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Helping practices become more efficient in a period of difficult staffing

Insight Article - February 24, 2022

Business Operations Technology

Patient Care Technology

Practice Efficiency

Monica Bolbjerg MD
Burnout, exposure, and illness have taken their toll on care teams over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The escalating crisis in staffing began in March 2020, when about 40% of practices reported staffing shortages. By September 2021, 76% of respondents indicated that their practice had to make operational changes due to staff retention challenges.
 
The staffing crisis will likely continue to challenge healthcare organizations after the pandemic ends. Reuters reports that rates of nurses who intend to leave the profession have doubled to 20% to 30% according to recent research by the International Council of Nurses. Many anticipate that the pressure on care teams will be exacerbated by increased demand for primary care services as patients re-engage in care after deferring health screenings, procedures, and treatments over the past two years.
 
Hospitals and practices across the nation are taking steps to help address these issues and reinforce staff well-being and retention. Mental health support, pay increases, and more flexible or remote work opportunities are a few of the tactics that healthcare organizations are employing to retain and reduce the stress levels of healthcare workers. Organizations are also increasingly leaning on technology resources to drive efficiency and reduce the burden on care teams while ensuring that patient access and high-quality care remain top priorities.

Leveraging digital health technologies to maximize staff resources

Healthcare has long been viewed as a laggard in IT adoption compared to other industries. One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it accelerated the pace of health IT adoption as providers sought avenues to facilitate remote engagement with patients isolating at home. The relatively recent embrace of telehealth validated the feasibility of digital health tools, leading to greater patient and provider trust in these resources.
 
In many ways, technology’s potential within the healthcare industry parallels what has been achieved in the airline industry. Much of what was traditionally handled face to face can be accomplished online or at kiosks. Despite the consumer shift away from in-person and phone-based interaction in favor of more web-based engagement, consumers feel more connected than ever before. Consumer autonomy and the ability to engage after hours improves experience, satisfaction, and loyalty.
 
In healthcare, we have a similar opportunity. Many tools implemented during the pandemic to support virtual patient engagement can also improve the experience of healthcare providers. At a time when staff shortages are putting unprecedented pressure on provider organizations, digital engagement tools support three important goals:
  1. They offer greater convenience to patients.
  2. They free up bandwidth by automating common tasks.
  3. They enable remote workforce opportunities.
 
Patient self-service tools empower patients to field routine tasks that could easily be completed at home independently. This frees up vital practice personnel for other responsibilities. These resources deliver greater access and convenience to patients and offset workloads for overburdened care teams. Self-service digital engagement broadens the scope of interaction with patients in a way that enhances rather than disrupts the workflows of clinicians. The key to success is figuring out how digital health engagement gets woven into existing clinical workflows beyond telehealth.
                      
From contactless check-in to online balance checks, here are four practical and immediate steps providers can take to save valuable time and resources using patient self-service digital health tools.
 

1. Give patients the power to schedule (and reschedule) appointments online

Providers can take a more proactive approach to scheduling by equipping patients with digital engagement tools that allow them to self-schedule at their convenience. Patients can identify and select an appointment at a time they know they can commit to, or quickly reschedule through their smartphone without interrupting valuable staff time. Online self-scheduling can also reduce no-shows, keep the calendar moving, and give administrative staff more freedom to focus on other tasks — all of which saves time and boosts revenue.
 

2. Enable contactless digital check-in before entering the clinic

Digital check-in capabilities similarly reduce workloads for front desk staff. It also reduces exposure for patients and employees. Patients can use digital tools to check in remotely from home or, if needed, from the parking lot and wait for permission to enter the building, allowing providers to control the number of people in any given space. Since patients have completed their pre-visit paperwork at home, this process takes a fraction of the typical time, freeing up staff members to attend to other tasks — it can even be managed by staff working from home.
 

3. Collect clinical data in advance

Using a digital health platform to update medications, fill out screeners, health history, review of systems (ROS) and history of present illness (HPI) ahead of a visit gives patients the opportunity to enter their data from anywhere. Pre-visit data verification is essential for avoiding confusion and streamlining intake. It’s also a great way to avoid hundreds of thousands of clicks for staff. When patients input information on an integrated platform, data is seamlessly captured, avoiding paper documents and rekeying.
 

4. Send pre-visit prep instructions automatically

Many consults and procedures require patients to take specific actions beforehand, whether it’s fasting, arranging a ride home, or bringing certain information to the appointment. If patients fail to follow prep instructions, the visit may have to be rescheduled, which results in lost revenue and delayed care. But with digital communication, pre-visit instructions can automatically be sent to the patient, ensuring the delivery of important information in a timely manner. By making certain that patients are informed in advance, staff members can prevent potentially costly and disruptive events on the day of the appointment.
 

Putting our best foot forward

Digital-first engagement enables patients to use their own smartphones, tablets, or home computers to interact with their providers before and after in-office visits. By empowering patients with self-service digital engagement tools to register and check-in prior to their appointment, healthcare organizations can reduce pressure on limited resources and create positive experiences for all. Digital health technologies also lay the groundwork for enhanced clinical insight beyond brick-and-mortar encounters.
 
Offering on-demand and scheduled telehealth visits was just the beginning of the evolution of digital health. Broader use of self-service solutions creates greater efficiencies in our work and expands our ability to reach and interact with patients in meaningful ways. This improves the patient and clinician experience, closes care gaps, and enhances clinical insight between office visits.
 
We now know that most patients will, and prefer to, use digital engagement tools from the comfort of their home and more and more organizations are now implementing this at scale. We need to continue to rethink how we deliver care. Our providers deserve it, our teams are depending on it, and our patients are craving it. The innovative technology exists, and sooner or later every healthcare practice and hospital will adopt these necessary tools. As we continue this transition into a new age of healthcare, the bold decision-makers and their patients will see the greatest return on their investments.
 

About the Author

Monica Bolbjerg
Monica Bolbjerg MD
Founder and CEO Qure4u

Monica Bolbjerg is a doctor, an entrepreneur, and a digital health pioneer. As a young physician, Dr. Bolbjerg noticed the lack of tools available to engage with and help patients beyond episodic, in-person encounters. That experience ignited her passion to create digital health solutions that enable patient/provider engagement between office visits, improving patient experience and outcomes and helping providers drive efficiency and enhance clinical insight. As co-founder and CEO of Qure4u, Dr. Bolbjerg is committed to continuing to revolutionize the delivery of patient-centric care.
Contact Dr. Bolbjerg at monica@qure4u.com.

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