Top Strategies to Enhance Your Ambulatory Patient’s Experience, Part 3 | QliqSOFT

Patient Engagement

Setting a Solid Foundation for Success

August 11, 2023
A female doctor talking to a male patient in a clinic while reviewing notes on a iPad

In Part 2 of our series, we talked about using digital tools to improve patient experience. We also discussed how to select the right digital patient engagement partner. Part 1 explained why improving patient experience is important. Part 3 lists eight areas for providers to focus on to build a strong foundation, succeed, and implement their strategy.  

After analyzing and identifying your digital innovation needs, you’re ready to bring on board a digital technology partner. Now what? To succeed, focus on improving healthcare for caregivers and patients.

By prioritizing the needs of caregivers and patients, you can increase the chances of success and minimize the risk of failure. Incorporating healthcare improvements into your digital engagement strategy is essential for achieving positive outcomes.

Success requires automating key clinical and operational processes, workflows, and tasks; however, technology is only part of the solution. Change management is another critical component for success, aimed at fundamentally transforming your healthcare team’s relationship with patients.

When starting this journey, your digital patient engagement plan should match your organization's goals, challenges, and vision of success. We identify eight focus areas to help guide your implementation and rollout. We’re committed to improving your digital journey’s odds for success. 

Setting a Solid Foundation

  1. Establish a governance structure

Healthcare providers approach digital engagement strategies at different stages of maturity to transform patient services. According to SHRM, in order to succeed, it is important to have the right mix of people, technologies, and processes. Additionally, a good governance structure that can manage change is also crucial. These measures encourage collaboration, accountability, and consensus-based decision-making from internal employees and external stakeholders.

Key actions to building a strong digital governance foundation  

  • Gain active buy-in from a C-suite executive sponsor, working through them to exercise oversight and responsibility
  • Identify frontline clinicians and staff champions, including employees from other impacted departments

Encourage everyone on the team to take personal responsibility and work together to improve patient care. Also, motivate them to not be satisfied with the current situation and strive for positive change. For more insights about digital governance, watch the Virtua Health team’s video podcast.

  1. Define digital engagement success  

Change is hard. It slows people down as they determine what needs to change, how it needs to change and then practice and master the new behaviors. Demonstrate that the benefit of the change exceeds the effort to achieve the change. 

Create a clear vision for success that everyone in your organization understands and supports. Share the vision and get input before finalizing it.  

Key questions to unlock and create a win-win digital engagement strategy  

  • What is the primary problem to solve immediately?
  • What are your top reasons for implementing a digital engagement strategy?
  • What other activities can be automated?
  • How does your strategy benefit each person, i.e., staff and patients?
  • What changes does the strategy require staff and patients to make?
  • How are you supporting staff as they navigate the changes to workflow?
  • How will you share successes and lessons learned?
  1. The approach must be patient-centric

Organizations share information they think is important, but it may not match what patients find important or want to know.

So, what does this mean and what exactly is patient-centric care?  Efforts should be seen from the patient's perspective. They should be relevant to them.

The efforts should not just meet their needs but also encourage their involvement. Otherwise, providers miss opportunities to touch patients in more meaningful ways, moving them from passive to active.

Key actions to viewing healthcare from the patient’s perspective 

  • Start by creating a simple and straightforward working definition of the patient’s journey from the perspective of the patient. Include all steps in the journey regardless of where they occur.
  • Use digital tools, e.g., conversational chatbots, to better connect and gather insights from personalized interactions.
  • Arrange interviews, in-person or virtual, to understand and prioritize patients' pain points. Include a patient representative in the care team.
  • “Walk a day in a patient’s shoes” to experience a different point of view. For example, start with making the initial doctor’s appointment, preparing for and attending the post-hospital follow-up visit, filling prescriptions through paying the bill.

This activity helps people understand and feel more for patients with long-term or short-term illnesses. It can be done in person or online. It also helps to better gauge their level of medical knowledge, and perception of staff member job roles.

Organizing for Success

  1. Resource the care team by blending the right talent with digital capabilities  

A vision is only as effective as your execution plan. Recruit front-line staff and leaders whose influence and credibility can open doors to quick wins that gain traction. Despite limited time, they have experience in navigating the organization and the ability to identify and avoid potential problems.

For digital transformation to take hold, assign a strong, well-respected leader who can bring about sustainable change. The leader needs to coordinate teamwork between different teams and get help from the operations team to analyze and modify workflows.

Leaders and senior staff need to prioritize patients' needs. They should also remind employees to focus on the end users. This is especially important during the transition to a digital mindset.

If your organization is missing a key technical skill for transformation, for example, optimizing workflow across people and technology, it’s time to recruit external expertise. Hiring or contracting outside for roles where digital capabilities are critical contributes to long-term success. 

Key actions to attract, motivate, grow, and retain digital talent   

  • Cultivate front-line leaders and staff champions
  • Partner with front-line staff; be judicious with their time commitment
  • Designate an individual to represent and reinforce patient needs
  • Identify and train resources who own building conversational flows and quick messages
  • Leverage a vendor resource to support the team’s on-the-job learning
  • Engage data capture and visualization representation
  • Appoint IT resources to address integration needs
  • Recruit expertise to modify the workflow and guide the project
  • Identify an active executive sponsor with clout to work through rising issues
  • Sign up a marketing department representative
  1. Adopt an agile approach to manage a digital transformation

A digital mindset will happen over time as users experience the benefits of the change. Don't aim for a perfect design for every situation. Instead, follow the 80/20 rule. Start with a basic solution and improve it over time based on feedback from staff, patients, and the results you see.

Key questions to explore supporting an agile approach to transformation

  • Define the minimally viable workflow with the team so that it incorporates how workflow really works, not how managers think it works.
  • Consider defining and testing workflow manually before investing in EHR integration. This provides the flexibility to optimize the workflow based on feedback before locking it in.
  • Look at what can be accomplished in four to six-week increments. Plan on multiple cycles. What problems are you trying to solve? Use staff and patient feedback to determine what changes are needed.
“Many organizations strive to do things that get to 99%. So many people have been ingrained with this ‘MBA Six Sigma’ type mentality. The reality is that for healthcare, the solution has to be good enough and it has to be safe and medically sound. But if you get 80% of automation or 80% of patients taking on the self-service themselves, you're essentially allowing your workforce to take care of the complex patient or the information that is highly complicated to schedule or engage with the patient.” ‎‎
─ Danielle Wilson, Assistant VP of Digital Transformation, Virtua Health

Executing and Optimizing

  1. Incorporate metrics and a measurement plan

Healthcare organizations are embracing analytics to support data-driven decision-making to measure digital technology performance, user adoption, and satisfaction. Track measures such as cell phone capture rates in the EHR, message delivery and open rates. Look at how users are navigating the technology – is there a place where users tend to abort using the chatbot? Is there data in a form that is currently optional that needs to be required or vice versa?

Ensure that the metrics you define include operational performance, staff satisfaction, patient satisfaction and the impact on costs and revenue.

Key actions when designing a measurement plan

  • Define metrics and capture baseline performance
  • Determine how each measure will be captured
  • Create dashboards to trend data
  • Monitor performance using dashboards
  • Take action if performance begins to slip
  • Share results and personal stories to build support
  • Recognize performance and address performance concerns proactively
“Whenever we share outcomes with the organization, we do our absolute best to speak in numbers ─ and not in anecdotal evidence. To quote Professor Aswath Damodaram of New York University Stern School of Business, ‘Without data, all we have is fairytales.’”
─ Tarun Kapoor, M.D., MBA, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Transformation Officer, Virtua Health

Read More about Virtua Health's Success Story here.

  1. Educate patient-facing staff

Conversational chatbots supplement, not replace, the work of healthcare professionals. Staff must be familiar and comfortable explaining the patient-facing components of new digital offerings to patients.

Key actions to drive staff adoption and cultivate a culture of improvement and learning

Provide staff with talking points explaining the changes affecting the patients and the related staff responsibilities:

  • Articulate the reasons why the organization is making changes, how they will impact the team and the benefits to the staff
  • Summarize the implementation plan, timeline and training sessions
  • Provide tools and talking points to staff so they can explain the benefit to patients
  • Ask staff to capture and share patient feedback
  • Host a lunch-and-learn event to talk and answer questions about the planned digital launch. Invite your digital vendor partner to co-speak, share tips for success and establish a positive connection.
  • Have staff capture patient mobile phone numbers in the mobile phone field. Monitor capture rates and provide feedback.
  • Appoint a go-to resource to share concerns and feedback
  • Continue to work with your staff after go live to drive adoption:
  • Celebrate recognized team members contributions, success stories, and milestones to boost morale, build momentum, and encourage self-learning competence. Recognize everyone’s effort to change.
  • Check in with staff to learn what digital capabilities are going well and where to make improvements
  • Iterate on the digital solution until the workflow is smooth and effective. Use metrics to recognize and celebrate improvements, and to hold staff accountable. Align incentives with desired behaviors
  • Scale the solution organization-wide
  1. Drive patient adoption by building a trust-based relationship

Patients have a choice on whether to support digital transformation. Digital tactics should improve patient engagement and personalize their experience, increasing the value that your organization provides to them. To build trust, notify your patients of planned changes and benefits.

Key actions to drive patient trust of digital health tools

Communicate what you are doing and the benefits to the patient. Build trust that the communications are secure and not spam, reinforcing your branding with:

  • A URL that matches the organization
  • SMS messages that reinforce familiarity with the patient
  • Consider MMS messages instead. These messages allow use of your organization’s logo and offer more characters, which can help build context and trust in the source of the message

Create a patient education campaign to increase awareness and provide a hotline for more information. Depending on budget, resources and channels available, tactics can include:

  • Equip staff with a one-page overview to hand-deliver during patient appointments and distribute through group email
  • Leverage front-line staff including physicians to advocate benefits
  • Curate a constant stream of fresh content on your website, social media communications (YouTube), ads, invoices and phone triage 
  • Create office signage and literature. Include an explainer video or visual on the waiting room television or monitor.
  • Leverage the channels of a healthcare partner to extend outreach and engage hard-to-reach patients
  • Place ads across digital platforms where your patient community is likely a subscriber, e.g., Facebook community forums and local news and retail outlets

Ask for feedback, and act on it

  • Measure patient satisfaction with brief surveys
  • Ask patients for their input and ideas to make their experience even better

Again, change is hard. It requires new ways of working together, as well as time to unlearn old behaviors and learn new ones. Creating the mandate for change, aligning around a shared vision, picking the right digital health partner, and executing best practices can significantly improve your chances of success, driving the results you hope to see. 

The Author
Bobbi Weber

Bobbi is a lifelong learner who is passionate about enabling healthcare transformation. She has 20+ years of healthcare experience in care delivery, consulting, healthcare IT, and market strategy.

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