For the report, KLAS and the Center for Connected Medicine surveyed 61 leaders from 59 US health systems. These leaders include C-level executives, vice presidents, managers and directors. A full 35% of the health systems included in the report had more than 1,000 beds—27% had 501–1,000 beds, 27% had 1–500 beds, and 11% were clinics or ambulatory organizations.
To improve patient access, respondents agreed that their healthcare systems will need to make changes in three key areas — people, process and technology.
Most health systems have designated a specific person to oversee their patient access strategy, according to the report. That person is usually an executive director who also has responsibility for other areas of the organization, but several health systems included in the report said they have a dedicated leader just for patient access.
“Patient access always has technical aspects, but organizations really need someone at a high level to act as a strategic owner and raise the issue,” said a chief medical information officer interviewed for the report. “They can help address differences in the organization when it comes to management and technology. It is not always very clear who this leader should be. ((KLAS did not identify the executives interviewed for its report.)
Respondents highlighted other people-focused factors that health systems struggle with when it comes to patient access. Some leaders said they weren’t sure how their organization could get patients to be engaged in their own care.
Some leaders also identified difficulties in getting the board to accept organizational changes, such as the implementation of new technology. This change management hurdle is more challenging for larger organizations due to the complexity of the enterprise and various disparate processes and stakeholders, according to the report.
“Human factors are very difficult,” said the same chief medical information officer. “This includes individual departments or even CMIOs wanting to keep the products we used before. We may have new people come in with their own perspectives on what needs to happen around patient access technologies. Our organization has to be able to reach consensus or we will end up in a chaotic technological environment.”
The lack of standardization of processes in the healthcare industry – in everything from appointment scheduling to data storage to payment – is a critical issue that negatively impacts patient access, according to the report.
One health system CEO interviewed in the report said it’s “maddening” to try to standardize these processes because they vary between each practice and hospital.
“Our organization used to be one hospital, but now we have more than 15 hospitals,” the executive said. “We just haven’t been able to get all these people involved in the same processes so that we can really realize economies of scale.”
When hospitals adopt new technology to improve patient access (such as telehealth, self-scheduling, remote patient monitoring, and price transparency technology), it is only fruitful if patients and staff understand the process of using the technology. Unsure how to quickly educate patients and staff, providers often turn to vendors to help guide effective processes for new technology, the report said.
The technologies most implemented by health systems to improve patient access are patient portals, appointment reminders and telehealth, the report found.
Most health systems use patient portals. Since their initial implementation, patient portals have evolved from simply repositories of test results to avenues for greater engagement. Patients can now use portals to message their provider, schedule appointments and request prescription refills.
Appointment reminder solutions are also used by most healthcare systems. These messages have been proven to reduce patient no-shows and free up staff because they are automated.
Telehealth developed during the pandemic out of necessity. Now that things have calmed down a bit, hospitals are definitely seeing less use of telehealth, but the modality still remains an important tool to facilitate patient access. This is especially true in the field of behavioral health where telehealth is used continues to rise.
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