The Practice Growth Podcast is an educational resource for doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers about how to market and manage a thriving healthcare practice.
In Episode 15, host Lisa Christy is joined by PatientPop Vice President of Strategy Caitlin Reiche. The pair discuss emerging healthcare technology solutions that will help doctors streamline and grow their practices in 2019 and beyond. Click below to listen.
Lisa Christy: Change is constant in all things. In healthcare, change is rampant — particularly when it comes to technology. With the new year fast approaching, now is the ideal time for doctors to evaluate new technologies that have the potential to transform their practices for the better.
Want to know which technology solutions are worth further examination for 2019? Stay tuned, because that’s the topic of today’s podcast.
Hello and welcome to The Practice Growth Podcast, the doctor’s resource for marketing and managing a thriving healthcare practice. I’m Lisa Christy.
Joining me today is Caitlin Reiche, Vice President of Strategy at PatientPop. Caitlin, thank you for being here.
Caitlin Reiche: Thank you for having me, Lisa.
Christy: Can you tell me a little bit about your professional experience with healthcare technology, which is the topic of today’s podcast?
Reiche: Absolutely. I have been in healthcare technology for my entire career. I went to graduate school for health policy and management, where I realized very quickly that technology was going to be the only way we could actually scale and create meaningful change in healthcare.
I then went to athenahealth, which provides practice management and EMR software for providers. I was there for almost six and a half years and managed a nber of initiatives there, including most of our patient engagement products and services.
So quite the extensive background in healthcare technology then.
Christy: I guess you’re the right person to talk to you about this.
Reiche: I hope so.
Christy: Great. So tell me what are some technologies that are common in the average healthcare practice today? For example, do most practices have an EHR or EMR, and do most offer their patients a patient portal of some kind?
Reiche: Healthcare practices today are often under equipped to when it comes to the technology needed to successfully run and grow their practices. But I will say most practices do have an electronic health record system, and this is primarily due to mandates passed during the Obama Administration. Overall office adoption of electronic medical records is around 70 percent and that percentage increases as practice size increases.
Typically alongside an electronic medical record system or EHR would come a patient portal, but adoption of those patient portals really varies depending on the provider and the vendor. So yes, most practices do have these capabilities, whether they’re actually utilized is another question.
Christy: Let’s talk about emerging technology for healthcare practice. What are some innovative technologies practices can use to enhance and compliment their existing EHR solution, for example, and really help their practices grow?
Reiche: To answer that question, I think it’s first helpful to think and talk about some of the problems that practices and providers are facing in the market today.
Running a physician practice is very complicated and requires a variety of skill sets and tools and technology, from dealing with legal administrative areas to managing practice financials to it to contracting. This often leaves little time for physicians to focus on what matters most — and typically the real reason they went to medical school — which is providing clinical care.
You know, these myriad distractions are only getting worse, with the transition to value-based care and as the number of capabilities required to manage different reimbursement models is increasing. All this, of course, while trying to remain competitive in an increasingly competitive market where large health systems are slowly, and in some cases, quickly employing many of the once independent practices.
That’s why, when I think about the most important technologies to for physician practices to adopt, I really focus on areas where physicians can outsource the work to technology companies to help them grow and streamline their practices. So the physicians focus on what they and only they can do, which is deliver the best possible clinical care. So as I think through those technologies, a few categories that I think practices should explore include marketing platforms, patient engagement platforms, and practice efficiency tools.
Let’s start with marketing platforms. I think the first technology that’s really critical for physicians to have in order to remain competitive in their markets is a marketing platform that’s purpose-built for healthcare. And this starts with solutions that can help providers and practices get found online where most consumers are doing their shopping for healthcare.
It’s also important that the experience for the patient or the prospective patient, in many cases, is streamlined and presents as few barriers as possible to get into the practice. But so many provider websites today look as though they were built ad hoc with very little focus on the consumer and the real end user.
It’s difficult if not impossible to figure out what the practice does, who the doctors are. And, in most cases, patients can’t actually schedule an appointment online — they have to call the practice to do any sort of communications. Online scheduling capabilities and web chat services can streamline this process.
And providers should really focus on choosing technologies that exist and that make it easy for patients to find and get into their practice. PatientPop obviously helps solve this problem by meeting the patient where they are; putting online scheduling capabilities in as many channels as possible where the patient might be searching for an appointment like Google and Yelp; and run by really building a beautiful, consumer-friendly practice website; and enhancing communication capabilities through things like online chat.
That brings me to patient engagement capabilities. So once a patient is part of a practice, we talked a little bit about patient portals before, and I think the biggest problem with patient portals are that it’s another technology for the patient to adopt, to download, to create a login for and — at least in my experience with athenahealth — we find that they’re really underutilized. And athenahealth was one of the best in terms of adoption.
So I think it’s critical for providers to choose technology solutions that streamline their interactions and make it as easy as possible to communicate with patients. Many offer these basic patient communication tools, with little focus on the actual consumer. So we talked about patient portals where these EMR companies are hiding bill pay messaging or check-in features behind the patient portal. As a result, patients aren’t actually using them.
Technologies that meet patients where they are, like text messaging and email appointment and recall reminders or feedback surveys. That can all help improve patient workflow and communication for the practices.
The third category of technology to talk about is around practice efficiency. There are a lot of different types of vendors out there that are really designed to help practices run more efficiently and take work away from the practice.
One interesting company that I’ve explored recently is called Aiva. So this is an AI-powered virtual assistant using Amazon Alexa, which is… it’s estimated that these new capabilities like Alexa will be in 50 percent of households by 2020. This particular company, Aiva, allows practice employees to quickly and easily communicate with each other throughout the day.
So as a provider, I could immediately communicate that my patient is ready for an X-ray so the technician can immediately retrieve the patient. This helps reduce the time the patient sits in the exam room, and then enables the provider to move to his or her next appointment. This helps keep the practice schedule on track, and providers are able to leave work on time. It also helps patient engagement by providing a seamless experience for the patient which, in turn, will likely result in them coming back to that practice, and also referring that practice to others.
Related: PatientPop now supports voice search
Christy: That information is really interesting, I think when people think about healthcare technology, they think, “How can I deliver better care?” But when you talk about healthcare practices, you have to remember that they’re really businesses, and the healthcare technology that’s really going to help them succeed is a technology that’s meant to help their businesses run more efficiently.
I am curious: Have there been any tech solutions that have fizzled out or not really lived up to expectations in recent years? If there are, what are those? And are there any red flags that a provider or practice owner can really look for in anticipation of, “This isn’t really going to be a successful tech solution”?
Reiche: I think there’ve been so many advancements in healthcare technology, and it’s very often dependent on the size of the particular practice, its needs, and specialty.
One example — and I wouldn’t say this is a technology that has fizzled, because I think, in many settings, it has really accelerated use — is telehealth. Now, telehealth can be very useful in certain care settings, but not necessarily for the small practice or the independent practice.
I think it’s really important for practices to evaluate how a technology will work within my practice. How will this help compliment the workflow of my practice, make things easier for my providers or my staff?
One question I always ask when I’m evaluating potential partner vendors is how does this fit into the existing workflow? Because if it’s something that is going to add additional steps, it’s probably not going to be successfully adopted by the practice staff or patients. And so that’s a really important question to ask.
I also think practices and buyers should be aware of the return on investment of any of these vendors or features, and make sure that they’re really asking questions around, “What can I expect for the dollars that I’m spending on this?” Because we know budgets are limited, and practices should really make sure that they’re evaluating that ROI.
Christy: Interesting. You’re talking about return on investment, but new technologies often come with a pretty steep price tag. If I want to get this new software solution, for example, it might cost me something every month; it could cost me something very large upfront.
How — if I am a healthcare practice owner — how do I evaluate whether it’s going to be worth it?
Reiche: I would ask vendors or technology solution providers: “What are the key metrics that you’re tracking for success for this product? What can I expect when I buy it? What sort of return can I see for my money?” Red flags would be they’re not really sure about the ROI of their product or service; they don’t have key success metrics that they’re tracking or key proof points that help tell the story of why this technology will help their practice be successful; or maybe they do, but not necessarily for practices of a similar size or specialty or in a similar geography.
You might like: PatientPop customer success stories
Another interesting thing to look out for, and it’s not really possible for some many vendors, but aligned incentive models where, “If you do well, practice, we do well.” Think about vendors that are willing to put money on the line and really align incentives with the practice. That’s likely going to be a successful partnership between a practice than a vendor.
Christy: It sounds very similar… talking about a healthcare practices as a business. If in my business — me, Lisa Christy — I’m evaluating a tool to implement, I always ask, “Do you have case studies? Can I talk to other customers?”
So it seems like these solutions or these technology companies that doctors would talk to should be able to provide that kind of information.
Reiche: Yes, absolutely. Reference clients, case studies, but also proof points across like doctors. Case studies are very helpful, but I’d also asked the question of, “How does this product or service perform for all the OB-GYN practices that are similar size to me?” I think most good healthcare vendors, technology vendors are going to be able to answer that question and have some solid proof points that will make you feel more confident in your buying decisions.
Christy: Sure. So I know anytime the new iPhone comes out and I don’t get it, I have a little bit of FOMO, which is fear of missing out. But I imagine that failure to adopt new technologies at a healthcare practice, there’s more severe conflict consequences than just feeling like I missed the boat.
What kind of consequences could a healthcare practice face if they don’t adopt technology that helps them succeed?
Reiche: The name of the game in this very competitive healthcare market is getting new patients into your practice, retaining those patients, and keeping them interested and engaged. And I think the number one consequence for not adopting technology that will help the practices do that is losing patient volume — especially to the big competitor down the street who has bigger marketing budgets and can spend money on billboards, and has many, many providers. So it’s really important for practices — and that’s obviously one or two specific areas, marketing and patient engagement — but for practices to think about those technologies, because they risk falling behind, especially in competitive markets.
I think that not only is it competitive to attract and retain patients, but I think it’s also really competitive to attract and retain providers and staff.
Which is why it brings me back to efficiency technology and technology that can make providers and staff’s lives easier. Failure to adopt those sorts of technologies could lead to staff burnout, provider burnout, which is a risk for any practice.
It’s obviously critical to the success of the practice as well, right? There’s all these things that, if you’re a provider at a larger healthcare system, you might be thinking about staff burnout and things like that. But it just goes to show when you are a smaller or medium-sized healthcare practice with 20 or so providers, you have to think about all these different things. It’s just so much.
Christy: Yes, it is.
Reiche: Hopefully this was helpful, because we’re here to help.
Christy: It was very helpful. Thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing your knowledge on healthcare technology and what we should expect in 2019.
Reiche: Thank you.