Michele Perry, MBA is CEO of Relatient of Franklin, TN.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
Relatient is the 2020 KLAS category leader in patient outreach and communication. The company is located right outside of Nashville, TN. We got our start with appointment reminders back in 2014. Since then, we have built an entire patient engagement platform to help medical offices manage all the major touchpoints in the outpatient journey. Our goal is to end phone tag in healthcare.
I’ve been Relatient’s CEO since 2017. We have been growing a lot and we are excited about where we are headed as a company and the work we are doing alongside the health systems, hospitals, and medical offices we serve to improve the patient experience.
How are providers using technology to manage COVID-19 vaccinations?
Medical providers are really grabbing hold of technology right now to solve the daily operational issues related to getting the COVID-19 vaccine distributed on a mass scale.
The first thing we started hearing from health systems like Med Center Health in Kentucky and Warren Clinic in Oklahoma was that they wanted to shoot for zero wasted doses. When they came to us with those conversations, they were most concerned about patient no-shows, because the first vaccine was Pfizer’s and the whole freezer situation meant that once a vial was thawed, mixed, and ready to use, it couldn’t be set aside for another day. A patient no-show could mean doses in the trash, and no one wanted that. After they set up their vaccine departments or clinics and locations, we configured some specific vaccine reminders to help get patients to both the initial appointment and the one following it 21 days later.
Health systems learned really fast that getting the vaccine schedule filled was a huge task. It takes a lot of people to work through lists of patients who qualify and get them booked. We had used our patient self-scheduling module for some customers earlier in the pandemic that wanted to let patients self-schedule for testing. We turned this on for customers who asked for help with vaccine scheduling and then made it available for new customers, too, turning it on very quickly un-integrated for immediate scheduling.
Some other things we’re seeing providers do include the use of messaging tools to send mass communication to their patients and their staff, like when a new phase of vaccinations opens up or a new vaccine clinic. We’ve seen them use short links to maps and directions in case patients are new to their organizations and utilize text messaging for one-to-one patient conversations so they can field questions and make schedule changes without the back and forth of playing phone tag with patients.
Why do patients fail to show up for their appointments and what are the best practices to reduce the no-show rate?
It’s interesting, because we are far enough into a world where appointment reminders are the norm that patients have come to rely on them to remember and plan for their appointments. Healthcare has come a long way in this, but COVID-19 introduced a new layer of complexities to patient schedules and the load of responsibilities patients are carrying. They’ve got kids at home all the time, they’re trying to work from home, they may no longer be close to the doctor’s office during the day because of this. We have heard from a lot of healthcare leaders over the past year that patients who were afraid to come in early on added to no-shows. It kind of all comes down to keeping communication open and clear so patients know that you are open and you’re a safe place to receive care. If something changes, do they have a telehealth option that can replace the in-person appointment?
The other key piece or best practice is the combination of communication methods and the ability for a patient to respond to a reminder. We’re patients ourselves and we get reminders from our own medical providers that either don’t ask for our confirmation or response or only allow a confirmation. If a patient has to call your office to cancel an appointment, they’re likely to hit the phone tree or get put on hold and hang up. This is where a lot of patient no-shows still come from, and there are well-established practices to avoid this.
Patients want self-scheduling and virtual waitlists more than just about any other technology. Has the pandemic affected adoption?
Definitely, and for a few reasons. Part of the increase in adoption has been resource constraints. Medical offices had to furlough employees, like many other industries. When they started to recover from that, they got hit with COVID-19 cases of their own and often found themselves short-staffed. The need for self-schedule and waitlists that can backfill last-minute cancelations is growing as there are fewer resources to do these things manually.
Additionally, Accenture recently reported that two-thirds of patients said they are likely to switch providers who don’t meet their expectations for handling COVID-19, and we know that patient access is a piece of these expectations. More than 30% of patient appointments are scheduled after normal clinic hours.
As I mentioned earlier, managing vaccine and testing schedules has also been a big burden to medical practices. Solutions that can lighten this burden and empower patients to self-select are win-win.
Can medical practices compete with the consumer-facing technology that is offered by urgent care centers, health systems, and chain drugstores?
Absolutely. Medical practices have the potential to offer the most personalized care if they can keep up with the innovation of larger organizations. They can do this with a cohesive digital strategy that works alongside and enhances their portal strategy. When solutions aimed at expanding access and convenience — like self-scheduling, two-way patient-practice conversations, and registration — are only available to portal users, a significant portion of a provider’s patient base never experiences those benefits.
Which health IT sectors will be the winners and losers in the next few years as COVID-19 becomes better controlled?
This is the winning question, right? COVID-19 won’t be a crisis forever, but some of the things we’ve learned during this time will stick around long term and we’re better for it.
Telehealth is one that is here to stay, but it won’t stay at the levels medical providers have used over the past year. Providers are now operating hybrid care models, where patient care is delivered in-person and via telehealth, so they need tools and workflows to help support this model of care delivery. I expect telehealth vendors to continue refining and expanding their technology as medical providers lean away from general video conference platforms that filled the immediate need early on.
The health IT sectors that help answer the question, “How do we get patients the right care, in the right place, at the right time” will be the winners. Interoperability will be a must as care becomes more dispersed, and digital communication tools and patient messaging will be crucial to helping patients navigate the journey.
You kind of hit on this already when you asked about consumer-facing technologies, but it’s key because patients are consumers, and these are the tools and kinds of access they’re looking for. My point is those technology sectors that require a lot of the patient — apps to download, portals to log into, additional accounts to create, and passwords to remember – will find less and less room over the next few years.