By Sandra Scott
The implementation of electronic medical records and electronic health records ushered in a new era of digital communication between physician and patient. Although we can reflect upon the merits as well as the disadvantages of these systems, the fact remains that the most recent data from the CDC shows that almost 86% of office-based physicians use them. Given the adaptation of this technology, how can it best serve your practice goals, and should it be your only investment in marketing your practice?
Do more with your integrated system
The adoption of EMRs and EHRs not only provided a valuable opportunity for practice physicians to securely share electronic information with patients and other clinicians, it also provided an opportunity for innovation — integrated systems. Integrated systems offer scheduling, billing, practice management software, referral management, patient portals, and so much more. Given increasing demands on physicians, these integrations have proven to increase practice efficiencies as well as reduce costs overall. However, more is required of your integrated system if your practice is going to survive and thrive in the next normal.
In the fall of 2019, I spoke with a highly successful and well-regarded physician who wanted to expand the practice and increase patient census. However, this physician also did not want to invest in any additional marketing efforts for fear of “negatively affecting patient volume” given the investment in the practice’s existing integrated system. The idea that additional marketing efforts would thwart an existing integrated platform is errant. Your integrated platform can do more to advance your patient census than push notifications to confirm or cancel an appointment.
Examine the capabilities of your existing platform. Are you using it to its fullest beyond appointment reminders and billing? Do you have an integrated plan which supplements your EHR integration and effectively markets your practice both online and off to your current and future patient population? Does your integration provide you with tools that aid you in making informed decisions about next steps in your practice’s growth?
As regulatory changes brought about EHRs, thus affecting practice management, so too did the pandemic. Before COVID-19, practices relying solely on integrated platforms to deliver a better patient experience or increase census were leaving opportunities for growth in both areas on the table. The sole reliance on an integrated platform will serve no purpose to increase patient volume unless you make the system work for you.
One way to maximize your integrated EHR platform is by optimizing your patient portal. In 2019 CMS approved five new reimbursement codes, which allow physicians to be paid for remote patient monitoring including e-visits. Depending upon your platform, you can offer e-visits through your patient portal for established patients. It’s important to ensure your patients are aware of and have access to the patient portal for your practice. Not only does this feature allow for a better physician to patient relationship, it places your patients in control of their treatments, provides them with access to their health information, and is one way you can increase patient engagement, compliance, and satisfaction.
Pro Tip #1: Make your integrated platform work for you to increase patient census by investing in your website. Ask your agency to analyze your site’s performance pertaining to page views, sessions, users, acquisition, and bounce rates, and to provide suggestions for month-over-month improvement. Pay special attention to keyword performance and how your practice ranks among your competitors. If your integrated system is tied to your website, you can review click-to-call rates and new patient conversions. Install a heat map on your website to learn more about your user experience and whether your website provides answers to the questions patients and caregivers are looking for.
Telehealth has been around for decades with claims growing more and more in recent years. However, COVID-19 brought it to the forefront making it the primary source of delivering care for millions of people. Practices that relied exclusively on in-person office visits found themselves unable to meet the needs of their patients with the government-mandated quarantine while others struggled to keep their doors open, working as quickly as possible to overhaul practices to provide virtual visits.
Practices with a telemedicine program, however, easily adapted, increasing existing infrastructure to meet the needs of their patients and the demand within the general population. “Telemedicine, pre-COVID, was packaged as just another way to deliver care in the modern age. Telemedicine in the day of COVID is now a necessary way to deliver care,” says Mike Martinez, PA, telemedicine expert for WellMed/OptumCare, Gonzaba Urgent Care, and FetchMD in San Antonio, Texas.
According to Mr. Martinez, his practices “adapted so very quickly to the rapid incoming information to be able to stay open and fulfill their number one mission: To take care of patients.” Pre-COVID, Mr. Martinez describes his efforts to help patients via telemedicine as “painfully slow” as he would “cold call patients off PMLs (patient member lists).” During this time, Mr. Martinez found a “70% acceptance rate among patients to enroll in his practices’ telemedicine programs among patients age 18-65. Among patients 65-75 there was a 45% acceptance rate and only 25% among patients 75 or older due to lack of interest, ability to afford, or knowledge to use the technology. Enter March 2020 with COVID and the program took off. I went from calling patients one by one to training our Wellmed providers on our telemedicine platform.”
One of the practices Mr. Martinez works with served four patients via telemedicine in January of this year and just three months later, that number grew to more than 20,000. Practices today have a profound opportunity to adopt a telehealth program that meets the needs of their existing and future patient population. Mr. Martinez agrees encouraging practices to “adopt an affordable and HIPAA compliant telehealth platform [that has] a user friendly and intuitive interface, no matter the age of the intended population.”
Telemedicine is now the norm and your competition isn’t just physicians or specialists in a primary market area, it’s the entire nation in a physician’s field of practice. Physicians can learn from the pandemic adapting to the next normal while delivering a better patient experience and growing practice census.
When asked about his patients’ feedback, Mr. Martinez says “it’s beyond satisfying and heartwarming to see an elderly patient feel really good about the experience they had from a telehealth encounter. By the end of the visit, many of our elderly patients are quite excited about the experience and seem rightfully proud of themselves.”
Practices that proactively embrace technology and adapt to their patients’ needs will find their practice thriving with satisfied customers who will tell others about their experiences.
Pro Tip #2: Focus on your message. Who is your primary and secondary target audience and what do they need to know about your practice and your care? When is it appropriate to have an in-person visit vs a telehealth visit and how can you make the customer experience not just pleasant, but great? Is helpful, key information like your procedures exhibited on your website or in your marketing collateral? Is it clear and concise?
In today’s environment, it is important to market convenience and safety. Help your patients see the value of being in the comfort of their own home without the need to spend several hours of their day dedicated to a medical appointment. Patients can also feel secure knowing they reduce their risk and exposure to illnesses as they do not need to sit in a waiting room with other patients who may be ill. Ensure your website and marketing collateral speak to the benefits as well as the features your practice provides.
Philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus is attributed to having said “life is flux” or as you may also have heard, “the only constant is change.” Medical care and how it is delivered will continue to evolve. To meet the needs of your patients your practice will need to evolve with it understanding that advancements are only as good as our ability to embrace and use them.