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conversational messaging

At our first annual customer conference, Heartbeat 2023, thought leaders from a variety of health systems covered a wide range of topics in panel discussions, fireside chats, spotlights, and more. One pertinent topic that was discussed? Conversational Messaging. 

Conversational Messaging & Conversational Engagement 

While providers are eager to implement conversational messaging, we know the journey may feel jammed with questions and hurdles. That’s why we had one panel dedicated to the hot topic led by Artera’s SVP of Customer Experience, Sarah Shillington. Three experts had the opportunity to weigh in on their respective organizations’ shifts to conversational messaging, including:

  • Carrie Davis, VP of Patient Experience, Hanger Clinic 
  • Pam Landis, Senior Vice President, Digital Engagement, Hackensack Meridian Health
  • Abdalla Ihmeidan, Operational Service Manager, Care Access & Service Integration, UNC Health

What is Conversational Messaging? 

Conversational Messaging provides personalized, interactive communications between the patient and their provider. It goes beyond one-way automations, and unlike older two-way healthcare texting solutions, which are transactional and primarily used for single numeric or letter responses, conversational texting provides an experience similar to messaging friends or family. 

By definition, a conversation is a talk between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged. Artera strives to enable patients and providers to exchange such thoughts in a way that is more dynamic and interactive – cue, conversational messaging. 

A combination of human interaction and automations, conversational messaging provides patients with a much more unique, personalized experience with their provider through real-time dialogue. Conversational messaging capabilities include rich elements of different attachment types, emojis, preferred languages, and the ability to bring in others to a conversation with simple @mentions. 

How to Use Conversational Messaging

Artera’s conversational messaging platform also has the ability to automate thousands of messages between patients and providers and gracefully hands off to staff for dynamic messaging when human intervention is required. This provides operational efficiencies while also enabling staff to maintain the “human touch” of communication when they wish to do so. 

The Shift to Conversational Messaging: Why Each Organization Made the Move

While each panelist had a unique experience launching conversational messaging across their healthcare organizations, it was clear they were all dedicated to the same outcome: making their patients’ – and staff – lives easier. 

According to Carrie Davis, Hanger patients were asking for more seamless ways to connect with their providers. When they found Artera, they thought the conversational piece was “extraordinary in connecting people quickly and easily to care” and also would provide some relief for their office administrators who were “burning out” quickly on the phone due to such high call volume. 

Landis agreed with Davis, saying that her patients were looking for more information and to get something done as quickly and easily as possible. By implementing conversational messaging at Hackensack, it was not only a win for the patients but also for the staff – she was focused on: “Giving our agents more time to spend on the complex care, complex navigation and appointment scheduling that they do, and offload some of those routine things but still maintain a kind of empathy around that messaging.”

At UNC Health, they also had a top priority to “give staff another outreach tool to contact the patient,” said Abdalla Ihmeidan. What had initially started out as just an additional scheduling tool has “evolved further into referral outreach and other use cases in different departments” – all helping to give more time back to staff. 

Key Takeaway #1: Bring the voice of your office administrators forward. They are the frontline of your organization – and most often the unsung heroes – who have a big impact on a patient’s experience. Support and evangelize them.

Tune in to hear from each organization on why they implemented conversational messaging. 

Implementation & Training for Conversational Messaging

After identifying the need – and goals – for conversational messaging, each organization set off on their own journeys to implement the feature. 

Initially going live with a small pilot, UNC Health wanted to gauge how the feature worked across a minimal group of primary and specialty care practices, starting out with appointment reminders, patient questions, and referrals to see “how the staff would be leveraging the tool.”

Hackensack Meridian Health also started off with a pilot across 20 practices and their controlled patient access center – at the time, this was mostly for scheduling COVID vaccinations. Standing up 23 vaccination centers and delivering vaccinations to over a million people in New Jersey, Hackensack “needed this texting solution to remind people about these appointments they were so desperately looking for.” Landis recognized how significant this solution was when they could “deliver the right information at the right time in a really scalable, critical way.” 

As for Hanger Clinic, they started off strong by going live with conversational messaging across 29 patient care centers, their national call center, and their financial counseling department, using it for scheduling, payments, referrals, and insurance. Ultimately, they wanted to create ease for both patients and staff, “opening a new pathway of communication and connection.” 

Despite varying degrees of conversational messaging rolled out across organizations, all three leaders had similar success metrics, including call volume, no-shows, staff satisfaction (internal survey), staff efficiency, and closing care gaps/preventative care. 

Tune in to hear from each organization on how they first implemented conversational messaging and how they measured its success. 

Even beyond these traditional success metrics, however, each organization is finding additional value in conversational messaging as they continue to deploy it across more locations and in new ways. One example is Hanger Clinic utilizing the platform to deliver a video to a large number of patients via text versus working with another vendor who used to manually call each patient, reducing costs and streamlining operational efficiencies. Additionally, while difficult to quantify, each leader recognized they’re developing richer connections and engagement with their patients, which leads to happier patients and more connected experiences – something that is nearly unobtainable with traditional two-way texting. 

Key Takeaway #2: Keep an open mind and be creative with your technology – as a result, new, unexpected value and use cases will arise. For our panelists, the value of conversational messaging evolved over time as it has been deployed in new ways. 

Hear about the additional value each organization is seeing with conversational messaging.

As each organization continues to expand conversational messaging across more practices, they have learned a number of things, including how significant training is for a successful launch.

For UNC Health, this means having a streamlined process to get users into the platform. In addition to resources, UNC has an online learning module to teach users how to log in and access and use the platform. During each roll-out, they also ensure IT is dialed in for support, and if necessary, they provide a more hands-on training approach if a clinic has questions about how to leverage the platform.  

For Hanger Clinic, Davis also realized just how important training was for their office administrators – those who typically have the first encounter with a patient. In fact, they also had a first training module, which included a video from their senior leadership team where they discussed what the Artera platform was and how it would impact staff. Another priority for Hanger is to connect end users with each other so that they can “learn from each other” and talk through best practices or new ideas on how to optimize the platform. 

In an effort to effectively train staff at Hackensack, Landis’ team built scripts for call center agents to use as templates, hosted training sessions, and even performed a skills-based test. Leadership wanted to see if agents could perform text as well as they could talk on the phone considering “written word is a whole different ball game.” Their QA department also records the screens of conversational messages to see what happened and if there is any additional education needed to empower staff to leverage the platform at its greatest capacity. 

Key Takeaway #3:  Supporting and empowering staff is paramount. 

Tune in below to hear how each organization approached staff training and all of the learnings they gathered in the process. 

Maintaining the Human Element in Patient Communication

As the organizations continued to roll out the feature over time, a few challenges – or roadblocks – came up throughout the process. For Hanger Clinic, that was finding the right way to expand the platform internally across their entire organization. Hackensack, on the other hand, was more so focused on getting organized and who they needed to have involved internally. 

Another major question the organizations had was about maintaining a sense of empathy – or “human touch” in conversational messaging. For Landis’ team, they considered: “How do we convert that human touch from a phone call to a text message?” 

A unique aspect of conversational messaging, however, is that it allows providers to maintain a healthy balance between the use of AI and human interaction. While each organization is quite “mixed” in terms of their approach (using AI and humans), they all agreed “the human element is so important.” According to Davis, while efficiency is important, “our people want to connect with people – and since it feels so natural inside of the platform” it enables staff to converse in their own unique, personalized way. 

Key Takeaway #3: Automation and human connection are not at odds with each other. Patient communication automation can be deployed to improve staff efficiency and reduce administrative burden AND an empathetic voice can still be maintained in your communication to build connection and improve the patient experience. 

Hear about how each leader balances deploying automations and the human element into patient engagement.

The Conversational Messaging Journey Continues: Here’s What’s Next for Each Organization

As the conversational messaging journey continues, each organization is continuing to roll out the feature across more and more practices. 

For Hanger Clinic, they will have all 900 of their clinics live with Artera within the next 12-18 months – and as they learn more about the platform’s capabilities, they’re eager to expand beyond traditional use cases to help support other functions. “We plan to take advantage of every single thing that Artera can do and find ways to do even more,” said Davis. Above all, Hanger is dedicated to listening to their patient’s needs: “One of our patient’s highest priorities is to be educated and informed and feel empowered about decisions related to their care. We’re gonna use the platform to do just that by sending trigger-based education and more,” said Davis. 

With 850 clinics live with conversational messaging, UNC Health has expanded rapidly over the past year. Moving forward, they will continue expanding the feature to better leverage referral scheduling and identify any gaps in rescheduling via conversational texting to boost their rescheduling rate. Ultimately, they want to ensure patients are receiving as much seamless communication as possible.  

As for Hackensack, they are rolling out conversational messaging across 400 more clinics by the end of 2024. They’re also starting to use it to fill gaps in care: “We did a test a few months ago; we sent out 400 texts to patients who were due for a colonoscopy. Forty people called to make appointments and four people found out they had cancer. And as hard as it is for those four folks, it is encouraging it is as simple as a text that got them into care, and got them into care early,” said Landis. Moving forward, Landis plans to utilize conversational messaging like this for every annual medical care visit for each site so that patients can get back into care quickly and easily. 

Key Takeaway #5: Your staff wants to build connections with patients – and they want to empower patients to take their care into their own hands. 

Check out the video below to hear about where each organization is headed with conversational messaging in the future. 

In conclusion: conversational messaging and engagement creates meaningful interactions which result in a better patient experience and improved outcomes.

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