In its Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century report, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) listed one of its “Aims for Improvement” as healthcare being efficient. In summary, the goal of this efficiency is reducing waste and increasing efficiency in order to serve patients better.
Implementing workflows enables healthcare providers of all sizes to optimize both their clinical and financial operations and more efficiently utilize the resources they have available. Streamlining these workflows has been shown to reduce the potential for medical errors, help to ensure compliance with industry regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and improve the quality of care provided to patients. On the flip side, poor healthcare workflows negatively affect employees, patients and profits.
Automating workflows offers even more benefits for healthcare providers. In fact, one of the top ten artificial intelligence (AI) applications in healthcare administrative workflow assistance. Approximately 40 percent of the tasks performed by healthcare support occupations can be automated, and if the medical industry automated all of the processes tracked by the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), it could save $43.39 on each patient encounter ($29.84 for providers and $13.55 for plans).
The use of automation in healthcare has been especially helpful during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when roughly 15 percent of American hospitals had critical staffing shortages and between 35-54 percent of nurses and physicians in the United States reported symptoms of burnout. Nearly 30 percent of healthcare workers are considering leaving their profession altogether.
The Importance of Digital Health Services for SDOH Data
As noted in Medscape’s Physician Burnout and Suicide Report 2021, the top driver of burnout continues to be “too many administrative tasks.” Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers employed automation through various digital health tools to handle the numerous administrative tasks for which they’re responsible.
In addition to conducting front-end healthcare revenue cycle tasks, including scheduling, patient registration, eligibility and authorization and upfront patient collections, providers are responsible for managing Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements for quality and clinical reporting. Along with payers, they spend approximately $500 billion annually and three-to-five hours weekly on billing and insurance-related (BIR) costs.
Many physicians prefer to use technology that automates workflows to accomplish administrative tasks. The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) notes that digital health technologies such as patient portals, automated appointment reminder systems, check-in solutions and online payment options have achieved the most positive results in recent years for providers because they streamline practice workflow, improve patient experience and lead to more efficient and effective care delivery when implemented strategically.
These types of solutions also enable providers and their teams to better capture data surrounding social determinants of health (SDOH) because patients are able to fill out necessary forms electronically prior to their office visit instead of waiting in an often-crowded waiting room. Having that data captured and updated automatically in a provider’s electronic medical record (EMR) system also gives the practice or health system better SDOH data on its existing patient population.
Top Digital Health Technologies for Healthcare Providers
Health information technology, when used properly, has the potential to improve patient care. Research has shown that a high percentage of patients seek health professionals with technology that offers digital scheduling, online payment options, portal and engagement capabilities and results reporting tools.
Digital healthcare tools have been found to not only improve efficiency and engagement, they also help to improve health outcomes, especially in patients with chronic conditions. Online appointment scheduling can be used to increase access to care and improve patient satisfaction since the research shows that the average time for a patient to complete a scheduling call is 8.1 minutes.
For providers attempting to improve their patient no-show and cancellation rates, automated appointment reminders are an effective option. Practices that actively aim to minimize no-shows can reduce no-shows by up to 70 percent, which can have a marked impact on practice revenue, as no-shows cost a single-physician medical practice an average of $150,000 annually.
A popular digital healthcare technology for provider leaders attempting to streamline operations with a reduced team of staff members is HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging. Using secure two-way texting reduces inbound call volume for the practice and gives provider teams the ability to engage with patients more effectively.
Delivering lab results electronically via secure text is another way to dramatically increase efficiency within a practice. Manual notification of lab results not only takes significant time to deliver telephonically but also is often unsuccessful, resulting in a vicious cycle of phone tag. Managing the ongoing peaks of COVID-19 and increased testing volume, providers can utilize HIPAA-compliant text messaging to automatically notify patients of test results, including education and next steps navigation, allowing patients to quickly take action, whether positive or negative.
Reminding patients of upcoming clinical appointments, laboratory monitoring and other scheduled services may be associated with improved efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare, and systematic reviews have shown that reminders are associated with reduced missed primary and specialty care appointments, increased delivery of preventive services, improved prescription refill rates and enhanced laboratory monitoring.
One of the most utilized digital technologies in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic has been digital-check in. As a solution used during the patient intake process, it allows physician practices to streamline registration and more quickly and easily retrieve completed patient forms, insurance verification and any additional components of their check-in process. It also frees front-office staff from time-consuming paperwork review and revisions and offers a more complete and accurate look at patients’ medical history and medication. Using digital technology for eligibility and benefit verification automation saved the medical industry $85.6 billion in 2019.
A report from KLAS found that 60 percent of provider organizations that use patient intake systems reported that the tool helped them become more efficient, focus more on the patient experience and eliminate some overhead costs associated with traditional paper patient intake strategies. Even more benefits of automating patient intake workflows through digital health technologies include improved collection rates, real-time data authentication, reduced churn, duplication and storage requirements and more targeted population health management.
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