DUBAI- Healthcare providers in the Middle East and Africa will spend $2.8 billion on IT products and services in 2014 – an increase of 2.8% over 2013, according to the latest estimates from Gartner.
With spending expected to be concentrated on areas like building patient databases, mobile health, and preventive and diagnostic healthcare technologies, there is a dire need for healthcare providers to invest in patient engagement technologies.
Shaheen Haque, Territory Manager, Middle East & Turkey at Interactive Intelligence says that the healthcare industry is no stranger to rapid evolution and for ages, providers have had to react quickly to new innovations. While employing the most skilled professionals and investing in the latest facilities goes a long way in establishing brand image, there are today many more factors that play a role in drawing in patients.
Through the internet and social media, patients are smarter, more educated shoppers. Before they make a choice about a healthcare provider, they research their options through various channels in an effort to ensure they make the most educated and appropriate decision. Once the decision is made and the service is provided, the customer experience helps guarantee future business with both them and their peers.
Regulations, privacy challenges, and increasing research and technology, have all caused the healthcare industry to change regularly. Similarly, the expectations of patients continue to change in an effort to get quicker access to information they require.
The idea of patient engagement is providing patients with access and allowing them to communicate with the provider at the time and in a manner they prefer. The downfall for many providers is waiting for patients to reach out to them before they provide information. Cost-cutting measures, penalties, and potential loss of business are creating an increasing need for automation around engagement practices.
Healthcare providers have to be able to provide a secure, efficient, and effective process to engage with patients if they hope to attract and retain their business. Whether large or small, every healthcare organization has a customer service center that plays a critical role in helping expand patient engagement strategies.
The contact center now serves as the core of the customer service arena and can be leveraged as a tool to achieve customer engagement excellence – if steps are taken to turn it into a platform for innovation.
Moving to a Multi-Channel Approach
For healthcare providers, patient engagement is the primary focus for cutting costs, reducing re-admissions, and preventing future expenses, as well as ensuring a seamless experience for all customer enquiries. By creating a multi-channel environment that invites multiple ways to engage both inbound and outbound, patients receive a more personalized level of care from the provider.
Furthermore, many multi-channel implementations include self-service options to increase access to information no matter the time of day. These channels may range from traditional modes of communication such as voice, fax, and email, to more recent channels like web chat, social media, and video.
Multi-channel should not be interpreted as ‘every channel.’ Given the demographic of its patient base, it is the responsibility of the provider to determine what additional channels, if any, will prove beneficial to their patient engagement strategies. For instance, simple enquiries like appointment reminders, procedure follow-ups, or refill confirmations are increasingly being made available through SMS and email.
At the time of enrollment with the provider, the patient has the option to communication preference, recognizing that these preferences may differ based on the notification. This may be driven by availability or confidentiality concerns. Either way, the idea is that the patient has the choice.
Providers should talk to patients, determine the need, and look at a scalable, paced plan to increase engagement automation. Once a plan has been put in place as to what channels to offer, how to offer them, and how to implement them, it will be important to determine an ongoing management plan.
This includes staffing requirements, recognizing that not every user will be capable of handling different types of interactions. It also includes an ongoing maintenance plan for administration and reporting. Monitoring the use of current channels will help providers expand existing and future projects to create an even more effective strategy.
Self-Service Done Right
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) has earned a bad reputation in recent years, mainly as a result of poor implementations. Problems arise when companies do not take the time and resources to develop menus and options that actually prove beneficial to customers. If implemented correctly however, automation of the IVR can prove to be just as much, if not more, personalized than a real person. Through integration with back-end systems that contain relevant customer data, the IVR can be made more dynamic and intelligent.
For healthcare, EMR systems or billing applications contain a wealth of patient information. As soon as a patient calls in, the IVR can be linked to relevant patient information to help drive the call or suggest why they might be calling. From recent procedures or discharges to upcoming appointments and outstanding bills, a patient journey is created through a self-service engine.
Anytime information is made available to a patient or caregiver, it is always important to include security parameters for authenticating the caller. This may mean limiting information that is provided through the automated menu and escalating the call to a person if confidential medical information needs to be shared.
It could also mean getting creative with authentication to confirm that the caller is who they say they are through recent technology like voice biometrics. No matter the implementation, self-service implemented correctly can serve as a cost-saving, convenient, personalized communication channel for providers and patients.
Proactive Versus Reactive Engagement
It can be easy to respond to patients only when they engage with us. What sets certain providers apart is the ability to create better relationships with patients by taking a more proactive approach to customer service. The idea that is that the organization can provide value to a patient even when they do not realize it can help expand the ongoing relationship.
Patients trust providers with their health and well-being. This dynamic of the industry makes it even more important that the level of patient service be unique. The contact center has tools in place to help provide necessary responses to incoming interactions along with more creative outbound notifications.
As the social media trend evolves, more and more organizations are using this channel to engage with customers. The same holds true with provider opportunities. Thanks to social media, patients can get additional insight about almost everything from their healthcare providers that was previously not available.
Additionally, proactive reminders through multichannel options like SMS, mobile applications, and email can help patients feel more in touch and educated on their health. From pre-op to post-op, to prescription reminders, to basic ‘just checking in’, automated outbound communications can serve as a great tool to talk to patients without requiring the human resources to do so.
Call to Action
Through increased integration, improved customer service strategies, and assessment of current business processes, organizations in the Middle East can make the decision to move to a more innovative and proactive strategy for patient engagement. What separates the healthcare industry from others is the idea that healthcare providers are dealing with real people, their health and well-being, and trying to do what is best for them.
The services being rendered and sold are much more sensitive in nature, so a quality patient journey can be the perfect place to add personalization and care to services. And the contact center or patient service centre can serve as a great starting point and central location for this change.