With losses of more than $202.6 billion during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. healthcare is suffering and there’s no end in sight. Healthcare organizations and providers have quickly turned to telehealth to maintain care, increasing its use by 50% in primary care alone.
But while this has helped to stem financial losses, patient engagement and satisfaction require deeper, ongoing attention. Hospital systems with established digital engagement programs have been able to seamlessly maintain patient connections, knowledge and awareness during this difficult time.
To understand the impact of digital patient engagement on hospital finances, consider the effect of wait times on the patient experience. Long wait times cause patients to become dissatisfied before they ever meet their doctor, forgo care completely or leave the hospital system for alternate care options, such as urgent care centers where the average wait time can be a mere 15 minutes – all of which decrease hospital and practice revenues.
Wait times for appointments vary widely from city to city, yet are generally seen as unacceptably high by hospitals and patients alike. For instance, in Boston, the average wait time for an appointment with a new family medicine physician (PCP) was reported as 109 days in 2017. The average wait time to see a new specialty physician was more than 50 days. Across the U.S., wait times are up 30% from 2014 across specialties and are continuing to climb.
Emergency Department (ED) visits exacerbate patient dissatisfaction. A recent study found that the average ED visit lasted 5 hours, with half of that time spent waiting for the next available procedure, physician or nurse. This backlog creates both indirect and direct costs for healthcare systems in overcrowding, inefficacies, the need for additional staff, and disconnected patients. Unwarranted ER visits alone cost hospitals more than $32 billion per year before the pandemic.
What can be done to curb these costs and increase satisfaction? The National Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Academy of Engineers (NAE) suggest that digital communication and online content delivery can greatly reduce wait times and patient dissatisfaction. Research shows that the main cause of these problems is a patient’s inability to understand his or her condition prior to booking an appointment or showing up at the ED. This results in unnecessary ED visits and situations where physicians are ill-equipped to handle the particulars of each patient’s ailment.
To combat this, digital engagement programs like UbiCare’s SmarteXp® can be utilized to educate patients about their conditions, cultivate a constant connection with their healthcare providers, and provide support and guidance in their lives – where daily actions and environment are responsible for 60% of medical outcomes.
UbiCare’s SmarteXp® is proven to decrease ED visits up to 50% by educating patients and providing a critical patient-provider connection perioperatively. Proactively preparing patients throughout the care continuum, explaining care instructions and delivering easy-to-understand and access guidance has been shown to increase satisfaction and improve care and cost metrics, including:
- Length of Stay
- Discharge Destination
- Day of Surgery Cancellations
Patients feel better able to care for themselves, more confident in managing their care, better prepared for appointments, and they experience a stronger hospital connection.
Research supports that additional staffing and investment is not essential to improving care and decreasing cost. Optimization is the key.
Digital patient engagement tools that enable automatic, virtual connections help to minimize financial losses while optimizing patient satisfaction and security. Integrated customization capabilities and data tracking allow for better understanding and inclusion of patient populations – as well as targeted, triaged attention – further improving quality of care and financial performance.