by David McCann

August 2013 – The healthcare industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation as healthcare providers adjust to changing consumer expectations and new industry regulations created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These two converging forces bring both opportunities and challenges for providers to improve their quality of care and deliver a better patient experience.

The Modern Digital Consumer
In today’s era of instant information and real-time mobile access, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in consumer expectations of healthcare providers. According to market intelligence firm, International Data Corporation (IDC), 49 percent of the U.S. population uses a smartphone and, by 2017, the percent of smartphone users is expected to reach 68 percent. More importantly, consumers are relying on their smartphones for information and communication nearly every second of the day. In fact, IDC’s study found that people ages 18 to 44 have their smartphones with them for 22 hours of every day.

As a result, Americans increasingly expect their doctors to have a similar on-demand attitude. A recent survey found almost 80 percent of consumers believe it’s their doctor’s responsibility to keep them healthy, not just treat them when they get sick.

Now, quality healthcare goes far beyond the annual check-up or seeing a patient when they have the flu or are in pain. Patient care must extend beyond getting people well to include more preventative care that will keep them that way.

How the Affordable Care Act Impacts Patient Engagement

ACA brings extensive reforms to America’s healthcare system, with many of the biggest changes coming at the beginning of 2014. As a result, healthcare providers are struggling to handle a flood of new patients and meet new clinical quality measure (CQM) requirements to receive compensation for care.

Many of these CQMs involve “prompting” new and existing patients to take action in improving their health, such as scheduling vaccinations and cancer screenings. However, healthcare providers are not able to easily “staff up” their nursing or call center staff to handle this increased level of patient engagement to satisfy these new quality measures.

Beyond promoting patients to take preventative steps, the other key mandate tied to compensation is reducing the amount of hospital readmissions. This adds another element that requires proactive patient engagement as many readmissions can be attributed to missed follow-up appointments, treatments or medications.

Enabling a Personalized, Automated Patient Experience
The need to consistently, cost-effectively reach high volumes of customers with critical, timely information is not unique to the healthcare industry. For instance, airlines leverage consumer interaction solutions to reach hundreds – if not thousands – of passengers in less than 30 minutes every time there is a flight change, delay or cancellation. In the financial services industry, banks and mortgage providers use this same method to deliver bill payment reminders, credit fraud alerts and other timely updates. While these two forces add complexity to patient engagement, healthcare providers have an opportunity to leverage the same approach as other industries to reach patients and drive better health outcomes.

Automated consumer interaction solutions enable healthcare organizations to cost-effectively reach a large number of patients quickly and easily. Take medication and treatment non-adherence, for example. Prescription non-adherence costs the healthcare system an estimated $300 billion annually. Much of this is directly linked to people either not taking the medications prescribed to them correctly or not taking them at all. In fact, recent research found that 25 percent of people regularly forget to take their medications.

At the same time, patients are also not adhering to wellness programs, medical advice or instructions. This results in more emergency room visits, more unscheduled admissions and excess consumption of interventional treatments. These issues can lead to poor clinical results that can compromise a patient’s health and lower CQMs.

In all cases, healthcare providers have an opportunity – and a mandate – to positively impact the health of their patients by taking a more hands-on role. Proactive engagement with patients, using their preferred communications channel combined with a personalized message, can be a powerful tool in driving patients to action. It not only creates a better experience for patients, it enables providers to more quickly identify and fix issues contributing to non-adherence such as adverse reactions to medications. It’s clear technologies like automated consumer interactions can make a difference.

About the Author

David McCann, Varolii Corporation’s President and Chief Executive Officer, is a veteran software executive with career stints at Microsoft and IBM. Varolii is currently messaging to more than 12 million U.S. patients on behalf of dozens of healthcare organizations. McCann has worked on software-enabled business process automation & change management in Banking, Insurance, Healthcare and Telecommunications for most of his 30 year career in the U.S. and UK.



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