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Q&A: How Relatient is helping providers communicate with patients about Covid-19

By Andrew Rebhan

April 27, 2020

    Every year, we survey health system leaders about their upcoming technology priorities, and there has been one consistent theme: Consumer-facing technologies help deliver higher quality, more efficient care. Health care organizations are increasingly adopting digital capabilities, but current strategies often include a jumble of overlapping applications, websites, brands, and user accounts. Without a coherent technology strategy, patients can get lost along the way.

    Your top resources for Covid-19 readiness

    The Covid-19 outbreak has further complicated matters of patient access, communication, and engagement. In response to the pandemic, the most progressive health providers are using all of the technologies at their disposal to work with patients along the care continuum, and so having a strong digital front door strategy is crucial.

    Relatient, a health technology company headquartered in Franklin, Tennessee, is looking to help health systems solve this challenge. Relatient offers a SaaS-based platform for engaging consumers at every major touchpoint of the patient journey, using technology that patients have already adopted for everyday use. The platform offers a number of capabilities to assist with self-scheduling, appointment reminders, two-way messaging, bill payment, patient surveys, automated campaigns, and more.

    I recently spoke with Kevin Montgomery, CTO and co-founder at Relatient, to learn more about how the company has responded to the Covid-19 outbreak.

    Question: Given the high level of uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, the spread of misinformation online, and society's adjustment to social distancing measures, it's clear that patient communication should be a priority for health providers. How has Relatient responded to the pandemic to help in this area? 

    Kevin Montgomery: This is absolutely true. There is so much misinformation out there and we're all starving for reliable expert advice from someone we trust, like our doctor. At Relatient, we reached out to our customers on the front line and reminded them of the tools they already have access to, enabling them to broadcast text, email, and voice recorded messages to their patients. I feel our job is to make it easy for health care providers and their staff, so our marketing team put together sample messages and we staffed-up our customer support team for additional support during the first two weeks. Additionally, we wrote an article sharing best practices for communicating with patients based on feedback from our customer base.

    Q: Could you speak to some examples of how your customers have used your patient engagement platform during this pandemic? How do you measure success?

    Montgomery: The first thing our customers did was communicate resources, best practices, operational changes, and telehealth solutions to patients using Relatient solutions—customers sent over 5 million messages about Covid-19 in March alone. Second, customers reached out to adjust their automated workflows to help make the transition to telehealth and other new processes. For example, many customers have changed their appointment reminders to offer patients a telehealth appointment instead. Others have begun to adjust their reminders to give specific patient instructions for accessing new telehealth appointments that include links to log in.

    Many of our technical measures of success are out the window right now, like reducing no-shows. So instead, we're focused on how we can help our customers—how to maintain a system that can scale to meet the demand, and implement solutions faster so that new customers can quickly respond to evolving situations.

    Q: When we started our digital front door research at Advisory Board, we liked how Relatient defined a strong digital front door strategy as not hinging on any one single product. Over the past two months, I've seen tons of coverage on telehealth, but what other technologies should providers be looking to leverage now, and in the post-Covid-19 environment?

    Montgomery: Yes, a digital front door is about extending interaction and care beyond the physical building—telehealth is a perfect example. While there has been a ton of momentum from vendors and providers in implementing telehealth, there is still the challenge to shift consumer/patient behaviors. Organizations can't just start using telehealth and expect it to be successful—they need to wrap it into their overall workflow and be extra careful to guide their patients and make it easy for those who may be using it for the first time. That means using reminders with direct links to log in, avoiding at all costs having a patient login to their portal or download an app, and offering mobile/online registration and check-in.

    The investments organizations made in their digital front door are going to pay off big as we return from this pandemic, because more and more patients are going to expect it. Our biggest and immediate focus beyond integrating with telehealth is online pre-registration and secure messaging. It can allow practices to collect insurance, demographic, and even payment information prior to appointment regardless of whether it’s in the office or virtual.

    Q: In speaking with our members, they're often overwhelmed with where to start on their digital front door investments, as well as strategies to engage their patients in their own care. What are some initial steps these organizations can take to build and sustain a digitally-enabled patient journey?

    Montgomery: In this pandemic, most actions have been reactionary. To combat this, beyond stabilizing their current needs, we often discuss future plans with our customers. They need to define a roadmap of where they want to be technologically in the next few years. ROI needs to be defined for each part of the journey as a measuring stick for success. It's really important to find a trusted partner to work with.

    We see many health care organizations selecting tools and cobbling together pieces of a patient engagement strategy that don't lend themselves to a consistent experience for the patient. Finding a partner that has the platform to help deliver on your goals will allow you to add value to your digital front door from start to finish. I always encourage providers to pick a basic starting point and expand from there. Appointment reminders are one of the best places to start—it has an immediate ROI, and provides valuable data to the platform about a patient's provider, appointment type, and interaction. This becomes the base data for many other digital journey touchpoints.

    The next step is outreach. If you roll out a new solution and don't tell any patients, or expect them to find it in their portal, it's going to flop. Automated, targeted outreach prompts patients at the right time in their journey to use the solutions you roll out as a digital front door. Next, add post-visit surveys—these collect valuable satisfaction data, but also ask patients to leave online reviews which attract more patients. Finally, electronic registration should be a priority right now, especially for organizations who have adopted telehealth. It allows providers to grab all the same information they would normally collect from patients during intake, but without the need for clipboards and paper forms, allowing it to be completed from any device in any location.

    Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of dealing with Covid-19? What lessons do you think health care stakeholders can learn from this experience that will help in future outbreaks?

    Montgomery: Our customers lean on us through times of disaster. We often switch more staff to support functions and extend our hours during hurricanes and other large weather events. Our customers need us to power fast communication to their patients for changes during these times.

    But the most challenging aspect of this crisis was that it happened to everyone at the same time. Everything stopped to focus on this novel coronavirus that no one had ever dealt with before. We had to move people in our company to meet the demand for our support team to change reminder messages and assist with broadcast messages for practices that may have never used them before. For new customers, we worked very hard to shorten implementation times or get creative to give access to pieces while we integrate the data.

    As far as lessons for health care stakeholders, I think that continued efforts around building the digital front door will allow them to pivot more readily in the future. I recently recorded a session for HIMSS with Jonathan Minson, Lead Software Architect at Oklahoma Heart Hospital. One key point that he made about their organization and how they handled Covid-19 should resonate with all stakeholders: Be agile. Be open to change and be ready to do it quickly. We're living in a world now where our entire operational workflows can change in a matter of days. I don't think anyone saw a change of this magnitude coming. At Relatient, we do our best to be prepared for the unexpected.

    Your top resources for Covid-19 readiness

    You're no doubt being inundated with a ton of information on how to prepare for patients with the 2019 coronavirus (Covid-19). To help you ensure the safety of your staff and patients, we pulled together the available resources on how to safely manage and prevent the spread of Covid-19.

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