The Case for Patient Relationship Management

Patient Relationship Management – it sounds like a new buzzword that is used to generate revenue for consultants, product developers, and speakers – and for some, that may be the case; however, for a medical practice endeavoring to stand out from the competition – i.e., to attract the patients the practice owners want and to retain existing patients – patient relationship management is necessary.

It is certainly true – due to the nature of healthcare – that there is something unique about the provider-patient relationship; nevertheless, patients are – in the end – consumers that are looking for value when spending their healthcare dollars.

In the era of high-deductible health plans, increased cost sharing, and increased interest in concierge medicine it is more often the patient’s – not their employer’s – money that is being spent on healthcare. Despite the intimacy of the patient-provider relationship, patients do switch providers, and their propensity to do so is underestimated by providers.

There is a significant disconnect, according to the Altarum Institute’s study (cited above).

For example, nearly sixty percent of patients that responded stated that they would switch providers for quality or service reasons; whereas fewer than one-quarter of the doctor’s that responded felt that a patient would switch providers for those reasons.

The study’s results also showed that there was a disconnect between how satisfied that providers thought their patients were – they estimated that roughly three-fourths of patients were satisfied; whereas, patients themselves, when asked, stated a satisfaction of roughly forty percent.

The increasing consumerisation of healthcare along with the strong disconnect between providers’ perception of a patient’s willingness to switch providers and their overall satisfaction indicates that there is a gap that is currently not being filled with existing patient management tools.

Currently, the primary tools that are used by providers are typically an EMR, a practice management system (often increasingly integrated with the EMR), and a patient portal.

The latter tool was often advertised as the only thing a practice needed to engage and manage patients.

That, however, is not the case.

Portals themselves have limited functionality and – with some exceptions – often are only useful for tasks such viewing one’s medical record, sending notes to a practice, and requesting appointments 

A notable exception is eClinicalWorks’ Healow product which has telemedicine built into it.

A CRM for Healthcare

To successfully manage a patient population – not merely document care that occurs during a visit – i.e., what occurs within an EMR – a tool analogous to a customer relationship management system – a patient relationship management system is needed.

Such a tool would be centered around the care plan for the patient and facilitate structured, pertinent communication between providers and patients.

It may also help the practice market its services to likely future patients.

It will also, as many portals do, allow patients to request appointments, pharmacy refills, and view their record.

In many respects, this ought to be the next evolution of patient portals – it will be a more interactive tool that does more than a few administrative functions; rather, to fully embrace patient relationship management, tools will be needed to better enable shared decision making which, as studies have shown, increases patient engagement.

Many initiatives such as Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMH) and value-based payment arrangements have put a strong emphasis on shared decision making.

Logistical and scheduling issues make it difficult to keep having the patient come in for visits; moreover, patients are resistant due to higher cost-sharing and scheduling difficulties – e.g., work, transportation, etc…

A software tool that could engage patients in making collaborative decisions about with their health with their provider would likely increase their satisfaction and, furthermore, such a tool would likely increase the chance that the patient adopts and follows-through with the care recommendations made.

Two companies offer relatively comprehensive patient relationship management systems: HealthLoop and SolutionReach.

HealthLoop, for example, offers solutions to help remotely monitor patients and to enable more efficient interventions to reduce complications.

Their product line has shown effectiveness in numerous cases – especially in targeted scenarios such as orthopedic procedure where intelligent procedures and quick interventions can reduce readmissions and complication rates.

As bundled arrangements continue to grow, this will be an increased focus within the patient-provider relationship.

SolutionReach, however, takes a different focus and offers tools to allow a physician practice to grow their market and more effectively manage patient satisfaction.

They have tools that allow for self-scheduling, waitlist notifications, patient-provider texting, appointment reminders, and care adherence – a tool that uses a patient’s preference to reach out to them for care reminders.

SolutionReach also offers numerous marketing tools to help identify patients likely to provide positive reviews, e-mail management, and social media management.

Both tools – and there are others out there as well – offer practices with a different take on relationship management; for those that are more ambitious and ready to fully jump into patient relationship management, a tool such as SolutionReach offers a comprehensive suite of products to begin managing the process of retaining patients and acquiring patients that are likely to be satisfied with one’s medical practice.

For those looking more at this from a standpoint of only providing better care and would rather not engage in more marketing, a tool such as HealthLoop might work better.

Starting Small

Read here how you can improve your patient engagement journy

A practice can start even smaller if they wanted (and it may make more sense to do so while the practice’s staff adapts to the cultural change).

Many practices have access to a significant number of patient e-mail addresses. These were likely collected for portal enrollment and to send reminders.

These addresses can be converted into a patient newsletter that focuses on engaging patients in their care.

For example, articles about the flu vaccine; when to call the on-call, use an urgent care, or go to the Emergency Room; positive reminders to get preventative screenings – e.g., depression, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer, etc… – or to remind patients that you have same day access (if it exists) and on-call availability.

Such reminders – even if the patient were told already – could help increase patient satisfaction and reduce unnecessary Emergency Room utilization which is probably tied to at least one incentive the practice is involved in. Also, existing staff can use simple online newsletter software such as Constant Contact to get started.

Patient Relationship Management is going to become increasingly necessary as patients demand better service from their healthcare providers and continue seek optimal value for their healthcare dollars.

Additionally, many employers and insurance companies are looking at patient satisfaction when determining either who to include in-network or who to incentivize.

It behooves any medical practice looking to succeed in the long term to begin adopting such practices now when it can be done in a deliberate, careful manner.