As we head into HIMSS next week, virtual care will be a hot topic as telehealth remains a preferred strategy for improving patient access post-COVID. This is especially important when we think about The Value of Human Connection. Talking to patients requires deep trust in your brand and medical practice. Virtual appointments are not exclusive to the delivery of medical care – adoption accelerated across customer support to help troubleshoot medical device failure, billing inquiries, and non-clinical operations.
Azure Communication Services enables leading companies, namely Teladoc and Memorial Sloan Kettering, to build robust telehealth programs serving thousands of remote patients every day. As a result of these customer engagements, we have summarized three major observations below: interoperability at the platform layer, patient adherence to telehealth, and patient no-shows. These learnings over time revealed several challenges in implementation of virtual appointments and how we remediate those challenges.
Provider Platform Consolidation
The pandemic, coupled with already rising healthcare costs and physician shortages1, forced providers to adapt quickly and provide safer channels to practice care. Even before telehealth was considered mainstream, providers were hungry for solutions to communicate with patients. This flooded the hospital with multiple communication platforms across different service lines and geographies, some even non-compliant. This created a difficult situation for providers, and patients were on the receiving end of the confusion. Providers sought the ability to integrate communications into a common platform.
Platforms that can be directly built into the patient front door, like those offered by Azure Communication Services, provide a seamless experience for patients. This includes the ability to integrate with the EHR (e.g., EPIC and Cerner), Nuance, Microsoft Teams, and the provider portal. Where 96% of hospitals have adopted a certified-EHR2, the highly interoperable nature of our APIs allows providers to access medical records and leverage existing EHR scheduling software. Hospitals can consolidate virtual appointments into Azure Communication Services and avoid using multiple vendors to serve patients.
Patient adherence (switch to telehealth)
Patient adherence to virtual appointments presents another challenge, and confusing-to-use platforms further discourage patients from using telehealth. This is particularly true for first-time users where a seamless introductory experience helps to improve patient adherence. Patients have questions about functionality, troubleshooting, and more: Why did my mic or video turn off? How do I hang up a call? Can I blur or hide my background? How do I navigate between the patient app and web browser?
To reduce patient confusion, building intuitive experiences is key. Azure Communication Services' UI Library and call readiness tools provide visual cues (e.g., user facing diagnostics) to guide patients through their virtual care journey. Most people are visual learners, and it certainly helps to design beautiful experiences that delight patients and drive stickiness to your healthcare platform.
Patient adherence (no-shows)
In the hospital where every minute counts, patient no-shows pose a longstanding issue for providers. Patient forgetfulness about the appointment and miscommunication are leading causes for no-shows.3 No-shows also hinder telehealth uptake, leading to mismatched resource allocation and poor provider productivity. A study of an outpatient endoscopy center revealed that 18% of scheduled appointments resulted in no-shows4 and quantified the benefits of communication interventions:
“Several interventions offer providers the ability to lower no-show rates. These include telephone reminders, SMS (Short Message Service), and pre-assessment appointments. These no-show intervention strategies have been reported to produce relative reductions in the no-show rate of 75%, 39%, and 35%, respectively.4”
Azure Communication Services provides automated reminders to reduce no-shows and maximize time spent with patients, while ensuring operational efficiency for providers. For instance, many virtual care providers automate notifications with PSTN, SMS, and Email, with a first reminder sent three days prior and another sent just minutes before an appointment. More to come in a future blog.
Azure Communication Services at HIMSS
At HIMSS next week, I look forward to seeing fellow colleagues from Microsoft Teams, Cassandra Jackson and Hayley Farmer, present on Virtual Appointments for frontline workers at the Microsoft booth (#1201). I will also be tuning into the following sessions: “The Physician-Patient Relationship, Virtualized” with Siemens Healthineers, “Closing the Gap to Goal for Transformational Integrated Virtual Care” with Teladoc, and “Understanding the Full Potential of Generative AI for Healthcare”, with Microsoft’s Global CMO, Dr. David Rhew. As for me, I will be spending time with Tata Consultancy Services to meet with customers on the exhibition floor. Stop by to say hello!
Zhao X, Bhattacharjee S, Innes KE, LeMasters TJ, Dwibedi N, Sambamoorthi U. The impact of telemental health use on healthcare costs among commercially insured adults with mental health conditions. Curr Med Res Opin. 2020 Sep;36(9):1541-1548. doi: 10.1080/03007995.2020.1790345. Epub 2020 Aug 7. PMID: 32609549; PMCID: PMC7535072.
Marbouh D, Khaleel I, Al Shanqiti K, Al Tamimi M, Simsekler MCE, Ellahham S, Alibazoglu D, Alibazoglu H. Evaluating the Impact of Patient No-Shows on Service Quality. Risk Manag Healthc Policy. 2020 Jun 4;13:509-517. doi: 10.2147/RMHP.S232114. PMID: 32581613; PMCID: PMC7280239.
Berg BP, Murr M, Chermak D, Woodall J, Pignone M, Sandler RS, Denton BT. Estimating the cost of no-shows and evaluating the effects of mitigation strategies. Med Decis Making. 2013 Nov;33(8):976-85. doi: 10.1177/0272989X13478194. Epub 2013 Mar 20. PMID: 23515215; PMCID: PMC4153419.