"We want to anticipate what is needed and put ourselves in the patient's place," says Mellissa K. Meadows, Practice Manager at Hoover Primary Care, when asked about enhancing the experience patients have while interacting with the practice.
"Time is of the essence for patients," she says. "Everyone is always in a hurry, we're all multitasking, so we want to make the visit as productive as it can be in the timeframe it's scheduled." In that regard, Hoover Primary Care uses digital options to connect with patients at their convenience, especially new patients.
"A lot of information has to be input in the beginning and that can be a deterrent for someone," Meadows says. New patients are sent an invitation to join the portal for pre-visit sign-ins, complete with all their basic demographic information already entered, but with an incentive to join now. "When we send that link, if they sign up within a five-to-ten-minute window of time, all they have to do is create a username and password and verify the information already provided," she says. If they go beyond that time limit, they have to enter all their information themselves.
Other pre-visit requirements can also be met virtually with the portal. Patients can pay their copay and click on their agreement to the consent form. "So they don't have to physically sign a form, and they have a contactless experience at the office," Meadows says.
The process saves patients' time at the office, since they don't need to arrive so far in advance to fill out paperwork for their appointment. "They get here a few minutes early to go through the COVID screening process and, at that point, they're checked in," Meadows says. "We're still evolving with it and trying to get more people to use it. But patient usage has been rising. When we started the portal last year, one or two patients out of 100 each day would use the e-check in. Now it's up to 30 percent. Surprisingly, it's not limited by age. Senior patients have been very tech savvy with it and the adult children who are the proxy of our older patients are choosing it."
Medisys has tapped into an even more popular communication mode for patients. "We implemented a check-in text," says Mike Candelaria, who handles computer support with Medisys. "Texts not only get sent to remind and confirm the patient for their appointment, but also to guide them through the check-in process that, with COVID, can change day-to-day. The text explains the check-in procedure before they arrive, so instead of having a big sign on the door for patients to read when they arrive, the patient sees that in their text."
Should things change, the patient can get an update on that process when they text to announce their arrival at the office and, if needed, their parking spot number--all without leaving their car. "All customizable, because practices have different policies," Candelaria says.
If a patient needs a lab test done, a text directs them to go straight to the lab upon arrival instead of the front desk, and the patient clicks on a notification when they've left the lab. "So when the patient is done following instructions, the front desk knows," Candelaria says, and can move them on to an exam room or check them out.
Medisys also set up texts to facilitate payments. "They get a text to pay this amount now with a link. When they click that, it opens a browser to a secure website to fill out the payment form," Candelaria says. "Once the patient pays, the front desk knows it--it's all on one screen for them."
For Mellissa Meadows, the virtual check-in has created a natural path to qualify for e-visits and avoid the need for patients to travel to the office all-together. Different than telehealth, e-visits are basically live text chats through the secure portal.
To qualify, the patient lists a few symptoms during their echeck-in. The doctor reviews that and offers them the option of an e-visit, if possible. "It can't be something that sight is needed for, nothing over 10 minutes, but something like a sinus issue or a UTI that has recurred," Meadows says. "It allows patients to have the visit at their convenience. High-risk patients, in particular, have enjoyed this option."
"This has been a strange year for medicine," Meadows says, with the focus shifting to providing quality care from a distance. But it has forced the creation of more avenues to interact with and serve patients. "It's about valuing their time and valuing them."