How to Determine ROI for Health IT Investments

How to Determine ROI for Health IT Investments

It’s an encounter that nearly every independent physician has had by now at least once: the sales pitch for a tech solution that will improve the way the practice runs. The promises are big — simplicity, efficiency, “painless” billing, seamless appointment-booking — and as the medical technology industry continues to grow, it seems likely that the capabilities of these products will, too. It’s certainly growing: EvaluateMedTech’s World Preview 2015 forecasts that worldwide sales will reach over $477 billion by 2020.

Another familiar moment for doctors? The sticker shock when glimpsing the price tag on a shiny new EHR, patient portal, or online scheduling tool. For example, HealthIT.gov quotes the cost of purchasing and installing an EHR at as high as $70,000. But by some estimates, implementing an EHR could cost over $163,000 for a single doctor. And that’s before factoring in software licensing, training, and maintenance fees, not to mention unforeseen costs. Patient portals, too, are expensive to initiate, yet can ultimately encourage your patients to be more engaged with their care.

With all this money — and time, for training, onboarding, and testing — the inevitable question arises: Is this new technology I’m about to invest in worth it? Or, to put it another way, how can I determine the return on my investment? Though every software product and service out there is a little different, it is possible to calculate the ROI of your tech investment by considering the following framework.

Identify cost centers the technology is meant to alleviate — and calculate how much those pain points are costing you today.
What functions of your practice are the most time-consuming — and ultimately the costliest? Is it fielding patient phone calls on your scheduling line? Or are bottlenecks in your recordkeeping process disrupting the flow of patient paperwork? If you’re already keenly aware of where operational inefficiencies lie in your practice, then begin to investigate just how much these inefficiencies are costing you on a monthly and yearly basis. Knowing where a new solution is needed and knowing how much a given process is costing you now gives you a measuring stick against which to compare any costs associated with a new technology.

Make a reasonable estimate of what costs will be post-implementation.
Of course, vendors selling you EHR technology and other software will promise the moon, including low costs for getting up and running, then maintaining the system they tout. You’ve heard it before: “cut your collection time in half,” or “reduce average hold times to less than 30 seconds per caller.” Remember, companies want your money and your signature on the dotted line, and if their reps think that quoting phenomenal results will put the pen in your hand, they won’t hesitate to tell you about the absolute best performance scenarios they’ve got. So remember to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to whatever sample numbers you’re being given. That said, those numbers aren’t a bad place to start when you sit down to make your evaluation of how a given piece of software will affect your monthly and yearly costs.

Don’t forget to factor in time.
Many doctors on the other side of a tech adoption process don’t take into account how much time it takes to prepare for, implement, and train staff on its use. During the ramp-up phase, you might be less productive than you were before you added the technology. Additionally, in the case of a new EHR implementation, depending on the size of the practice and technology used for converting existing patient records into digital files, it can take months (and staff overtime or outside help) to successfully scan and properly store every record. And remember — just because your patients’ data is saved in electronic form doesn’t mean that their paper files can be destroyed immediately. Depending on the state and the capability of your EHR to provide full copies of a patient record, you may still be required to retain paper records for up to five years.

Be realistic about the degree to which the technology will be used.
One of the longstanding concerns associated with technology in the healthcare sphere is that patients and providers will shy away from use — for doctors because of fears that it may hinder their efficiency and communication with patients more than it helps, for patients because they don’t see the benefit, and for both because the technology may feel too difficult to learn. Indeed, Deloitte reports that while nine out of 10 doctors say they are interested in mobile health technology, only about 24 percent are actually using such tools. And the majority of Americans say they aren’t yet using a patient portal. So it’s important to be mindful of how quickly adoption will follow implementation.

Despite the cost and effort associated with a successful implementation, health IT tools are undeniably the wave of the future, especially as patients get more plugged in and their expectations begin to change. And there are major payoffs to using tools that work well — 79 percent of providers said that an EHR improved their practice efficiency. It’s critical to use the framework above to guide your decision-making about any new technology to make sure that the product is realistic to your practice and its unique expenses. There are also lots of good ROI templates and forecasting calculators out there these days that can help you navigate. If you’d like to talk more about low-cost ways to improve efficiency and patient satisfaction, we’re here to help, so reach out today.

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3 Innovative Healthcare Models Advancing Personalization

3 Innovative Healthcare Models Advancing Personalization

Are the days of assembly-line healthcare coming to an end? Skeptics would be forgiven for doubting it, as millions of newly insured patients flood a system already burdened by access challenges.

But consider: Advances in genomics are leading to individualized treatments for cancer and other diseases; 3-D printing technology is opening new possibilities for customized medications; and the growth of a range of new healthcare-delivery models — all aimed at making the patient king (or queen) — continues unabated.

Indeed, the personalization of medicine is flourishing today more than ever before. What new models are emerging to advance it, and how can you take advantage of the trend?

Holistic Care
In the new world order of value-based reimbursements and paying providers for outcomes, treating the whole person, mind as well as body, has gained traction.

Following the patient-centric model, in which patients are active participants in their own care, the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) has emerged as a means for facilitating collaboration between patients, their doctors, and their families in order to provide better outcomes. PCMH systems include fewer patients per provider than a typical practice. They get lengthier visits, more detailed preventative recommendations, and better coordination among specialists. The model is appealing to physicians: according to one recent survey, one-third of physician respondents said they were already part of or moving toward becoming part of a PCMH model.

Also gaining interest is the concept of concierge medicine, or “retainer medicine,” in which patients pay a monthly or yearly “membership” fee to providers. In exchange, they become part of an exclusive group of patients who can expect executive-level service from their doctor: lengthy consultations, appointments whenever they need them, even house calls. Frustration over the inability to get face time with the doctor has driven patients’ willingness to pay for a concierge service. And the model seems to be catching on: A 2014 Merritt Hawkins survey of 20,000 physicians showed that 20 percent of respondents said they were either currently practicing a concierge model or planning on doing so in the future. And today there are approximately 6,000 concierge practitioners, up from just 4,400 in 2012.

Retailized Care
Many of us have done it before: turned to a retail clinic at Target or Walmart, CVS or Walgreens, when we have a minor ailment but can’t get in to see our “regular” doctor. Many more will do so in the years to come as the proliferation continues of retail clinics boasting not just a variety of acute illness services and consultations under $100 but also preventive screenings, chronic illness management, infusion services, and more.

The convenience of same-day  appointments or walk-in service sometimes trumps the desire to see the same provider, and the accelerating shift of payment burdens from insurance companies to patients may reduce patient willingness to wait lengthy periods before getting an appointment — all while an ongoing shortage of primary care providers continues to exacerbate the problem of appointment availability.

All signs point to a more “retailized” approach to care continuing to grow: current U.S. retail clinical sales are valued at over $1 billion; mega-pharmacy CVS alone projects opening 1,500 clinic outlets by 2017; and annual retail clinic visits were projected to reach 10.5 million in 2015.

Cash-only Practices
“No insurance? No problem.” The idea of a cash-only practice model is not new: the first iterations sprung up in the early 1990s, and the concept stuck around largely due to provider fatigue from dealing with insurance red tape and a desire to have higher quality relationships with patients. The explosion in patient volume due to reforms under the Affordable Care Act has further shortened the amount of time that primary care doctors have to spend with patients. And though the number of physicians who don’t accept insurance today remains fairly small, it’s growing steadily: in 2013, 6 percent of doctors practiced on a cash-only basis, 2 percent more than the year prior.

And some patients seem intrigued by a model that can enable doctors to provide more in-depth appointments at predictable, flat costs.

The emergence of the modern healthcare consumer, triggered by widespread reforms to the roiling marketplace, has meant that striving for competitive, personalized approaches will remain critical for practices to stay competitive moving forward. This is especially true given that the value-over-volume model shows no signs of fading: according to Medical Economics, 40 percent of commercial in-network payments were tied to performance or “designed to cut waste.” Even hospitals that resisted letting go of fee-for-service contracts are acknowledging that value-based payment is here to stay. In the modern medical marketplace, models that emphasize convenience, accessibility, and the unique needs of the consumer will continue to succeed.

Want to learn how to make your practice more accessible to your patients and more flexible to their individual needs? Contact Everseat to discover tools to boost patient satisfaction and retention.

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Fast Care Nation: Is Convenience King in Healthcare?

Fast Care Nation: Is Convenience King in Healthcare?

Now more than ever, patients expect and covet convenience from their healthcare providers, alongside quality of care and privacy. This is especially true among younger patients, who have become accustomed to on-demand access to all kinds of goods and services, thanks to web platforms ranging from Amazon.com to Open Table. In fact, patients under 40 are almost 50 percent more likely to not even have an ongoing relationship with a primary-care physician, relying almost exclusively on walk-in clinics and other nontraditional modes of primary-care delivery.

Is the focus on convenience good for patients? That depends on many factors. But the phenomenon is here to stay. And many hospitals and practices are coming to understand that inconvenient scheduling is increasingly a competitive challenge. Yet what many don’t realize is that it is also a factor in whether your existing patients will even show up for their scheduled appointments. Truth be told, I have no-showed at my own doctor’s office more than once. A simple phone call would have been nice, and I am not proud of being so inconsiderate. My experience and a little data tells me that I am not alone. One survey of patients who skipped their appointments at a large genetics practice, for example, found that “too busy” and “forgot” were the two most-common reasons given. And the longer patients have to wait for an appointment, the more likely they are to miss it.

Why is convenience rising in importance for patients? And what can you do to make your practice more accessible?

Walk-in clinics are becoming more common
They’re springing up everywhere: retail clinics associated inside big box stores and in freestanding pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. And there are more to come: big retail pharmacies are investing more heavily in their retail clinic business, spurred by lessening profitability in the sale of medications, which means your competition for patients could be increasing. Indeed, CVS projects operating 1,500 clinic outlets by 2017.

Adding to the allure of visiting a retail clinic is the fact that many publish their prices for certain services outright on their websites — Target lists “convenient same-day care” by a nurse practitioner or physicians’ assistant for “treatment for minor illnesses” at between $79–$89.

And even though these clinics don’t claim to replace primary-care providers, the fact is that many patients simply find them more convenient for minor day-to-day issues, especially if they can’t get in to see you on short notice.

Americans feel more rushed than ever
With Gallup reporting that employed Americans adults work, on average, nearly six days a week, it should come as no surprise that we feel more rushed than ever before.

In fact, American moms, who make most healthcare decisions for their families, report having just 36 minutes of free time per day. With time this strapped across the board among parents and non-parents, full-time and part-time workers, it’s easy to understand why the need for convenience in all things, healthcare included, has risen in recent years.

So, knowing that patients want convenience, particularly as the out-of-pocket cost of healthcare continues to go up and people are feeling more and more rushed, what can you do to make your practice more convenient?

  • Put the power to book and reschedule appointments in patients’ hands. Self-scheduling is set to explode in the coming years. As many as 64 percent of patients will book appointments digitally by the end of 2019. Offering the ability to use a smartphone or tablet to jump in line to see the doctor — and to be notified immediately when an appointment is available — will help patients feel more in control, and that care is more accessible.
  • Keep track of repeat no-shows. These patients are inflating the wait time to see the doctor for everyone else. Track who often doesn’t show up or cancels at the last minute, and consider charging them (us!) for missed appointments or deploying a software solution like Smart Scheduling, for example.
  • Dedicate an hour of the schedule each day to walk-ins. By quarantining time in the regular schedule each day or week and advertising this time to patients as open for walk-ins, you let patients know that they have an option outside of visiting the ER or a retail clinic.

Now, more than ever, convenience is important to Americans in seeking health care. Coupled with accessibility of the doctor, digital services, and good communication, ease of getting an appointment is becoming more and more important to patients. Convenience may not be king all on its own but it has definitely taken a prominent seat at the table.

To learn more about putting the power to book appointments in your patients’ hands and making your practice more convenient, contact Everseat.

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Understand the Challenges Facing Your Front Desk Staff

Understand the Challenges Facing Your Front Desk Staff

Your front desk staff: they’re the face of your practice to every patient who walks through the door or calls your phone number. They are the front lines, responsible for everything from greeting patients to managing patient flow to collecting copayments.

The performance of front desk staff directly affects your ability to retain patients — and thus your bottom line, according to practice management expert Elizabeth Woodcock. Yet they’re often among the most overlooked employees in a practice.

It may be an overstatement to say that the ability of your front desk staff to maintain an efficient, frictionless, and welcoming waiting room experience will make or break your practice, but maybe not by much. Indeed, regardless of a patient’s relationship with their doctor, if the front office staff is unpleasant to deal with, that could be one reason why they may consider changing practices.

You’re probably already aware of some of the more obvious challenges faced by your front desk staff — managing inbound phone calls, scheduling, and greeting patients — but your staff are also dealing with issues that you may not have considered. What else are they facing?

Managing patient emotions
A study in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that a “significant portion” of front desk staff’s work involved managing patients’ and families’ emotions, ranging from “confirming a prescription with an angry patient, to congratulating a new mother, to consoling a man whose wife had just died, to helping a mentally ill patient make an appointment.”

Handling call volume and maintaining phone etiquette
Your front desk handles dozens (maybe more than 100) calls a day, and it’s impossible to know how time-consuming an individual call will be. A patient may be calling to confirm the time of an appointment (a less than five-minute call), update their insurance information, or reschedule an appointment. Patients also ask questions about their doctor’s instructions, which may not be something the front desk can answer — but those staff still have to field the calls.

Much has been written (and many phone system solutions developed) to help practices manage their incoming calls and maintain exceptional phone etiquette. Using a patient portal can help significantly reduce call volume by enabling patients to get many of their questions answered online. But few practices have robustly embraced portals. Another way to temper call volume is to offer patients other ways to book, reschedule, or cancel appointments (i.e. an online appointment system or scheduling app).

Managing patient wait times and patient flow
It’s simple: patients hate waiting to see the doctor. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, long waits were among the top 10 gripes that patients have about their doctors. Managing that frustration isn’t so simple.

That’s because it’s not just patient frustration over wait times that receptionists must balance — it’s the needs of the doctors who are juggling increasingly packed schedules and who need help choreographing the flow of patients from the waiting room to the exam room. From using techniques like keeping waiting room patients informed about delays to referring to “scripts” that help guide service during common challenging patient scenarios, receptionists are constantly on their toes keeping patients calm and balancing the flow of traffic somewhere between a trickle and a tsunami.

Complaint resolution
Receptionists are responsible, at least in the immediate, for fielding and responding to complaints about issues ranging from long hold times to the quality of care they’ve received. Balancing empathy for the patient’s situation and determining how best to address it is a drain on energy and time, no matter how experienced a receptionist may be.

In sum, your front desk staff are the unsung heroes of your practice, and they’re key to maintaining efficiency and productivity as well as excellent patient relationships. Don’t forget to spend time acknowledging and evaluating the challenges they face. The effort you spend managing your front desk will pay off handsomely.

For more information about how to make life easier for your receptionists and other front office staff by streamlining the appointment booking process and more, contact Everseat today.

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Missed Appointments Affect More Than Just Revenue

Missed Appointments Affect More Than Just Revenue

Most physicians and practice managers know that missed appointments are bad for business. How bad? Some experts say that these no-shows and late cancellations cost the American healthcare system more than $150 billion per year, and individual practices between $100 and over $1,000 per appointment, depending on specialty and location.

And these figures reflect just lost revenue, not the additional costs associated with lost staff time and sicker patients. Also hidden behind the numbers is the level of frustration experienced by patients who must wait longer to get an appointment because doctor schedules appear full, even though each day brings a few more unfilled seats.

Yes, last-minute appointment cancellations and no-shows drain your bottom line, but their implications lie elsewhere in your practice, too.

Patients don’t get the care they need
We’ve written before about the myriad of reasons why your patients may not be showing up for their doctor visits — money, nerves, or a lack of convenience or appointment availability all can play a role. And these missed appointments have very real, negative implications for their health.

The scope of the problem is enormous: Some 49 million adults skipped recommended care in 2012 because of cost alone.

Some studies have indicated no-show rates in community practices ranging from 5 percent to 55 percent. These missed sessions disrupt continuity and compromise quality of care for the patients who miss the appointments and for those who “would have been scheduled in those appointment slots,” according to Family Medicine.

Patient satisfaction takes a hit
It’s not just the cancellation or no-show who is negatively affected by a missed appointment — the health of other patients, not to mention their opinion of the practice, suffers too. That’s because every missed appointment could have been filled by another (potentially ill) person, increasing the length of time that patients have to wait to see the doctor.

Captain Kim Decker, chief of the Martin Army Community Hospital Healthcare Management Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, puts it succinctly: “An appointment missed by you is an appointment missed by two.” In other words, the person who misses an appointment is likely to need to re-book, and “whoever didn’t get an appointment initially is also still needing one.”

Frustration is more than understandable. The average cumulative wait time to see a family physician in 15 U.S. markets in 2014 was just shy of three weeks. One Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 Americans showed that “difficulty in getting an appointment when sick” ranked among the top five biggest complaints that patients have about their doctors.

Further, the problem may actually compound itself: some studies indicate that no-show rates increased and the “likelihood an appointment would be kept decreased” the further in advance an appointment was scheduled. In other words, missed appointments cause longer wait times, and vice versa.

Your staff loses valuable time
When patients do call to let a practice know that they won’t be able to make their appointment, the great scramble to fill the now-vacant appointment begins. If there is no good system in place to keep track of people on the waiting list hoping for an earlier appointment, the result could be duplicative phone calls, double-booking, or worse, patients could fall through the cracks.

Spending valuable time on a wild goose chase for patients is not cost-effective and takes front desk staff away from their other duties, including greeting and checking in patients as well as communicating with doctors and nurses about the status of the waiting room and more.

Interested in learning more about how to better manage your schedule and reduce missed appointments? Contact Everseat to discuss solutions available to you.

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What Today’s Patients Look for in Medical Practices

What Today’s Patients Look for in Medical Practices

For a long time, the old adage of “customer is king” didn’t really seem to apply to the physician-patient relationship. That’s changing, as reimbursement has grown more tied to patient outcomes and satisfaction in recent years. The importance of ensuring a good patient experience has never been more important.

Patients want great doctors, of course, but they aren’t qualified to evaluate your clinical skills, so they tend to judge you based on their experience as a consumer. And consumer expectations are changing rapidly, especially among young people, as one industry after another leverages the Internet to communicate and sell.

So what, exactly, does that mean for you? Let’s look at some emerging trends to better understand what patients want from their doctors.

More Access and Greater Convenience

We’ve talked before about how people are working more hours per week than ever. That means it’s harder to find time to get to the doctor. Combine that with the fact that it takes an average of 18 days to get an appointment, and you’ve got a recipe for frustrated patients who might be forsaking appointments simply because they can’t find the right time to come in.

Patients want convenience — and younger patients in particular equate convenience with online access. That means they want to schedule an appointment, communicate with their doctor, see test results and other health information, and pay their bills from their keyboards or even their phones.

According to Salesforce’s 2015 State of the Connected Patient report, as many as 31 percent of responding patients said they place value on “the ability to book appointments and pay bills online when they’re choosing a doctor.” Among millennials (individuals aged 18 to 34), these numbers are even more pronounced: upwards of 70 percent said they were interested in the convenience of a mobile application that would help them manage their own care by scheduling appointments and viewing personal health information.

Appointments need to be convenient (i.e. available during times before and after business hours and on the weekends, for full-timers) and easy enough to come by. Practices that can’t provide easy access risk losing patients to those that can.

Access to Medical Records and Digital Services

Patients want the days of spending time, energy, and money to get copies of their medical records to be over — yesterday. They want 24/7 digital access to their medical information via a patient portal that would prevent them having to call the doctor’s office every time they need to get a look at their records. One survey of 406 patients conducted by TechnologyAdvice Research showed that over 60 percent said that access to digital services played a role in their selection of a provider, and over 30 percent wanted to be able to see test results online. Yet, in the same study, only one-third said that their providers actually offered such access.

A similar study by Intuit Health showed that nearly 75 percent of patients polled said that they wanted to be able to pay their bills and communicate with their doctors online. Further still, patients wish to be able to engage digitally not just with their personal medical records, but also with their doctors. And they want to do this outside of scheduled appointment times. The vast majority of patients — 93 percent, in fact — are more likely to choose a doctor who is willing to communicate via email even if they were charged for those email communications.

Time With the Doctor

Patients don’t want to feel rushed in the exam room — and neither do doctors. But with new patients flooding the system under the reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act, the pressure to squeeze as many visits in to each day is overwhelming.

The problem lies, in part, in low reimbursement numbers for primary care physicians and particularly for practices that accept Medicare and Medicaid. When reimbursements are low, doctors must see more patients to survive — leading to jam-packed schedules and harried providers who crank through appointments as speedily as possible.

The result: as many as three in five patients feel like their doctor is rushing through their exams, according to one poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Patients can tell when their doctor is eager to “get them out,” and this can feel especially upsetting when they are ill or frightened about a particular ailment. Rushing may also lead patients to feel concerned that they aren’t getting the most thorough care — all reasons someone might consider looking for a new doctor.

Good Communication and Empathy

No matter how much time we spend on our mobile devices and no matter how much technology reduces our need for human interaction, good bedside manner from doctors will always remain important to patients looking for the best care. In fact, as reported by one recent study, nearly 60 percent of people said that physician-patient relationships and physician personalities were “the most important factors in distinguishing a high-quality physician.”

The importance of clinical empathy hasn’t been lost on teaching institutions, either: Duke University’s oncology fellows are required to take a dedicated course on the subject, Massachusetts General Hospital offers an online course called Empathetics, and starting this year, the MCAT will include questions about human behavior and psychology for the first time.

Empathy doesn’t just lead to happier patients — it can lead to healthier ones, too. One 2012 study conducted by Italian researchers indicated that, of 20,000 diabetes patients, those who were treated by physicians displaying the most empathy ultimately had lower rates of complications than those who were treated by physicians who showed low levels of empathy.

So, what do we know? Patients want to feel that their doctors are accessible, and that their doctors care about their well-being. These desires can be addressed with technology — like patient portals, for example — and with adjustments in doctor behavior (since showing empathy can lead to better patient satisfaction, outcomes, and retention, it truly does pay to pay attention to it). In other words, remembering that patients are customers, too, can go a long way to ensuring that your empowered patients don’t choose to start visiting one of your competitors.

Interested in learning more about how to improve your patients’ experience with your practice? Get in touch with Everseat to discover a simple way to enable your patients to conveniently book appointments, simplifying your scheduling and reducing your number of unfilled slots.

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Not Just Docs: Healthcare Reform Affects Staff, Too

The Affordable Care Act continues to bring millions of new patients into hospitals and medical practices by extending coverage to the previously uninsured. In fact, nearly 60 percent of primary care physicians are seeing more patients who are newly insured under a private plan or Medicaid. And it’s not just patient volume that’s changing — the way care must be delivered is changing, too, requiring more accountability and transparency on the part of providers.

To be sure, doctors are feeling that pressure. But how have these changes affected support staff at practices and hospitals?

Patients don’t understand their plans
Consider this: some sources report that more than 15 million Americans who didn’t have health coverage before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law were covered by the end of open enrollment in 2014. That’s great, but many of these patients are unclear about what is or isn’t covered by their plans.

As you well know, even people who have had health insurance their whole lives often have questions about the details of their coverage. So those who are new to the system understandably require explanation of certain aspects of what they’re paying for. Although support staff aren’t hired to be insurance educators for patients, they’re increasingly accepting that role during the check-out process, and those conversations take time.

Practices must decide which plans to take
Practice managers and administrators must navigate the particularities of individual plans offered on the new healthcare exchanges in order to determine which ones to accept — a time-consuming task under any circumstances, made more so by the sheer volume of new insurance offerings on the exchanges.

Collection is getting harder
The responsibility for collecting payment has shifted more heavily from insurance companies to individual practices and hospital staff as patient accountability for payment has increased with the rise in popularity of high deductible health plans (HDHPs). Indeed, as many as 17.4 million people held HDHPs as of January 2014. Today, billing department representatives must spend more time trying to hunt down payments from patients. With the size of the average deductible more than doubling over the last eight years — from just under $600 to over $1,200 — many patients experience sticker shock when their bill arrives, and may even avoid paying for as long as possible because they simply don’t have the money. And, by all accounts, HDHPs are here to stay.

Widespread pre-authorizations aren’t going away
Prior authorizations (PAs) for tests and procedures aren’t new, but the frequency with which these often time-consuming processes are required is increasing, resulting in millions of potential hours of lost productivity. According to one estimate, that adds up to 868.4 million hours of physician time, plus untold additional staff hours, spent on this task. Many expect the problem to get worse, with some physicians now facing PA requirements for generic drug prescriptions, or prescriptions for medications that patients have been on for a long time.

“Customer” is king
A key element of the ACA is the tenet that patient engagement and satisfaction scores — determined by patient survey responses and patient reported outcomes — will factor in to how hospitals and practices receive reimbursements going forward. That means that greater attention is now being paid to delivering a better patient experience, from more personalized attention by front desk staff and administrators to facility cleanliness, waiting room pleasantness, and more. With some experts predicting that as many as one-third of hospitals will close over the next five years, partly due to poor patient experiences and reviews, the importance of patient satisfaction has never been more important.

Securing patient data is growing more complex
HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has been around for nearly two decades, and when it was first passed, paper records for patients were the norm. Today, electronic records have taken hold, with nearly 71 percent of physicians having adopted EHRs at the end of 2014. Electronic records require careful security measures, including password management, standardized policies on who gets access to what information, and how records can be accessed (via mobile device, etc.) as well as regular assessments of security risks — not only to prevent breaches but also to make practices and hospitals both compliant with HIPAA and eligible to attest to meaningful use.

Medicare and Medicaid compliance programs are required, not optional
Due to ACA’s Section 6401 mandate that all providers establish a Medicare/Medicaid compliance program, support staff are now on the hook not just to establish such programs, but also to manage them in order to ensure proper billing as part of a waste-fraud-abuse-inefficiency reduction strategy. Effective compliance is also key to improving the experience — and ultimately, the patient-generated review of care — of patients who are covered under a Medicare or Medicaid plan.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Support staff — the unsung heroes of any medical practice — are facing just as much pressure as doctors because of the changes caused by healthcare reform.

Is your practice feeling the strain of increased patient volume? To discover how Everseat can help relieve the pressure of more appointments on your scheduling system, get in touch today. Everseat has helped practices nationwide reduce cancellations and missed appointments and improve the bottom line.

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Patients Outpace Doctors in the Use of Digital Technology

Chances are, you see patients immersed in smartphones all the time in your waiting and exam rooms. It likely comes as no surprise, then, that patients are plugged in more than ever before — and turning to digital technologies not only to connect with friends but also to manage and improve health. Consider, for instance, these findings from Makovsky Health’s 2015 “Pulse of Online Health” survey:

  • 91 percent of patients in the United States look online for health and medical information.
  • 88 percent would share personal information digitally to improve care and treatment options.
  • 66 percent would use a mobile app to manage their health. (Millennials all the more so.)

Yet as patients’ use of digital grows, studies show that doctors and healthcare organizations are slower to adopt these same technologies — whether because they question the ability of popular technologies to solve health problems, or they’re simply stretched thin and don’t have time to learn a new tool. If you run or operate a medical practice, hospital, or health system, turning your back on digital can come with hefty consequences, from failing to meet the needs of patients to disgruntled staff members, inefficient work processes, and even a loss of revenue.

If you’re struggling to keep pace with patients’ use of technology, what can you do to catch up? For starters, know and understand the three key ways patients use (or want to use) digital technologies to live healthier, less stressful, and more active lifestyles.

1. To boost knowledge and learn
Friendly, easy-to-use tools like Dr. Google, WebMD, and various web-based “symptom checkers” tout the ability to diagnose patients in seconds. Of course, the convenience of a speedy “diagnosis” is alluring, given the increasing amount of time patients have to wait to see doctors across a range of specialties. And the information patients can glean is growing more credible, with platforms like Dr. Google utilizing top-notch physicians (including those from the Mayo Clinic) to validate and fact-check information.

Many doctors, on the other hand, use the Internet far less often to research medical information, relying instead on traditional channels like print-based medical journals, a recent article from Physician’s Weekly explains. Plenty, in fact, have been quite vocal about the dangers of so-called “DIY diagnosis.”

But whether you prefer print or digital resources to stay abreast of your field is, ultimately, your own business. The fact of the matter is that your patients most certainly look for health information online. So instead of scoffing at their use of the web, work with them to suggest websites, forums, and other sources that align with your approach and meet your approval.

2. To track and monitor health
Digital technology provides more than information. Today’s patients use digital tools to track and stay on top of their health. From mobile apps that count calories and track nutrition, cholesterol, and exercise, patients are leveraging technology to acquire their own health data — and use it to gain insights and make sound health-related decisions. In 2014 alone, FitBit, Inc. had 6.7 million subscribers and sold a staggering 10.9 million of the wristwatch-like devices that track physical activity, sleep, and other health-related data. To date, however, clinicians have shown little interest in data collected by wearable devices.

Where physicians have shown more interest is in areas that blur the line between medical devices and consumer health products. Just this last year, Dexcom created a way to transmit real-time blood sugar readings to smartphones and smart watches — a move with real potential to improve life for people with type 1 diabetes. Plenty of other medical device companies are following suit, finding ways to use mobile to make data accessible not only to patients but also to doctors. Patient portals facilitate the sharing of data and information between doctors and patients — and are improving care.

3. To make healthcare more convenient
Skyrocketing healthcare prices, hectic schedules, and long appointment wait times likely contribute to the fact that people in the U.S. actually go to the doctor less than those in other countries — as few as four times a year, compared with, for example, Japan’s 13 times. But studies show that patients in the U.S. place a high value on convenience when it comes to healthcare, and this is where digital technologies can help. How, exactly?

For one, remote monitoring systems communicate symptoms, vital signs, and even pain levels for chronically ill patients to their doctors via a safe and secure server. And electronic medical records (EMRs) potentially eliminate the need for patients to coordinate their own care across physicians and health systems.

Likewise, mobile and web-based appointment booking apps like Everseat empower patients to schedule doctor appointments on demand, without having to pick up the phone and endure long hold times, only to be told they need to schedule weeks (or even months) in advance.

The reality? You can no longer dismiss digital technologies as a passing trend. To stay afloat and compete in the modern healthcare market, you have to embrace the same technology your patients use day in and day out to manage all aspects of life, from finance and parenting to entertainment, education, philanthropy, and social networking.

Want to learn how digital technologies can help you streamline operations and get ahead in today’s competitive marketplace? Get in touch to find out how Everseat’s revolutionary mobile and web-based app can streamline your operations, grow your bottom line, and increase patient access to timely care.

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4 Reasons Your Patients Cancel Appointments at the Last Minute

The occasional missed appointment happens at every medical practice, and may even feel like a welcome break in an otherwise jam-packed schedule. But last-minute appointment cancellations and no-shows hurt your practice’s finances — and can even take a toll on your patients’ health. By some estimates, missed appointments and last-minute cancellations cost the U.S. healthcare system $150 billion per year. Another study found that, in family medicine practices, cancellations and no-shows represented nearly one-third of all scheduled appointments, with only about 60 percent of those appointments being filled subsequently by walk-ins.

The amount of staff time spent trying to fill last-minute cancellations adds to the high cost and interferes with other priorities, like greeting patients and managing check-in and check-out procedures efficiently. The bottom line? Cancellations hurt your bottom line. Key to reducing them is understanding why patients cancel in the first place. If your practice isn’t doing what it can to remind and encourage patients to attend their appointments, you may be just as culpable for cancellations as patients themselves. At a time when medical liability experts say that missed appointments pose significant legal risks for physicians, reducing cancellations isn’t just good for business — it’s an ethical responsibility.

So, what’s keeping your patients from keeping their appointments?

Nerves
Let’s face it: going to the doctor isn’t at the top of most people’s fun list. But for many patients, fear and dread of the doctor visit result in avoiding, delaying, or cancelling appointments altogether. It’s not hard to imagine the reasons. Doctors can bring bad news. They might tell patients something they don’t want to hear, or lecture patients for putting off treatment, not following medical advice, or engaging in unhealthy behavior. With procedures like colonoscopies, stress tests, and blood work, prepping for the procedure (fasting, for instance) or the procedure itself can be reason enough to call and cancel.

How, then, can you calm patients’ nerves? Understanding and empathy go a long way. Instead of lecturing patients, try to understand why the problem exists and work with them to address it in ways that make sense for their lifestyle. A friendly demeanor matters, too. As the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found in 2014, patients consider listening, attentiveness, a caring attitude, and bedside manner among the most important factors in determining quality of care.

Money
In the first quarter of 2015, only 11.9 percent of Americans were uninsured. But being insured is no guarantee of good care. A late-2014 Gallup poll found that as many as a third of people in the United States say they don’t get the medical care they need because of the cost. In fact, 22 percent of the 828 people surveyed put off treatment for a serious condition due to the expense, up from 12 percent in 2001 and 19 percent in 2013, Gallup found.

The Great Recession might be over, but plenty of patients struggle or aren’t able to pay for medical care. What’s to blame? Rising out-of-pocket costs and employer deductibles, combined with stagnant U.S. wages, are common culprits. So when patients are strained financially, cancelling an appointment last-minute might look like the only option.

Convenience
Hectic work and family schedules can make for a packed day. Studies show, in fact, that U.S. citizens not only work more hours per week than people in any other developed country, we’re also working more than ever in our own history. When the repercussions of taking time out of the work day to go to the doctor feel more serious than the health problem itself, it’s easy for patients to prioritize meetings and tasks over the doctor appointment they scheduled — especially if they aren’t acutely ill. Add anticipated wait times in your waiting and exam rooms, and the motivation to keep appointments can dwindle further down the list of priorities.

Offering early morning, evening, and weekend appointments, your practice can offset the cancellations you receive from harried patients who, despite best intentions, can’t feasibly get there during the workday.

Availability
Is your practice’s waiting list growing? Do your patients have to wait too long to get an appointment? If so, know that these factors affect your cancellation rate. Sick patients frustrated by having to wait a long time to get an appointment will cancel and go elsewhere if another doctor can see them sooner. Practice loyalty flies by the wayside, especially if someone isn’t feeling well and needs urgent care.

Last-minute cancellations come at a high cost to both your practice and your patients’ health. By figuring out what barriers your patients face — and working with them instead of against them — you can take the first steps in creating a system that works for your practice and patients alike.

Want more help reversing the revenue loss and other consequences of last-minute cancellations? At Everseat, we’ve created a mobile and web-based application to solve the problem on all ends. Get in touch or sign up for a demo to learn more.

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The Power of Partnerships: Transforming Healthcare Scheduling and Access

The idea of patient centered scheduling has arrived. Of course, many courageous advocates and innovative leaders have been there for decades. But a convergence of factors is giving the concept its best opportunity yet to become simply the way we all get the care we need, when we need it. There is no doubt that providers are holding the cards right now. There is also no doubt that no one party in the complex health care system can make this transition alone. It will take the power of partnerships.

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine has validated the argument that there ought to be one place any of us can go to get easy access to all of the providers that we rely on for our health care.

Not sure about this yet? Think about it this way:

The IOM report is titled: Transforming Healthcare Scheduling and Access: Getting to Now. It was requested by the Veterans Administration in response to the widely reported scandal involving scheduling delays that negatively affected the healthcare of more than 100,000 U.S. military veterans.

Among the IOM report’s Findings and Recommendations:

  • Healthcare in the U.S. must be “patient-centered care” and “timely.”
  • The consequences of our antiquated scheduling system include “negative effects on health outcomes.”
  • One of the causes of harmful scheduling delays in our current system is that it is built on “provider-focused scheduling” and not “patient-centered scheduling.”

What if, instead of using Open Table, all restaurants just told their patrons to look for table reservation times on their websites? Not a bad start, but not very helpful either. That’s how we feel about the tremendous progress represented by patient portals and better provider web sites. It is a step in the right direction but can you imagine managing your family’s care by juggling 5, 6 or 7 different provider portals or mobile apps? Good but not nearly good enough.

Here on Everseat’s blog – the Hot Seat – we will continue writing about ideas in “patient centered scheduling” that leading researchers, thinkers, patients and providers all over the country are developing. We are proud to partner with many of them.

This week we are pleased to announce the launch of our partnership with athenahealth and its “More Disruption Please” (MDP) program. Together, our two companies will work to connect athenahealth’s growing network of more than 67,000 health care providers with the capabilities of Everseat to offer patients easier scheduling access and real-time notifications about open appointments.athenahealth_logo-color

We look forward to working with any patient, provider or practice management organization on making people healthier by making patient access easier.

Thanks to our partners at athenahealth, we will be working with more providers and patients than ever. We look forward to helping everyone get better results.

Read more about Everseat’s partnership with athenahealth and about our capabilities that could make a difference for your practice or for your family.