Healthcare executives have been talking about the digital transformation of the industry for nearly a decade. Until recently, the journey toward adopting a high-tech, high-touch patient experience was slow and disjointed. Independent healthcare practices often believed the shift would be too time-consuming or cost-prohibitive.
Yet, when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, many practices had to change their business operation almost instantly amid a scurry of COVID-19-related protocols, guidelines, and regulations. Not surprisingly, practices that had already begun integrating digital tools into their day fared better than competitors who hadn’t.
In many cases, these practices had digital tools in place they could implement in response to the spread of COVID-19. They offered telehealth to continue care, and digital registration and intake to help shrink wait times (and bypass the waiting room during COVID-19). They employed email and text messaging as patient communication tools, to quickly share changes and allay patients’ fears about COVID-19.
Today, as we appear near the end of the pandemic in the U.S., we know healthcare practices that use technology effectively can foster practice growth while enhancing the patient experience. But, what makes the technology effective in the first place. What defines a good healthcare technology product for busy healthcare practices?
To answer these questions, PatientPop head of content strategy Norm Schrager talks with Irshad Syed, senior director of product. Syed shares some important considerations on what makes a healthcare technology worth a practice’s time and investment.
Watch the video and, to learn more, see the expanded transcript of the entire interview below.
In your career, you've helped develop technology tools for health insurance, and now physician practices and dental practices. When you think about what makes a good healthcare tech product, what are the three or four must-haves that should be in every product for a practice or provider?
Irshad Syed: There are certain product rates that are applicable across any genre. The first rule of product is, when you’re making any product — whether it’s healthcare or not healthcare — is solving a problem that users define, not something that a product manager defines. So, create a product that solves an actual problem.
The second thing, or the most important thing, is you need to create a product that meets the user where they are. What I mean by this is when we are building healthcare products, we are building for a patient base, which is as young as a 15-year old, all the way to a 70-year old. So, we need to ensure that the UX is so easy that any patient can find it very easy to use.
To add a couple of other things: We need to ensure that the new product is part of the existing workflow. So, if you’re creating a product, and it’s only a point solution that stays away from the current workflow, it’s very hard to get adoption. But if you create a product which is part of the workflow, it becomes very easy for the users to adopt.
The final point, and the most important point for healthcare, is patient data. We need to ensure that the patient data is protected at all times.
What do you think physicians and front-desk staff are looking for in a product that helps them manage their practice?
I think physicians are looking for products that will help their front office. To understand what the front office needs is really important, to understand a typical goal for front office personnel at any given time.
You’re at the front desk, helping patients who are in the waiting room. You’re letting them check in, taking their insurance information. Then, potentially calling the insurance company to verify the insurance covers a particular service. At the same time, another patient might complete their visit. At that time, you’re collecting payments.
When you are helping patients, it is very easy for a new patient to call you to schedule an appointment or to call you to reschedule an appointment.
There are so many tasks done by a front office person, and they are all done for the patient’s convenience. So practices are looking for tools to automate some of that stuff. That way it’s easier for front office personnel.
Looking ahead, what do you think healthcare practices are going to need from a technology product in the next one, three, five years. What are you seeing in what you’re doing?
First of all, the whole digital transformation that is happening — that was happening for the last five years — I feel it’s significantly accelerated during COVID and expect that to continue. So, we will see a high adoption of telehealth and text messaging.
One problem that I’m really working on right now: generally, when anyone calls the practice phones, they are either on hold because the front office is helping someone else, or they are directed to voicemail because the front office is busy with something else. Then when anyone leaves any message on voicemail, it takes at least a day or two days just to respond to that voicemail.
So, we are coming up with a new product where we can help the front office reduce some of the phone calls, preferably deflect some of the phone calls to text messaging. That way, if a patient prefers text messaging, they always have an option to text other than leaving a voicemail.
And that option is made available to them, even if they’re calling.
Exactly. As soon as the patient calls, they will get an option. “Hey, we have an offer for you to text if you prefer texting.” If they say yes, then there are back-and-forth two-way text messages. It’s all about patient preference, the patient always in control. Some patients prefer talking to someone and some patients prefer texting. We want to just make it as easy as possible for the patient.
When looking at the PatientPop platform, which aspects are bringing the most benefit to practices and patients?
I think the first thing to know about PatientPop is that it’s not a point solution. It’s a completely integrated solution. And we integrate with the practice’s EMR so there is no additional work for the front office. One product I request all practices to enable is online scheduling. Patients want to book at their convenience and for some patients, it can be middle of the night. You need to allow them to book the appointment at that time. So, I encourage every practice to enable online booking.
The second is the online intake form. As soon as a patient books the appointment, you want to collect their insurance information. You want to collect everything that you want to know about the patient at that particular time. Now, the obvious benefit is when the patient comes for a visit, you’re not waiting for the patient to then give you insurance information and then call the insurance company. You can call the insurance company a day before the appointment. That way it’s very easy for the patient.
The third thing: appointment reminders. We have automated appointment reminders that we send patients a day before the appointment, and on the day of the appointment. We need practices to use that feature rather than having their front office manually call people or manually text people for appointment reminders.
The last is that the patient is completely in charge. If patients prefer a telehealth visit, you should offer it. In the end, I feel like there is this massive push towards text messaging. A lot of patients these days, when you leave a voicemail, it’s usually listened to in a day or two. But when you send a text message, people look at that text message within the first five minutes or so. So there’s a higher response rate. That’s another feature that practices can use right now to become more efficient.
It sounds like the magic intersection is where the most productive elements for the practice meet the easiest conveniences for the patients.
Absolutely right. Make it easy for the patient? That automatically makes it easy for the practice. That’s perfect.