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Using healthcare IT to improve patient access

Enhancing scheduling can boost patient engagement and satisfaction.

Overview

Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) to a hospital/healthcare CEO survey say that “patient experience and satisfaction” is among their top three priorities in the next three years.1

Yet Accenture research shows providers falling short in meeting customer expectations in appointment scheduling—the first opportunity to create satisfying patient experiences. As today’s healthcare consumers look beyond clinical care to select doctors, will poor scheduling have big consequences for providers?

To better understand provider scheduling, Accenture made more than 1,000 phone calls to schedule appointments across various specialties in 28 hospital systems in five US metropolitan areas. The experience revealed that providers trail other industries in basic customer service metrics during scheduling:2

1 HealthLeaders Media, CEO Report: Optimism on the Upswing, January 2013
2 Cross-industry averages and best practice benchmarks provided by Benchmark Portal, All Industries Benchmark Report: Best-in-Class Call Center Performance, May 2013

Background

Healthcare reform and the digital revolution have transformed patients into healthcare consumers. They are shopping for and selecting caregivers based on service and price, not just quality of care. As such, providers must address patient service and satisfaction as competitive differentiators in the new marketplace.

Not only do patients demand a more active role in their care, they expect health IT tools that enable ready access. Such technology is readily available in other industries with complex scheduling systems, such as airlines or restaurants, even dental or primary care.

Providers must recognize that healthcare consumers will not tolerate unwieldy scheduling calls. With the potential to bear more out-of-pocket expenses in today’s post healthcare reform environment, patients will look to measures beyond quality of care—such as convenience of access—in selecting their doctors.

Analysis

Recommendations

Without making changes in the appointment scheduling process, providers can expect the patient experience to continue to deteriorate, potentially driving people to seek treatment elsewhere—or even not at all—which can impact health outcomes and revenue.

Forward-thinking providers are making inroads. Some are developing health IT solutions that understand patient conditions and match them with right-skilled providers. Centralizing call centers helps agents schedule appointments across systems, reducing hold times and transfers. Training and scripting standardize patient experiences. Providers are also empowering people with digital scheduling tools, simultaneously giving them the control they want and reducing call volume.

Patient satisfaction can often begin with scheduling. With demand rising for patient access, providers must act now to get first impressions right before consumers walk in—and revenue walks out.


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