Technology Strategies Ease Patient Anxiety
One of the biggest pandemic concerns for administrators at Banner Health was the risk to patients who might defer needed care in order to avoid public spaces, says Christopher Stallings, the healthcare system’s senior director of consumer digital services. Banner Health, headquartered in Phoenix, operates 30 acute-care hospitals and other facilities in six Western states.
To overcome patient anxiety, Banner Health mandated pandemic safety measures for all its hospitals and issued a certifying seal to each facility as soon as it had met them. The now-familiar precautions, including COVID screening on entry, visitor restrictions, masking and physical distancing, were augmented by technology that guided patients safely through their visits, Stallings says.
“We accelerated technology strategies we had been working on previously, and one of those was to make it so that people didn’t even have to come into a waiting room anymore,” he says.
LEARN MORE: The future of healthcare starts with a digital experience.
Banner Health deployed a system that uses a chatbot through which patients fill out health history and registration forms in advance. They can also register on a patient portal, either before their appointments or, if they need assistance, when they arrive at the facility. Through the system, patients receive a text an hour before their appointment that asks them to wait in their car at the hospital. From there, they are updated by text every few minutes and then directed into an exam room when it’s ready, Stallings says.
At Banner Health’s emergency departments, patients receive updates on tests, results and physicians’ orders via text, which keeps them informed about their care and reduces the workload on busy nurses, Stallings says.
Along with the increased use of telemedicine and remote monitoring, technologies that speed patients through waiting areas — or eliminate waiting rooms altogether — will be around long after the pandemic recedes, says Stallings.
“The pandemic has been a catalyst for change,” he says. “It’s made us focus on how we can provide tools for our consumers that make their healthcare experience easier and better.”
Texts Limit Facility Traffic, Reduce Risk
Like Banner Health, University Hospitals in Cleveland has reimagined how patients wait for care in its 20 hospitals in northeast Ohio. Besides quickly adopting virtual treatment options, setting up screening stations at the entrances to clinical sites and instituting standard distancing and sanitizing protocols, the health system deployed an interactive messaging system to manage throughput at all its facilities, says Stacy Porter, UH’s vice president of pediatrics, women’s health and consumer centric strategies.
Registration and check-in for in- person UH appointments are done in advance over the phone. The patient messaging system generates a reminder text 90 minutes before scheduled appointment times and provides a link that enables patients to alert staff when they have arrived at the hospital. Patients wait outside the hospital until a text sends them directly to an exam room. The system works on any text-enabled device and benefits patients without such devices as well, Porter says.
“By limiting traffic through waiting areas, the technology creates safer spaces for everyone,” she says.
The Future of Healthcare Is Now
COVID-19 has not only tested the healthcare system but has transformed it as well.
“Organizations — and payers and patients — who were uncertain of the value of virtual care have now become firm believers,” says CIO Kristin Myers of Mount Sinai Health System.
At University Hospitals in Cleveland, 16 percent of scheduled visits with providers are now virtual, up from 2 percent before the pandemic, and are expected to remain at the higher level, says Stacy Porter, UH’s vice president of pediatrics, women’s health and consumer-centric strategies. Other, less conspicuous innovations such as virtual waiting rooms are likely to become permanent, she says.