Michele Perry, MBA is CEO of Relatient of Franklin, TN.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
Relatient is based in Franklin, Tennessee, and was started in 2014. Our name is a combination of “relate” and “patient,” relating to the patient. We are 100% focused on patient outreach and engagement, and it reflects in our name. We do this only for healthcare. We get calls all the time to see if we do this for prisons, courts, schools and everything else, but we are focused on patient engagement.
I joined in 2017. I replaced the original founding CEO. I’m a Saas software solutions veteran. I focus on high-growth companies.
I’m not a Nashville native, which you’ve probably already heard based on the lack of R’s in my vocabulary. I’m originally from Massachusetts and have spent time in New York, California, and Virginia. I was in Annapolis, Maryland for the 20 years before I took this job.
Are hospitals and practices wrong in thinking that all consumers really want is a patient portal?
Patient portals served an important purpose. They were part of the Meaningful Use requirement. But they are not addressing the needs of today’s consumers and patients. Find me a patient who thinks they are.
We compliment a lot of the work that has been done with patient portals and the investments that have been made in them. Lots of times we’ll drive people to things that are stored in a patient portal. But we’re all about using that phone and making it easy for patients.
In this day of the consumerization of healthcare, we all expect to be able to access things easily from our phone. Every day I’m making reservations, planning a flight, calling an Uber, checking my bank balance, and Venmo-ing money to my kids. You can do it with just a couple of clicks. Try to make a doctor’s appointment, check for your lab results, or register for that appointment while you actually have the medicine sitting in front of you at home. Try to do any of that stuff and it’s painful.
That’s what we’ve set out to fix. We make it easy for the patient, and if you make it easy for the patient, you make it easy for the practice. We see hospitals and clinics and everybody else wanting to engage with their patients.
What are the ones that are doing a good job doing differently from those that aren’t?
I’d love to say that it’s concentrated in different areas, but it’s not. We are seeing it across all specialties. Nebraska Cancer in the oncology area is using it to reduce no-shows by 47%. I was surprised – don’t cancer patients show up? The answer was that we need to alleviate the confusion around all the different providers and appointments people have during the cancer treatments.
We are co-presenting with Oklahoma Heart at HIMSS on driving patient engagement in a mobile-first market. We have FQHCs like Access Healthcare in Chicago, who wants to be able to message not just about your appointment, but to let you know that the food trucks that take SNAP are going to be there on the day that you are there for your appointment. Pediatrics organizations like Children’s of Colorado are doing interesting things with telehealth and remote access initiatives, reaching out into rural areas. Primary and women’s care, like Seven Hills or South Bend Clinic, are focused in gaps in care and things like that.
What percentage of hospitals and clinics are using electronic appointment reminders?
The first generation of those products was pretty basic, and it’s rare for us to run into somebody who hasn’t put in a first-generation solution. But now that they have it, they’re finding that they can do so much more with that communication. Do I need to fast before my appointment? Do I need to show up extra early for testing?
Some of our large hospitals have 120 kinds of appointment types, each of which require different messaging. They need support for multiple locations, especially now with telehealth and remote health, so they can say, “Your appointment is with Dr. Smith out of the Denver office, but you are going to be in the Grand Junction office.” The second generation of products needs these kinds of communications. But it’s really rare to find someone who hasn’t done a first-generation product, except for some small two- and three-doctor offices.
Why is patient self-scheduling uncommon?
Practices didn’t have it yet. They said, “Oh, we have a scheduler.” But people want to be able to schedule after hours, during lunch, or during conference calls. I want to quickly make that appointment off my phone or off my desktop. I want to be able to do that quickly. People hadn’t set those up.
We also found providers who wanted their front desk people to have ownership of that schedule. We’ve added to our product the ability to have a two-step acceptance. Let me make my appointment at 10:30 at night. When my kid’s not feeling well and I want to make an appointment, let me make that appointment. But let it actually have to be accepted by somebody in the office in the morning. They accept this one, accept that one, and then realize that they’re accepting all of them anyway, so they are comfortable skipping that step. But the ability to have ownership was important for a couple of our providers as we were bringing them on.
On the back end, does someone have to copy-paste from the self-scheduling application into the system that keeps the real schedule?
The way we do it is important. We actually write back into these schedules. People are sometimes kind of scared about it upfront, but then when they see that it works really well, then they give up. But yes, we don’t just send an email that someone has to then set up – we do all the write-backs right into the systems for appointment reminders, scheduling, e-registration, surveys, and all of the other components.
The culture of some hospitals and practices was built around a siege mentality, where patients aren’t allowed to communicate with a provider unless they make a billable appointment and come to the office. Is that changing?
Sometimes you can bill telehealth appointments, to have those paid for. People want to have access to their doctors, so they’re trying to make it easier to do these new types of appointments, because if I don’t make my physicians accessible to you, you’re going to go down the street to the urgent care or some other clinic. They would rather not have them go away to the Walmart clinic, the CVS clinic, or someplace else. They want you to come to their providers.
Your system offers broadcast messaging for unplanned changes to normal operating hours, like weather emergencies. Do practices who don’t have it just update their Facebook page and hope patients check there?
Some of the folks still change their websites or have a message on the answering machines. We have tremendous demand for demand messaging, or the broadcast messaging capability, when you have weather problems, like New England this week or during Hurricane Dorian. But it’s also used for non-weather things, like if a doctor will be out for the next two days on bereavement, or in OB-GYN for messages like, “This doctor was just called in for a delivery. Please call the office before coming to make sure they will be here for your appointment.” Specialists make appointments months ahead, so you have to keep up to make sure that you’re not blasting the whole patient base to get a message to the 20 patients who need it.
What about health campaigns such as disease-specific follow-up or seasonal items like vaccine availability?
There’s nothing we do that you couldn’t do manually, but it takes a lot more effort. Campaigns to close the gaps of care are important, especially in primary, women’s care, and pediatrics. Getting people back in to make sure their kids are getting the right vaccines at the right time.
We’ve learned the hard way how to actually do the notifications. Maybe 3,000 patients haven’t had this particular thing that needs to get done. If we just blast everybody, your call center gets overloaded the next Monday. We do a dribble campaign and send the messages in bunches so they don’t all go out at the same time. We pull the data from the EHR and practice management system, use the campaign to contact those people and get them to make appointments, and with patient self-scheduling, we can send them to the link so they don’t even have to call the office.
Consumers vastly prefer text message communication over all other forms for convenience, but it also offers better deliverability than email or phone calls and also gives patients a way to take action without writing something down.
What we have found, and what we recommend in our best practices, is a combination of all three. We do phone, email, and text, and we do them at a certain interval over time. We don’t want to stalk you, but we want to make sure you get the message. If you do just texts, your response rate will be lower. If you’ve heard it on an answering machine and you’ve seen it in the email, you might not have reacted to it, so it’s a combination of seeing those.
We send the final reminder at certain times of the day. Some at night, some in the morning, depending on time of your appointment. You might have accepted it and intended to go, but you drive to work and forget. But if I send you a text that morning for an appointment later that day, you’ll remember. I also can’t send them too late because you don’t want to be disturbing people at night and when they go to bed.
Do you have any final thoughts?
We’re still early on with patient engagement, how we’ll engage patients over time, and how we’ll do it within the constraints of HIPAA, GDPR, and other regulations. It will be exciting to see where this will go, with things like two-way chat. But as we do this, we’re committed to innovation. Not just product innovation, but throughout our company. We’re currently rated number one by KLAS for patient outreach, with a score of 95.6. We follow this score closely throughout the company. We believe it’s the best way to ensure that we are firing on all cylinders. We need to have great products delivered by great people to work with our customers to drive the ROI on our software.If we drive that ROI, we will help our practices have happy customers.