Integrated voice/text/email appointment reminder system reduces no-shows and saves staff time
Innovative Communicator App, built into the Electronic Health Record software, makes it easy to use and administer. Old appointment reminder systems get a new twist and evolve into a targeted community outreach tool.
Keeping up with mobile technology for younger patient populations had surprising benefits for health departments and healthcare providers. Clinics are also projecting a modern image to our patients.
In today’s technology era, public health departments and other healthcare providers are faced with many reasons they have to think and function differently. The onset of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Meaningful Use (MU), and more so, a new generation of tech-savvy patients with smart phones, requires them to put a modern twist on things; provide interactive and mobile-ready communications and appointment tools. “The millennials’ world evolves around technology – that’s what they want,” said Dr. Cardra Burns, Health Director, Halifax County Health Department.
However, it is not simply about keeping up with what the patients want, but also the need to continue providing quality care on a thinning budget. Technology is helping all businesses improve service and reduce costs. So, how can the medical clinics also take advantage of innovative technology to improve patient care and save money too? Research shows that appointment reminders via email, voice-mail or text messaging reduce patient no-shows and improve organizational efficiency.
“No-shows were a huge issue for us because they are costly and time consuming for the staff and providers and a headache for the owners,” says Darryl Stanford, Co-founder and Director of Finance Turning Point Family CARE. “I looked around for 6-8 months for appointment reminder software that would be able to communicate with our consumers”.
Tommy Jarrell, Health Director, Richmond County Health Department, had a different problem. “We had an old patient reminder system that we had been using for several years, but the other system was fairly expensive and it had recently stopped communicating with Health Information System (HIS). Every time our HIS software changed, there were always difficulties for the two systems to work together. Our staff was once again spending a lot of time manually calling people to remind them of their appointment the following day. It was time to find a system that would work with our EHR and send reminders automatically without the need for manual uploads.”
Based on feedback from clients, Patagonia Health developed its Communicator App which allows clinics to communicate with patients via voice-mail, text or email. The built-in communicator app is a lot more than an appointment reminder system, some local health departments wish to expand its use as an outreach tool. Based on information within the EHR, clinics can reach out to certain patients (e.g., sorted by certain age group or diagnoses) with targeted messages e.g. to do community health assessment using voice or text or email.
“We sat down as a group with leadership and other supervisors to brainstorm on every way to use the communicator app thinking outside the box,” says Dr. Burns. “We saw the app as a way to use technology more efficiently and allow our staff to work more efficiently.”
The result was a built-in electronic automated “patient reminder system and outreach tool” that is completely integrated with the Patagonia Health EHR software. “The Communicator App is very easy-to-use, as are the other parts of the EHR system. Once we got the instructions for set-up, it was quite self-explanatory,” said Elizabeth Buffaloe, Administrative Assistant/Deputy Registrar, Halifax County Public Health System.
When creating an appointment, patients can choose to receive one or more emails, voice-mails or text messages. The EHR will choose pre-configured defaults based on the patient’s communication preferences (including English or Spanish), which the staff can override.
Measuring the benefits can vary from clinic to clinic depending on the population they serve and the reporting systems they use to measure outcomes. So what can you expect to see? The benefits have proven to be vast across all facility types.
Improved Staff Efficiency and Decreased Departmental Expenses
“We called an average of 30 patients each day before we had the communicator app. The communicator app saves a lot of time having to make these calls. Now our staff can spend time answering patient calls, scheduling clinical appointments, and managing other tasks,” said Buffaloe. Improved staff efficiency can turn into reduced departmental expenses due to a reduction in required staffing hours. With minimal funding this can be a huge benefit for medical clinics.
Reduction of No-Shows
While population demographics vary, no-show rates can remain difficult to manage and measure. “The number of no-shows did not improve much due to our client population’s prepaid cells and they change their phone numbers frequently. This has no relation to the app, only our population in general. We would have had the same problems with calling manually so this still saves us time in that aspect,” said Buffaloe.
But for many, the Communicator App is a leap in the right direction. “No-show rates are something I watch carefully, so I am excited to already see a positive trend,” said Jarrell. “We have only been using the Communicator App for 3-4 months and I already have an acceptable drop in no-show percentages.”
Improved Patient Perception
The Communicator App has improved the perception of many departments as being modern and more up-to-date. “Our patients really prefer the texting – They receive everything by text or email so they really appreciate this feature,” said Buffaloe. Dr. Burns adds “It is important because we need keep up to stay relevant!”
Communicating with patients, in a means that they prefer, will go a long way towards improving internal work flow, reducing no-show rates, and modernizing your communications and perception of your facility.
While the Communicator App is already saving thousands of dollars to current users, it is also undergoing modifications to add requested new features. “The future of the Communicator App is important to us because we are moving towards integrated care. We are looking at the bigger picture of how we can provide better care overall to high risk and vulnerable populations and how that data can be shared and aggregated coming out of our system” says Dr. Burns. “The more we use it, the more ideas that come out and the technology grows – it will become something far more dynamic. I would absolutely recommend the Communicator App because of the immediate cost savings we saw and for all its forthcoming developments.”