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Achieving good patient outcomes involves more than practicing great medicine. It also requires appropriate, timely, and frictionless patient communication. According to a recent CHIME survey, supporting patient engagement efforts has quickly become a top priority for at least 52% of health system CIOs.  For most patients, communication options and experience have a big impact on how interested they are in engaging with healthcare staff. When communication is inaccessible for any reason, such as a language or technology gap, the patient experience deteriorates and patient health suffers. Finding a way to meet patients where they are is key to defining how successfully they will engage with providers. 

However, today’s providers face challenges in dealing with a healthcare system that demands more than just patient care. For example, providers have limited time for each patient, while they navigate federal regulations and juggle various EHRs. Providers know that patients have to deal with the same broken healthcare system and at times, the difficulty of the processes leaves patients frustrated and not heard.  Healthcare professionals recognize that improving patient communication is necessary to enhance routine care, reduce hospital readmissions, and better patient satisfaction scores. They believe the way to engage patients, influence behaviors, and improve health outcomes is by having a communication strategy that sends targeted outreach in digital channels that patients use in their everyday lives.

Here are 3 areas of a communication strategy that should be optimized for effective patient engagement:

1) Communication Channels

For many patients, texting has become their preferred method of communicating. From Gen Z and the Millenials who have texted most of their lives, to Gen X and Boomer parents that realize it is the quickest way to reach younger generations, texting has become an integral part of everyone’s lives. In fact, 97% of Americans text weekly, and 78% wish they could have a text conversation with businesses. It is clear that leveraging texting as a way to communicate with patients can smooth the road to more effective engagement. Having a multi-pronged approach to communication that leverages text, voice, email, and patient portals provides health systems with the flexibility to communicate with patients across all of the major mediums.

2) Use of Automation

Automation is a hot topic when it comes to creating staff efficiencies and reducing costs. It can also be a hot topic when done poorly, resulting in a frustrating experience for consumers. One-way automations that ask patients to call create more work for patients and staff. Rigid automations that do not allow patients to take care of other needs while they are already engaged also create more work for your patients. When using automation technology, it is important that it offers options that actively allow engagement from patients such as conversational messaging, seamless handoffs to staff, and the ability to flexibly handle a conversation.

3) Keep It Conversational

Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to further the patient-provider connection, therefore, when using automation to help streamline organizational processes, it is critical to use technology that mirrors as closely as possible a live customer service experience. Traditional chatbot technology is limiting and often times will not end in full resolution without a live person intervention. Most chatbot systems can only recognize keywords and respond with a FAQ link or a recorded answer.  When multiple steps are required or if questions are more complex, chatbots have limited answers, so a majority of patients’ questions cannot be resolved with automation, leading to brief, unsatisfactory exchanges.

In contrast, Natural Language Understanding (NLU) uses machine reading comprehension and the ability of computers to interpret, analyze, and approximate human speech – a big advantage over traditional chatbots. Instead of a response of “Press 1 for….,” NLU enables computer software to interpret responses and the person’s intent. For example, if a person responds with a “Yep” or a thumbs-up emoji instead of answering “Yes,” NLU software will know that the person responded affirmatively based on the language the patient used. 

As NLU tries to interpret meaning, it can go beyond simply understanding words and deal with common human errors like misspellings or mispronunciations. Instead of defaulting to a live agent like most chatbots, NLU-enabled technology such as ChatAssist AI allows for full conversations with patients, resulting in completed workflows. Patients are quickly connected to resolutions without needing to wait for human intervention while administrative staff time can be spent on other priorities.

Interested in adopting these patient communication capabilities? Check out what your ROI will be if you use WELL™ at your organization to improve your patient engagement.


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