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The Role of OmniChannel Outreach in Patient Engagement and Health

Imagine this scenario. Carol is 64-years old and in good general health, but her right knee has been giving her chronic pain for the past four years and her orthopedic surgeon recommends a full knee replacement. The surgery is scheduled and goes off without a hitch. Carol is discharged from the surgery center with a couple of prescriptions for medicines, a detailed set of instructions for self-care at home, appointment cards for two future check-ups and a prescription for physical therapy.

In the classic healthcare narrative, Carol is now entirely responsible for the next steps in her healthcare plan — and by extension, the outcomes. It makes sense that we plot our own destinies, but history shows that not all patients are “model patients” for a wide variety of reasons. If Carol fails to comply with any of the detailed instructions on her discharge paperwork, the chances of her having future medical relapses or related needs are much higher.

In fact — of the more than 39 million annual discharges from hospitals, it is estimated that approximately 12% of patients report new or worsening symptoms within a few days post-discharge and over 20% of patients have a complication or adverse event after being discharged. In addition, providers are taking more and more risk and the direct and indirect costs of inadequate discharge coordination result in worse health outcomes, re-admissions penalties, reduced reimbursements, poor quality scores and legal liability.

What’s the solution to better outcomes?

Though there isn’t a magic bullet, one of the ways savvy healthcare providers are helping patients like Carol is through the use of omnichannel health outreach centers. A far cry from the old-school response centers that patients would call to complain about billing issues, patient outreach centers are about interacting with patients in all the ways that are most convenient for them. More importantly, they provide communication channels that are most likely to garner better patient responses and outcomes over time.

In a new scenario fostered by a health outreach center, Carol still leaves the surgery center on the day of discharge — but her care continues on. The day after discharge, a nurse calls her at home and asks a series of questions to evaluate her condition and ensure she’s following the detailed instructions she was provided. Later that day, Carol receives an appointment reminder text on her mobile phone, confirming that her first follow-up visit is this Friday at 9 a.m. She also receives a system-generated voicemail telling her that her prescription is ready for pick-up at the pharmacy. Since she opted in for email alerts, she receives a customized follow-up care plan email for the first two weeks following surgery, including a checklist for each of her action items and the ability to sign up for text reminders regarding key tasks.

When Carol fails to pick up a prescription on time, she receives an automated text reminder to let her know it’s waiting at the pharmacy. If she doesn’t get to the pharmacy the next day, an automated voicemail is sent to her phone — again reminding her it’s ready for pick up. When the third day comes and goes, a patient outreach nurse calls Carol at home to discuss the importance of taking her medication and any questions Carol may have.

Today’s reality

Though 2/3 of providers report having a patient outreach center, a large number of them fall short of creating a true, omnichannel patient experience. Many of these centers are not being used, nor are they prepared for the level of outbound interactions with patients that’s required for effective programs in three core care areas:

  • Post-discharge coordination: for surgeries like in the example above or other procedures that require follow up
  • Preventive care: smoking cessation, weight management, well-doctor visits
  • Chronic disease management: diabetes, arthritis, lupus, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS

Some of the key challenges providers face in creating such an outreach program include:

  • Hiring and retaining the right technical resources to perform patient outreach without taking away from everyday operations
  • Enabling, maintaining and tracking multiple, disparate patient touch points (chat, text, email, voice conversation)
  • Creating personalized patient engagements at a micro level (requires time, resources and technology)
  • Balancing low-cost automated outreach and high-touch personal interactions to maximize ROI

How can providers embrace technology for better patient outcomes?

Through strategic partnerships, healthcare providers can tap into all the benefits of an omnichannel patient outreach program — without having to do all the work on their own. Beyond all the staffing and resource requirements, data is at the heart of a provider’s ability to create winning outcomes from patient engagements. An omnichannel communication strategy needs to start with modern digital platforms that provide strategic, confidential access to core patient data.

Today, most outreach programs are primarily focused on getting data and analyzing populations, instead of using that data to take actions that influence patient engagement and health outcomes. Using the technology at your fingertips to assess the ways that patients want to experience engagement is a key step in being able to truly connect with them. If a patient gets annoyed with receiving phone calls every month to remind them that it’s time to refill a prescription, perhaps communicating with them via text message would prompt a higher likelihood of response.

Bottom line? It’s a new day in the world of digital interactions with patients leading the way. The most important consideration for your future then is can your technology keep up? If you’re not sure, enlisting the help of a strategic partner can get you up and running fast — delivering greater wellness for your patients and better operational performance for your facility. For more perspective on this topic, read our Executive Brief: The Role of OmniChannel Communication in Healthcare Organizations.