The Path to Productive Patient Communication
Providers are only scratching the surface of what is possible with patient communication tools.
- By Haley Samsel
- Feb 28, 2020
In a constantly changing technological environment, patients
expect real-time communication with their HME providers and care teams.
Whether the task at hand involves updating insurance information or asking
a question about an equipment problem, patients don’t want to play phone tag
with a customer service representative. Patients want the right answers from the
right source – and they want them now.
“We live in a world where five minutes from now is 10 minutes too late,”
says Dylan Ross, the vice president of biomedical and technology solutions at
McKesson. “Speed is important, and perhaps even more important is the quality
and accuracy of information.”
Patients have always needed high-quality communication with their providers,
according to experts from across the HME industry who work on patient engagement.
But the landscape has certainly shifted in terms of speed expectations and
the communication methods that patients actively engage with.
Traditional Methods Limit Growth
The increase in robocalls over the past decade means that patients are
less likely to answer their phone when it comes from an unknown number.
Voicemails are often pushed aside as customers lead busy lives.
“Patient inboxes are full of automated emails that go unread,” Ross says. “And
even if text messages are slightly more effective, they’re still easily ignored.”
That’s in addition to the fact that patients are not always educated about the
myriad ways they can use to contact a provider, causing frustration on both
ends of the conversation.
“Some of the biggest problems are when it comes to phone messaging, that
inconsistent ability to actually speak live and leaving voicemails back and forth
and really not getting anywhere,” Steve Rogers, the vice president of product
management at Brightree, tells HME Business. “Then there’s not having the
process or the ability to pass along an insurance card other than driving somewhere
or attaching it to an email, which would not be a secure way to pass it.”
While the technology requirements of patient communication may be new,
the negative consequences for inadequate patient communication have largely
remained the same: lower reimbursement rates, and the potential to alienate
“Inadequate patient communication has historically affected the provider’s
ability to grow and succeed if they negatively impact their relationships with
their referral sources,” says Josh Lowery, the general manager of home care solutions
at WellSky. “Physicians and hospitals are becoming ever-more increasingly
demanding on the post-acute care providers to have strong patient communication
Ross summed up one of the ultimate problems for providers: If a patient is
unresponsive, that usually means their bill remains unpaid.
“No answer means no reimbursement,” Ross says. “Even worse, if a patient isn’t
engaged, there is a real risk they’re not adhering to the prescribed therapy, and
that impacts not only the individual patient but the healthcare system overall.”
The challenges of patient engagement may be mighty, but the HME industry’s
response has been just as robust. Over the past few years, companies like
McKesson and Brightree have introduced patient communication tools that
make it easier for providers to securely communicate with patients and resolve
issues that might have taken three or four phone calls to resolve in the past.
Brightree’s Patient Hub app and web portal, introduced in 2018, places all
patient interactions into one automated platform that allows the HME provider
to set up push notifications requesting more information from patients or
updating them on order and delivery status. Perhaps most importantly, the app
encourages the patient to “initiate the conversation” about insurance updates or
financial information with the provider, Rogers says.
“That’s where you don’t end up with revenue blocked or needing to schedule
follow-ups with physicians and waiting to bill until it’s completed,” he says. “You
know you have a method of communicating that the patient has come to love
from working with it previously.”
Through its VerbalCare app, launched last summer, McKesson also hopes
to solve patient communication woes by making it just as easy to contact a
provider as it is to order food delivery or write a restaurant review. The end
result may be better health outcomes for the patient and less overall cost on
customer support services, according to Ross.
“If a patient needs to consume healthcare, they’re really hoping for two things:
quick answers and fast results,” Ross says. “To the degree it’s possible, our goal is
to help facilitate both through VerbalCare.”
Consolidating all patient communication into a single mobile app benefits the
patient most of all, as it makes them more likely to comply with their therapy
regimen and to order resupply materials on time. Furthermore, the latest tools
make it possible for patients to remain at home more and not have to travel to
receive care, says WellSky’s Lowery.
Last spring, WellSky announced a partnership with Citus Health to launch
a patient engagement module for CareTend’s home infusion clients to address
documentation and communication needs for providers. The tool has begun to
bear fruit in improving efficiency for providers and their patients.
“As our post-acute care providers grow, their most expensive resources are
going to be their people,” Lowery says. “That’s why we want providers to be able
to work at the top of their licensure and we believe equipping them with tools
like the WellSky engagement module goes a long way.”
Opening ‘Infinitely Expandable’ Possibilities
Offering patient communication tools as part of a larger suite of services for
HME providers has also been successful for Computers Unlimited, the creator of
TIMS Software. Gail Turner, a HME software sales consultant for the company,
says that the software has empowered patients to manage their own needs and
improved efficiency for CU’s HME clients.
“These same technologies allow providers to manage contact with patients
at a much lower cost than traditional methods with equal results,” Turner
says. “TIMS Software leverages new technology methods by integrating several
applications, including patient resupplies, patient satisfaction surveys, patient
product deliveries, and patient billing.”
Mobile apps are only the beginning for HME companies innovating in the
patient communication space. Brightree’s Rogers envisions a future in which
Patient Hub’s services include the ability to video chat with patients rather than
sending a staff member to address equipment issues.
“The platform itself is kind of infinitely expandable,” Rogers says.
Haley Samsel is the Associate Content Editor of HME Business and Mobility Management.