- The pandemic has changed what patients want from their medical providers.
- Patients expect options for telehealth, contactless communication and quick payment.
- Even small updates to implement new technologies and optimize physical office space can help attract new patients and save time for medical staff.
The pandemic has changed what patients want from their medical providers. When it comes to safety, efficiency and communication, patients have shifted their expectations of what medical offices can provide — and in order to keep patients returning, practitioners have to rise to the occasion to address these new needs.
Over the past several months, some medical practices have made many positive adjustments to their workflows to accommodate these new patient preferences. But many providers still need significantly more improvement in both the short- and long-term.
There are opportunities abound to implement new technologies and optimize physical office space. In turn, these improvements can not only improve the patient experience, but also enable medical practices to attract new patients, foster loyalty and generate more revenue.
Patient priorities have evolved amid COVID-19, according to Amelia Bechtel, who is the founder of DocModern, which helps small- and medium-sized medical practices optimize their businesses. Patients now expect updated technology, including telehealth, contactless communication and quick payment.
Many practices have already embraced updated software and processes because of the pandemic. “The pandemic accelerated adoption of certain types of technology that have been around but were less widely adopted,” Bechtel says.
Despite this inflection point, not every practice has made these transitions — and for those that haven't, there is an opportunity to make improvements that can dramatically enhance the patient experience.
Bechtel says the pandemic has driven many innovations in automation. These automated systems can help practices facilitate a better patient experience by providing digital payments, check-ins and appointment follow-ups. Automation not only benefits patients, it also helps streamline workflows so practices can utilize their staff in more efficient ways.
“Practices could be saving one or two hours a day, in some cases," Bechtel adds. "So with that extra time, what can that staff member now do to help generate more revenue for the practice?”
Rethinking physical space
Some practices may have already made small tweaks to their physical offices amid the pandemic, including increased sanitization or installing safety barriers between reception and patients. But now that patients expect these changes, there are new opportunities to reimagine a medical office space.
“When I come into a medical practice, do I want to be sitting in a waiting room with 20 other patients, sharing air?" asks Bechtel. "No. I want a text to come in when my appointment time comes and be quickly ushered into my exam or patient-consult room.”
In that spirit, Bechtel says one place to start is to look at how practices utilize reception spaces. With the opportunity to implement contactless digital check-in and online billing, practices may not need such a large reception space or cavernous waiting rooms.
“If you're taking advantage of those automated check-in processes and leveraging tools to enable a lot of that electronically, then you have a lot of options for that reclaimed space," Bechtel adds. "For instance, does your practice need another exam room? A photo room for before and after images?”
Taking next steps: Start small
Some providers, however, may be a bit hesitant to implement changes, especially on the technological side. This is particularly true of those who may have had negative experiences with transitioning to electronic health records.
However, the process of introducing new technology doesn’t have to be dramatic. Bechtel suggests starting with one improvement – perhaps switching to contactless payments or text-message communication with patients. Even small updates can make a huge impact on the patient experience.
It's also important to remember that technology-driven change may seem intimidating to some medical practitioners, but doesn't have to be. In fact, most practices have already implemented new solutions in the past. For example, “we don’t need a big reception desk with filing cabinets of patient charts anymore,” Bechtel says. Comparatively, some of the modern improvements she highlights are significantly smaller shifts. “Not every technology implementation is going to be drastic and painful.”
When implementing these changes, it's important to examine your return on investment. This is especially the case for physical space updates, which may be larger investments than a monthly software fee.
Although there may be upfront costs for renovating space, these changes have long- and short-term benefits. Making small changes in physical space can significantly impact the day-to-day experience for patients, staff and physicians, such as having fewer hard surfaces to wipe down. When thinking about return on investment, consider the changes that enable you to reclaim an hour or two of your staff's daily time.
"This is especially the case for smaller practices, where every dollar counts,” Bechtel says. “You don't want to go out and spend a lot on technology and overhaul your physical space in ways that you don't need." She advises medical practices to review product demos and consider, especially for new software.
No matter what kind of improvements practitioners are considering, the best place to begin is by taking a deep dive into the workflow. Write out the start-to-finish process of your office — from booking appointments to the final actions before patients walk out the door. This simple exercise can help you see the biggest opportunities for change.
Although practices may need to invest some time and money, improving the patient experience in a post-pandemic world will produce a measurable return on investment. It's important to remember that the patient experience begins before they step into the office and continues well after they leave.
A step-by-step approach
From visiting a practice's website to booking an appointment and engaging with staff, medical practitioners have the opportunity to deliver a reimagined patient experience — and it's easier than you think.
In fact, you can begin with one simple task that'll only take you about an hour.
- Draw two columns on a piece of paper.
- In the first column, make a list of three to five things you'd like to focus on improving for your patients. If you’re struggling to come up with anything to write, ask a trusted staff member for their input — it's likely they'll have a different perspective than you.
- In the second column, assign a level of difficulty to implement that improvement: either easy, medium or hard.
With this approach, you'll have your priorities laid out in front of you. So, start with the easiest task to implement. Ask yourself, Who can help? When you've identified at least one person or resource, set up a meeting to begin the process of making that very first improvement.
The process of blooming your practice begins with you, but remember that you're not alone. Find expert partners to help you figure out how to address patient expectations, create efficiencies for your staff and position your practice for long-term growth.