Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, “business as usual” has taken on a whole new meaning for healthcare providers.
From shifting government mandates, evolving payer policies, staffing shortages, remote work and a crash course in telehealth, providers at times have felt they have endured a decade of change in just two years. Many of the changes in healthcare — such as the movement toward delivering more care to patients in their homes — are likely to stay, according to a report from consulting firm BCG. The report also revealed that two-thirds of healthcare executives believe their organization has significantly or moderately changed as a result of COVID-19.
Similarly, another of the greatest industry shifts concerns consumer behavior. As a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and increased comfort with online options in other industries such as retail and banking, patients developed greater comfort and facility with digital patient-engagement tools, including patient-self-scheduling capabilities for appointments, digital payments, online pre-service check-in and post-visit payment plan options.
Indeed, more than 30% of providers say that patients’ use of digital and diagnostic tools is common now, compared with only 17% before the pandemic, according to BCG. Digital patient engagement is “here to stay” in part because an increasing amount of patients' care journeys now start with digital interaction at the front door, according to the report.
These six digital tools that grew increasingly popular with consumers during the pandemic are likely to maintain momentum in a post-pandemic world:
1. Digital wallets
Mobile versions of patients’ financial accounts that are accessible via smart devices and computers, digital wallets may be used at payment terminals or via apps and websites. Well-known examples include Apple Pay and Google Pay.
Consumers have embraced digital wallets primarily because of their convenience, replacing cash and credits cards with a fast, easy and secure payment option. For providers, digital wallets eliminate paper, driving cost savings and reducing paperwork for staff.
From dinner reservations to oil changes to hair appointments, consumers have grown accustomed to and, in some cases, expect self-service scheduling options. Providers who offer patients the ability to self-schedule appointments online, rather than requiring patients to call during office hours, reduce barriers to care access and improve patient satisfaction.
Self-scheduling tools enable patients to submit their personal information, reducing errors that can occur with telephone miscommunication. Additionally, the digital nature of self-scheduling provides more privacy for patients when sharing sensitive health information with staff, especially for those who must schedule appointments while at work and in earshot of colleagues, for example.
3. Automated appointment reminders
Providers can use digital tools to set up recurring, automated reminders delivered to patients at pre-specified times prior to appointments, such as two days or one week. By catering to patients’ individual preferences— text message, email, or phone call, for example — providers boost engagement and satisfaction.
Automated appointment reminders also help practices protect revenues by delivering well-timed messages that prompt patients to show up for appointments, resulting in fewer empty time slots. For example, if a patient is unable to make an appointment, the automated reminder prompts her to inform the practice, enabling staff to learn about the missed appointment sooner, giving them more time to fill the available slot.
4. Digital check-in
Patients love the convenience of being able to check in on their mobile phone to complete all paperwork and clinical intake information necessary for their visit. This includes completing disclosures, policies and required consents (HIPAA, financial policies, etc.) and all clinical information (medical history, screeners, family history, surgical history, allergies and medications).
5. Digital billing
Text-to-pay and email-to-pay options make it more convenient for patients to view their statements and pay their bills. Providers benefit from significantly reducing their cost of mailing paper statements and labor-intensive processes such as calling patients about balances due, manually processing mailed payments and posting payments into their practice management system (PMS).
6. Post-visit payment plans
Flexible payment plans help patients manage the often-significant expense and uncertainty of medical bills. By offering patients flexible payment options, providers can improve collections and reduce the amount of bad debt sent to collection agencies. Integration with EHRs prevents double-posting of charges and improves the patient experience through better price transparency in patient portals.
As the world adjusts to a new normal and COVID-19 eventually transitions from a pandemic to an endemic, providers will need to consider which healthcare changes represent blips on the radar and which are likely to endure. Providers seeking to boost efficiencies and meet patient expectations of a more modern consumer experience should consider the flexibility and convenience of digital patient-engagement tools.