of personal information about a person and all in one place – often their payment method, full name, birth date, address – giving more ammo to people who are looking to commit fraud.
How to prevent medical hacking
Here are five tips for protecting your practice against criminal computer hackers:
- Educate your staff on how to use the software properly and how people hack into systems. Your staff needs to be aware of where the weak spots are.
- Keep your software up-to-date so that it’s less at risk of being hacked.
- Change your password frequently. This one can be annoying, but as with your personal accounts, don’t use the same password for all of your accounts.
- Limit access to the software. When there are too many people logging in and out, this increases your risk of being hacked.
- Have a plan in place so that if you are hacked, you know what to do next. For example, you’ll have to notify your patients that their information was hacked. They’re likely going to be very upset, which can be a tedious and messy fix on many levels.
Patient engagement is probably the biggest con in increasing patient access, and that can be disheartening. The struggle to get patients to participate in an online access portal in the first place is the biggest challenge practices face. That’s why when you do launch any new service to improve patient access, you have to sell it hard to your patients, and not just one time. Please continue to encourage them to use it, again and again. Once patients get in the habit of using a patient portal, they will see the perks it offers, and they will be more likely to continue using it.
How to get patients engaged in your patient portal
Here are four tips for getting and keeping your patients more engaged in their healthcare:
- If you show your patients the patient portal in person, you’re more likely to get them to use it. By explaining how to use the portal and giving them a login and password right away, they’ll be more likely to log in again later.
- Make sure that patients understand the benefits of logging into a patient portal. It’s not enough to tell your patients that you have the portal and what information they can access by logging in. You should also explain how having access to that information will benefit them.
- Give your patients a financial incentive. Let’s face it. One way to get people motivated is to bribe them. Some practices successfully launch patient portals by offering patients a small discount off of their next visit if they sign up to use the patient portal.
- Don’t give up. Once you launch your patient portal, don’t give up… even if the response isn’t as positive as you hoped it would be. Make sure you have a marketing strategy in place that includes an initial launch and then long-term promotion. Some ideas include signage around the office, mentioning the portal during every visit, and even sending your patients information about the online patient portal in the mail.
We all agree that we want patients to shop around for their healthcare and make informed decisions about what doctor they see. Tech tools such as ZocDoc allow them to do that. ZocDoc is an app that lets users schedule their medical care appointments online. It also allows patients to post public reviews of physicians. This is all great until someone leaves a negative review about you or your practice. Now, not only do you have to fix your relationship with the patient in question, but the negative review can harm future patient relationships. This is a risk that you take when you increase patient access. Not only are you allowing more access to information and giving patients more control of that information, but increasing patient access to information also means that the patient can make information public. So, what can you do about negative patient reviews?
How to handle negative reviews from your patients
Here are five steps that you should take if you receive a negative online review from your patients.
- Please don’t ignore them. The worst thing you can do is to ignore negative feedback. You definitely want to address it and quickly. The longer you wait to respond, the more time it leaves for other patients to chime in or for rumors to start. Poorly managed referrals can cost your healthcare practice.
- Don’t respond aggressively. Although you want to respond right away, you don’t want to respond in anger. Find a polite and calm way to thank your patients for their feedback, no matter how negative or untrue it may be. The idea is not to add fuel to the fire but to acknowledge the patient’s concern and gently put the fire out.
- Take it offline. Once you respond politely publicly, keep this calm approach but take the conversation offline. Whatever the situation needs to be resolved, it’s between you and your patient, not you, the patient, and the internet. You’ll get more accomplished by confronting them one on one. Plus, it will give you the chance to handle the situation uniquely instead of having cookie-cutter responses to a variety of feedback you receive. People who take time out of their day to leave a review often don’t respond well to generic and impersonal responses.
- Consider what you can learn from the feedback. Even if you find the feedback to be untrue or exaggerated, try to put yourself in your patient’s shoes. What happened that lead them to leave a negative review? Although it may not be true, something happened that led the patient to feel that way and feel the need to write. No matter what, there’s always something you can learn from all of the feedback you receive.
- Keep putting your practice out there. Lastly, just because you received negative feedback doesn’t mean that you should take your entire practice offline and go back to the dark ages. It actually means the opposite. People are paying attention, so now it’s time to put out even more information. Engage with patients on social media. Write informative blogs. Do whatever you can to create valuable content on the internet that puts your practice in a positive light. That way, even when a few negative reviews come through, your industry expertise will hopefully drown them out.
How has your practice increased patient access? What are the benefits or negatives that you’ve noticed so far? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!