Ensuring Digital Properties Excel for Modern Patient Engagement

Dan CagenDan Cagen
minute read

Now more than ever, healthcare organizations need to consider their digital offerings, from telehealth to accessibility and beyond

It’s no longer enough for healthcare organizations to simply offer a digital experience. They must provide a high-quality digital experience and a positive first impression (and of course, do so without raising fees for patients or increasing administrative costs) — or risk losing digital health consumers.

Half of patients agree that a bad digital experience with a healthcare provider ruins the entire experience, and more than 25% are willing to switch to a new provider for high-quality digital services, according to Accenture’s Digital Health Consumer Survey.

Digital healthcare experiences — such as telehealth visits, chatbots and patient portals — can increase providers’ ability to provide preventive care, which in the long run can reduce costs for healthcare organizations, and increase healthcare organizations’ reach into rural areas.

Some of these technologies will become mandatory for healthcare providers, if they’re not already; other technologies might be optional. But either way, if you’re going to leverage them, you need to provide a stellar experience for patients, or they may not engage with you again.

More than 25% of digital health consumers are willing to switch to a new provider for high-quality digital services, according to Accenture’s Digital Health Consumer Survey.

Here are some of the digital technologies that healthcare providers can leverage to improve patient engagement.

Mobile apps

Providers leverage mobile apps to streamline communication between patients, providers and caregivers, and enable 24/7 management of a patient’s condition along with the ability to personalize healthcare to each patient. Patients expect to book appointments and pay bills using a mobile app, as well as access more care-specific functionalities.

The best mobile apps can coordinate care between multiple devices and care settings, and enable patients and/or caregivers to use their smartphones, tablets and computers to access data from electronic health records (EHRs), health information exchanges, medical devices and other monitoring solutions. But this presents challenges around data security, privacy and clinical accuracy, and organizations need to ensure they are not violating regulations or putting their brand at risk.

In terms of user adoption, healthcare mobile apps still need to provide an engaging experience. Patients are just like anyone else and leverage apps such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok on a daily basis. A well-designed healthcare app can keep a patient’s attention and keep them returning to the app on an ongoing basis. But providers lack insights into what patients want out of a mobile app and what compels them to continue to use the app — UX studies can help answer these questions.

Telehealth/telemedicine

COVID-19 accelerated the need for patients and physicians to connect virtually, particularly for individuals in high-risk categories. Shortly after COVID-19 struck the United States, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) took action to expand telehealth for medicare beneficiaries, increasing access to telehealth services for patients who need routine care from the safety of their own home. The rise of telehealth enabled many healthcare providers to stay afloat during the darkest days of the pandemic.

But we shouldn’t expect providers or patients to abandon telehealth when COVID-19 is gone. Telehealth benefits the physician by helping to ease the administrative burden on medical practices. Because physicians can practice medicine independent of the physical location of the patient, the costs of running a medical practice are lower. For patients, telehealth provides convenience and joins the list of activities that people have become accustomed to doing virtually.

We shouldn’t expect providers or patients to abandon telehealth when COVID-19 is gone

This case study of Baystate Health, a healthcare system in Western New England that serves many rural patients, showcases where telehealth can be valuable. Baystate Health had physicians recommend a telehealth follow-up appointment for patients with stable chronic conditions (diabetes, conjunctivitis, etc.). Having a balance of in-person and telehealth visits made providers more efficient with their days, and patients enjoyed the ability to get routine care without driving to a provider’s office.

However, telehealth requires working with different technology providers, such as Epic or Zoom. Virtual visits can quickly go off the rails if patients have issues with time-bound links or can’t connect in a poor WiFi setting. Healthcare organizations can get in front of these issues by leveraging real users to test both the patient and physician experience.

Chatbots

Studies show that as many as 40% of colonoscopy patients don’t follow through with the procedure. That’s why Northwell Health launched a personalized chatbot for patients with an appointment for a colonoscopy. The text or email-based chatbot uses AI to address misunderstandings and concerns about the exam, delivering information in a responsive, conversational way over email or text. By educating patients on the benefits of the colonoscopy and what to expect before, during and after the procedure, as well as date and location reminders of the appointment, patients are more likely to actually show up on the day of the procedure.

This is just one use case of chatbots in healthcare. During COVID-19, other organizations have used chatbots to educate visitors about when they should seek medical attention relating to the virus, or let them know if they are in a coronavirus hot spot. Chatbots can help patients understand an illness or ailment, find additional resources, schedule appointments and complete many other tasks.

However, a chatbot is only as good as the AI algorithm that powers it, and needs to be validated by real users before it’s rolled out. Providers need to gather utterances and questions at scale to build a chatbot algorithm. Once the chatbot is developed, they need to test user flows to ensure the chatbot provides relevant and accurate information.

Accessibility

A patient who engages with a healthcare provider is more likely to be older and/or have a disability than the general population. These disabilities could include vision issues or other physical issues (such as hand tremors) that can impact their ability to engage with digital experiences.

When providers can’t deliver an accessible digital experience — such as captions on video content — they are preventing a significant portion of their audience from engaging with their digital properties. This impacts the bottom line and works against providers’ goals of engaging patients in a cheaper way that fosters loyalty.

When providers can’t deliver an accessible digital experience, they are preventing a significant portion of their audience from engaging with their digital properties.

There are a couple ways for healthcare providers to make their digital properties more accessible. First, conduct a thorough accessibility assessment of existing properties and assess if there are accessibility-related issues — an automated accessibility tool is a good starting point for this, but only identifies around 20% of issues and should always be supplemented by manual accessibility testing. Then, integrate inclusive design into the earliest stages of development to ensure accessibility is factored into all new products earlier, when it’s cheaper and easier to address.

Voice & AI

Both physicians and patients have potential to benefit from voice assistants. “Healthcare is at a tipping point with voice,” Boston Children’s Hospital CIO John Brownstein told Healthcare IT News. “We haven’t seen it transform any industries. Healthcare could be a leading vertical in voice apps.”

Physicians often utilize programs to take patient notes, process data and access records. The organization of data is an important component in saving time, and voice assistants may be the solution. For patients, AI-powered virtual assistants could provide 24-hour care to a wide range of patients, including people with chronic diseases and rural patients who would need to travel for in-person medical care.

Voice and AI-based technologies are only as good as the data behind them. Providers need to compile data from end users to eliminate bias, improve response accuracy and deliver meaningful outcomes that meet patient/provider expectations. When AI-based technologies aren’t built on sound data at scale, chaos can ensue.

Applause is there for healthcare organizations

Applause can validate digital platforms and showcase where the user experience is not meeting expectations. Healthcare providers need to ensure that their patients are comfortable with using the technology they are offering, including patients with limited access to consumer-grade tech. Since many patients are older and lack familiarity with some forms of technology, this is a key barrier for healthcare organizations and digital patient engagement.

Leveraging custom testing teams sourced from its global community, Applause can gather valuable insights from your target users to help you gain a deep understanding of patient needs and expectations related to digital health. When organizations are ready to launch new digital solutions, Applause’s testers — sourced from the same demographics as your patients — can tell you if it is simple, intuitive and relevant, and compare it to similar platforms they’ve used from other providers. Applause has already been doing it for organizations such as Banner Health and Dignity Health.

Patients will soon expect every healthcare organization to offer an accessible mobile app or a chatbot — and those experiences need to be secure, intuitive and fully functioning for patients to return to them over and over.

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