Trade Phone Tag for Electronic Connections

Staff time spent on the telephone is a huge practice expense and one that can be easily reduced to the satisfaction of all involved. As pediatricians, our patients and their families primarily connect with the world electronically. Want to wish someone a happy birthday or see instant pictures of the graduation? Social media and texting are the preferred method of contact for the majority of them. How many of your families, or for that matter your staff, even have a home phone line?

Using patient messaging effectively in your practice can improve efficiency and decrease cost. While messaging services aren’t free, compared to the wasted time of back and forth phone tag trying to connect with patients, the return on investment is huge. Free up your staff for higher value tasks such as running recalls and scheduling your patients who are overdue for services to fill up your schedule and increase revenue. Let the phone be used to answer questions, give advice, and schedule appointments; those matters which actually require a personal conversation.

Even practices that don’t participate in Meaningful Use (like mine) can achieve savings and efficiency by collecting and using data regarding preferred method of contact. While initially it may take some work to implement, the rewards are far reaching.

Electronic messaging can be divided into several categories:

  • Practice email blasts
  • Appointment confirmation
  • Portal messaging notification
  • Individual reminders

What is the value of practice email blasts? I can think of 5 things my practice has done in the past 12 months that significantly reduced staff work burden.

  1. Reminder to update contact information: my staff began to realize that for appointment confirmation, many patients had chosen email but were no longer responding as they had moved so much of their interactions to text. So we sent an email reminder to everyone (ALL email addresses associated with the family) to log on to the portal and update all of their information, including address, and portal preferences. While not everyone did, it sure reduced the work burden on the staff when patients came in AND got the attention of the patients who we do not see regularly.
  2. Flu vaccine notification: I know you don’t want to think about it, but do you recall the mess we had with flu vaccine distribution last year? We were getting so many calls about it, so we ended up sending out a mass email to everyone to update them throughout the season. This was infinitely easier than answering individual phone calls.
  3. HIPAA update: we changed how we exchange information with our local hospital and sent out an email blast with a pointer to our updated HIPAA policy (along with a sign in our office) that satisfies the requirement of notifying patients. (No, you do not have to get them to re-sign it every time you change it.)
  4. Urgent care damage control: we were having a lot of patients choosing the local urgent care for simple concerns instead of coming to see us. We sent an email blast to all of our patients reminding them that as their medical home, we ARE their urgent care. We explained that they are not burdening us by calling after hours. We welcome their contact and want them to let us help them make the best decision of where to seek care for their children.
  5. What’s next? We are increasing our no show appointment fees. We will be reminding everyone of our fees with a link to the website information.

Having your staff call patients to remind them of their appointments is costly. How often does staff actually connect with the appropriate person on the first call? Plus, we have discovered families usually don’t check their voicemail box. Why not separate your appointment reminders into the category that the family prefers and click a button to send the week’s worth of reminders? If you don’t get auto-confirmation (which is awesome when patients use it!), have the staff send texts to the unconfirmed and if they still don’t respond, then use staff time to call people and leave messages.

I get questions all the time about portal messaging and fears about what it can lead to. It can lead to increased efficiency and improved satisfaction from all! Families get aggravated waiting on hold or having to go through a phone tree to request a refill or a referral. Let them send an electronic message when they think of it at 11 PM and let your staff respond when they have natural down time in the office. Tired of calling all of those negative throat cultures? When you see a patient in the office that has a throat culture sent out, have your staff confirm their portal notification preference and tell them that if the culture is positive, you will call. However, if the culture is negative, they will receive a message on the portal and they need to tell you how they would like to be notified that they have a message to review. Create a phrase construction label that you re-use for negative throat cultures. Just this alone pays for the messaging center fees.

I have to admit, I would often rather message with a family than speak on the phone. If I get an “oh, by the way”…..I can address it later when time allows and not get stuck on the phone or appear rude trying to terminate the call. I can also include some links to good references and often back to OUR website…so next time they can find the information on their own.

Individual reminders by text are incredibly effective. Frustrated that your parents of young children didn’t complete their surveys prior to their visit? Send individual text reminders. Have your staff make it look like it’s coming from you to increase the response rate. “Dr. Kressly here, please complete the surveys on the portal prior to Tuesday’s appointment so we have more time to discuss your concerns. TY!”

Cost of MOC re-enrollment = $1304
Cost to join SOAPM = $30
Cost of Patient Message eXchange = WORTH IT!

What are you waiting for?

Sue Kressly

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