After patients complained about its phone-based appointment scheduling process, a Texas Health Resources (THR) clinic implemented a new online patient portal—leading to shorter wait times and a near-perfect patient check-in rate, Mike Miliard reports for Healthcare IT News.
Why patients 'hate' phone trees
At the recent Cleveland Clinic and HIMSS Patient Experience Forum, Sabina Mujanovic, a patient advocate at THR, described what it was like to navigate the old phone tree for THR's Dallas-area outpatient behavioral health clinic.
Patients who called to make an appointment first had to spend about a minute hearing options that didn't apply to them, including the familiar, "If this is a medical emergency please hang up and call 911" and, "If this is a physician calling to speak with another physician, please press 3."
The option to schedule an appointment was buried as the fifth item on the list.
"No wonder [patients] hate this," Mujanovic said. In fact, according to Mujanovic, patients had submitted numerous complaints about the inconvenience of the registration process.
"[A]pparently we are very selfish," Mujanovic said. "We keep doing what works for us. We say we care about the patient … but we put up barriers. And we create suffering, unintentionally."
The solution: A new online portal.
To identify a better path forward, THR conducted focus groups with patients from the clinic to identify their problems with the registration and appointment scheduling processes.
Then, the clinic implemented Epic's MyChart, an online patient portal, for appointment scheduling. In particular, THR ensured patients could use the portal to fill out intake screening questionnaires online before they arrive to their appointment.
They also streamlined the registration process by removing redundant survey questions and cutting the number of forms patients had to complete from 11 to three, according to Ferdinand Velasco, THR's chief health information officer.
The results: Fewer no-shows, shorter wait times, and happier patients
After rolling out MyChart, the clinic's patient show-up rate increased from 30% to 97%, Miliard reports. In addition, the average time patients spent in the waiting room decreased from 35 minutes to around six minutes.
Overall, Mujanovic said, giving patients access to an online portal improved the care process for both patients and providers. "Patients came in ready" with the information they needed to provide to receive care, she explained. "That helped us as providers, and gave us some flow and some stability" (Miliard, Healthcare IT News, 5/16).
Learn more: The patient portal handbook
90% of health care organizations now offer patient portal access, thanks to Meaningful Use requirements. However, patient portals remain largely underutilized by patients and underappreciated by physicians.
Download this research report to learn 15 tactics for driving patient and staff activation and engagement in your portal.