Many industries have already discovered the benefits of outsourcing IT systems to a professional IT service, and while healthcare is no stranger to the concept, it is once again gaining prominence.
A recent Black Book report, which surveyed over 1,030 hospital IT leaders, 240 CFOs and over 1,000 business leaders, found an overwhelming number of recipients in favor of using outsourced health IT solutions, such as point-of-care technology, healthcare IT infrastructure, and HIPAA compliant security. Nearly 73 percent of hospitals with over 300 beds are now looking outside for their technology solutions, and 81 percent of providers with less than 300 beds have prioritized outsourcing complex IT operations in their development plans.
The main reason for the increased demand in outsourcing is due to the growing importance of IT in the delivery of quality patient care. Healthcare organizations are relying on technology more and more, like the need for a secure patient portal, as an essential component of their operations within the rapidly changing healthcare scene.
Advantages of Health IT Outsourcing
The last time that the healthcare industry saw prominent growth in outsourcing was in the late 1990s in order to control costs through broad based IT solutions. Today, positive return-on-investments and immediate access to fully trained IT staff and required technologies are the key drivers.
According to the Black Book survey, 90 percent of outsourcing hospitals reported an immediate return on investment (3 months or less) for health IT outsourcing in Q3 2015 when the survey took place. Many providers are also simply not in a position to hire and train internal IT staff, whereas outsourcing can help to implement new technologies faster by utilizing and putting together resources quickly.
84 percent of respondents reported that their relationship with outsourcing vendors is exceeding their expectations, and almost 86 percent of CFOs and 91 percent of CIOs would be willing to reshape an entire organization in order to implement outsourced IT services in the most effective and efficient manner.
Hospitals have increasingly felt the pressure of managing revenues, and severely tightened margins have further put pressure on bottom lines. Outsourcing can help lower costs considerably, especially as the push for more sophisticated patient records, secure patient portals, data analytics, and population health management continues to grow.
Doug Brown, managing partner of Black Book Market Research commented, “Most hospital leaders see no choice but to evaluate and leverage next-generation information and financial systems as an outsourced service in order to keep their organizations solvent and advancing technologically.”
While there have been past failures reported on outsourcing, the causes of these failures mostly resulted from selecting the wrong vendor, unrealistic expectations, or insufficient performance monitoring. Consumers have since used their experiences to adapt and improve their IT outsourcing contracts.
Certainly, it’s clear that the business value to be gained from health IT outsourcing, in terms of economics, technological skills and expertise, established processes, and service quality, can ensure a cost effective solution and allow healthcare organizations to focus on their core business.
According to a study at the Pew Research Center, 39% of Americans provide health care support for a dependent. Of those users, 59% stated that online resources have been very helpful. Physicians on top of trending healthcare information technology know that the key to high patient engagement lies in the effective use of a patient portal. (more…)
As the pressure increases on physicians to see more patients each day, the active role that patients play in their own care has become more crucial. In fact, patient engagement is often seen as the key to quality care. Through patient engagement, for example, a physician is able to build trust with patients, therefore increasing the likelihood of a patient following a treatment plan.
Three distinct practice management models have gained popularity in the healthcare field – shared decision-making, open notes and shared medical visits – but are they actually improving patient involvement?
Software research firm Software Advice surveyed 297 millennials to find out. Millennials are patients between the ages of 18 and 35, the second-largest and most diverse generation to this day – and more importantly, the most challenging to please in regards to healthcare.
Patients Say Doctors Could Do More to Improve Engagement
Of the millennials surveyed, 80 percent stated their doctor could do more to improve their level of involvement in their medical care. Moreover, 77 percent responded that their doctor or other healthcare professionals could have done more to improve their level of engagement during their last medical visit.
When asked what patient engagement methods could improve their involvement, 25 percent of the millennials said providing more treatment options, while another 20 percent said they want more face time with their doctor. Long wait times and brief appointments often prevent this from occurring.
Other ways physicians could improve patient engagement include:
Are Practice Management Models Improving Engagement?
So what methods are healthcare providers using to engage millennials who are known to describe medical care as inconvenient and irritating?
When patients were asked for their opinion on the practice management methods mentioned above, over 75 percent said shared-decision-making and open notes would improve their level of engagement. In fact, 76 percent of patients reported that they would be “extremely” or “very likely” to use a shared decision-making model of care, and 61 percent stated they were “extremely” or “very likely” to use open notes.
The open notes model has increased in popularity due to the availability of online patient portal software, which makes it easy for physicians to share visit notes with patients without requiring those notes to be photocopied. Patient portals also help facilitate patient engagement by opening secure channels of communication between the patient and the provider. The more involved patients are in their own healthcare, the more their medical needs are being met, resulting in overall better care and treatment outcomes.
Many physicians are still unsure about the value of a patient portal and how implementing one can lead to better care. I was recently asked the following questions in a group forum discussion about patient portals. My responses are based on personal experience, as well as feedback from clients and colleagues within the healthcare industry.
What is the value to a provider of having a patient portal?
The value comes from the automation of every day processes such as:
Real-time online appointment scheduling
Online registration for new patients
Completion of patient history of present illness forms online
Clinical summaries made available automatically to the patient
Online prescription refills requests
These are just a few of the functionalities that healthcare practices carry out each day and that patient portal can automate and make easier. Plus, all of the data flows into an accessible database on its own – both for the patient and physician(s).
How can a physician practice manage an online portal?
Patients, in essence, end up managing the patient portal as they take responsibility for their health information and their health. Once the portal has been set up and processes are automated and streamlined, for the most part, the portal works on its own. Physicians and staff are able to access patient-provided information either through the portal or through a patient portal interface with their EHR. This saves the hospital or practice time and money, and it provides a better patient experience.
Should the patient portal be a gateway of access from patient to provider?
Patient portals should be a gateway of access from patient to provider and from provider to patient. The key is to improve communication. This will lead to better, more accurate patient records and to an improved patient experience.
Where will providers find the time (time that they can’t bill for) to answer what could possibly be countless patient questions each day?
It’s a fine line for practices to walk. On the one hand, physicians want to provide better patient access and communication, but they also want to streamline processes and save time where possible. It’s impossible to tell how many patients will actually use all of the features available in the patient portal. However, it’s safe to assume that just as some patients might overuse the secured messaging feature, many other patients won’t even take advantage of it. The important thing for practices is to set limits and establish common-sense communication rules for patients to follow.
Additionally, providing useful information such as patient education videos and PDFs with answers to frequently asked questions could help cut down on many of the common questions that practices receive. Another option (depending on the practice’s preference) is to monetize the patient portal by charging a tiered rate based on the amount of access a patient has to the doctor, nurse practitioner, and general staff.
Introducing new technologies to streamline time-consuming processes can help your healthcare organization boost its bottom line by making more efficient use of your employees’ time. These simple recommendations will help you increase productivity, optimize operations and improve patient satisfaction.
1. Implement a patient portal.
Online healthcare portals don’t just provide benefits to physicians participating in Meaningful Use. In fact, practices and hospitals that aren’t enrolled in the EHR Incentive Program can get just as much value out of an online healthcare portal by streamlining some of the most commonly-performed administrative processes.
Let patients schedule their own appointments online. A portal can show patients available slots based on your practice’s calendar. This allows patients to make appointments without tying up your practice’s phone lines.
Respond to medication refill requests without picking up the phone. From your healthcare organization’s online portal, you can easily view all refill request submissions and either approve them or notify the patient to schedule an appointment.
Improve revenue cycle efforts. Many online portals allow patients to view account summaries and pay their bills online. If your portal integrates with your accounting software, payment information will transfer over automatically.
Reducing even a fraction of all incoming calls by pointing patients in the direction of an online portal can significantly increase productivity.
2. Automate the appointment reminder process.
There are two effective options that can help hospitals and practices notify patients of their upcoming appointments. Both are more efficient than assigning an employee to call each patient one by one. You can either set up email reminders or use an automated call system.
Email reminders – and even text message reminders – can ensure that today’s always-connected patients don’t forget about their appointments. After all, missed appointments cost your practice money and can be detrimental to patient health. For patients who prefer not to be contacted electronically, automated phone reminders are the way to go. A pre-recorded message in your own voice can add a personal touch to the reminder, and it doesn’t require staff to spend valuable time on the phone each day.
3. Focus on computerized charge capture.
Accurate charge capture is one of the most important processes for any successful business, yet it is one that many healthcare organizations take for granted. In fact, it is not uncommon for paper charge tickets to be lost or misplaced – and when that happens, that’s money that isn’t coming into the practice. To make sure this doesn’t happen, implement electronic charge capture processes, and phase out paper. There are many smartphone apps that allow physicians to easily capture CPT and ICD codes, which can then be transferred to a practice management system.
What other health IT tools has your healthcare organization implemented? Share them with us in the comments.