North Florida Women's Care in Tallahassee was facing a challenge: It had received several honors for its care, and as a high-volume practice with a growing list of patients and approximately 50,000 encounters a year, it struggled with keeping up with appointment management and responding to patients in a timely manner. It wasn't unusual for patients to wait 20 minutes or more when calling. That had to change.
About one year ago, North Florida Women's Care deployed mobile text messaging technology from Luma Health. The hope was that the patient engagement tech would help the organization keep up with appointment scheduling and respond to patients in a timely manner by using automated messaging to fill more appointments per month, decrease 20-minute call wait times, increase referrals, and decrease patient no-shows.
There is a wide array of patient engagement and communications platform vendors. These companies include Everbridge, Halo Communications (Doc Halo), Mobile Heartbeat, PatientSafe Solutions, PerfectServe, QliqSOFT, Spok, Telmediq, Tiger Connect, Uniphy Health, Voalte and Vocera.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
"Our old system had some nice features to it, but when an appointment was cancelled by the patient, we had to manually start making call-downs to find a replacement," said Bill Hambsh, CEO and practicing administrator of North Florida Women's Care.
That type of phone tag required a lot of time and effort. But by integrating Luma Health's patient relationship management system with the practice's electronic health record, cancellations now automatically are detected on the clinic's calendar and proactively filled with the next patient on the waitlist, he said.
"The technology allows us to communicate with our patients via mobile texting and the response to this new channel of communication has been incredible," Hambsh explained. "Ninety percent of our patient population is under 65 years of age, so being able to reach them on their phones is huge."
Administrators have been able to use text messaging to simplify scheduling, cancellations and rescheduling. Now, they send reminders one week in advance of an appointment, then two days prior, and finally two hours before patients' scheduled visits.
"Patients prefer communicating with us via text message and now they can easily cancel or reschedule an appointment by simply responding to one of these texts," Hambsh said. "As a result, we've dramatically reduced wait times and our no-show rate has been cut in half."
Also, physicians now use texting to guide patients with clinical information and ensure a better visit. For example, the clinic now can prepare patients for different procedures, such as an ultrasound, by tapping into the appointment categorization in the EHR and automatically generate a reminder message in advance of the visit.
"It helps avoid any lags in our clinic schedule, which means we can see patients on time and, more important, our patients avoid having to come in for a second visit simply because they might have forgotten to come in with a full bladder for an image scan," he said.
"These automatic messages work as two-way communication and should a patient have any issues or questions after a procedure, our follow-up messages allow for patients to respond and alert their physician."
Further, the clinic's referral coordinators now immediately can engage with a referred patient.
"Regardless if we receive a referral from another doctor – fax, call, mail, etc. – we now can input the patient information into our digital referral system and activate a text message to make it as easy as possible for the patient to respond and see the referred physician," Hambsh explained.
"With a link to our dedicated phone line for referrals directly in the text message, patients also can choose to call and speak to a real person right away should they prefer."
In addition, with the new integration, the clinic can track how many referrals come from each doctor and generate reports that help staff better analyze and align resources, he said.
Since replacing patient call-downs with the automatic waitlist feature to immediately fill cancellations, physicians have been able to see nearly 100 more patients a month who responded to open wait list offers. In monetary terms that equals about an additional $10,000 in revenue per month, at minimum. The clinic also has cut no-shows by half.
"Similarly, by automating referral outreach and prompting patients to self-schedule via call or text, our physicians have been able to see more than 1,100 referred patients, which is approximately a 25 percent increase," Hambsh said.
As for patient reviews, North Florida Women's Care has received more than 200 new reviews using Luma Health compared to the previous request process.
"This has been incredibly valuable to us, as the feedback helps us understand where we excel and where we can work to improve our services," he said. "We've deployed several review links over the past year including Google, Yelp and Facebook reviews. And we are very proud of our improved Google 4.4-star rating out of 5."
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
"For me, implementing this new technology ranks among the top five decisions I have made in my time with North Florida Women's Care to improve patient communication and provider efficiency," Hambsh said. "It's easy to become overloaded as a provider, having to consider staffing, operations and a million other different things pulling us in different directions. My advice would be not to delay when it comes to finding ways to better communicate with your patients."
Everyone has mobile phones and everyone texts, so taking advantage of that with patients can make a world of difference to help a clinic better serve patients' health, he concluded.