The inconvenient truth of convenience

Convenience is the currency of the modern world—be it in entertainment, business and, yes, healthcare. Many of healthcare’s best innovations to date are born with convenience in mind. From faster, more accurate diagnostic tools, simpler lab work, and administrative streamlining, to telehealth and virtual appointments, patients have reaped significant benefits when inventors, researchers, and providers look at making their healthcare experience more convenient. Similarly, as big tech companies continue foraying into the healthcare sector, they do so with missions to make healthcare clearer, easier, faster – in other words, more convenient – for their consumers.

Unfortunately, convenience can be at odds with competence. Preference for convenient care often creates redundant care: an urgent care visit requires a transfer to the emergency room; a dermatology telehealth consultation requires additional examination in- office and switching between non-affiliated systems results in test duplication. However, providers and their office staff can guard against these inefficiencies with a few strategies:

  1. Empower patients to seek appropriate care

Providers spend decades amassing the knowledge required to effectively diagnose and treat patients, so allowing healthcare consumers to bypass that knowledge base is a mistake. Let providers set clear guidelines about what kind of care is appropriate for each healthcare access point and setting, then empower office staff to enforce those standards. A patient may prefer a telehealth appointment, but if lab work is required or vitals need to be taken, health systems will provide more competent care by insisting on an in-person visit instead.

Automating these standards throughout provider platforms is helpful and can be lifesaving. For example, online scheduling platforms shouldn’t provide in-person and telehealth appointment scheduling options for visits if the telehealth visit is not recommended under the circumstances. More critically, urgent cares with virtual waiting rooms shouldn’t allow patients with heart attack symptoms to check in and wait for care at home. Instead, those patients should be immediately directed to their nearest hospital and urged to seek emergency care.

  1. Only prioritize convenience where appropriate

Strategically prioritizing convenience where appropriate helps healthcare professionals and their organizations provide competent care to more patients. For most people, receiving an annual flu shot is universally recommended, so a robust convenience strategy—which includes administering them in a myriad of settings, providing online scheduling and check-ins, sending automated reminders and more—works effectively. Additionally, over the past year, physicians have found that telehealth visits can be wonderfully convenient alternatives to in-office visits for prescription renewals, chronic care check-ins, post-discharge follow-ups, urgent care visits, and even initial patient appointments.

  1. Communicate care and venue recommendations clearly

To build and maintain trust, educate patients early and often about what to expect throughout their care journeys with proactive patient communication programs across all channels. This can include text messages about clinic delays and wait times as well as reminders for appointments. When hospitals and health systems communicate effectively, they reduce patient confusion and frustration, help operations run smoothly, get essential information to the appropriate parties, reduce the number of no-shows and waste (especially in the case of distributing Covid-19 vaccines), improve compliance with treatment and follow-up visits, and alleviate strain on the staff. Overcoming these challenges and building trust with patients results in better care for the patient, as positive patient-provider interactions are associated with better health outcomes.

“Convenient care” is often synonymous with on-demand care that best suits the needs and lifestyles of an elite minority of patients. Many of the options currently available are ideal for affluent, native-English speakers. Health leaders must consider access challenges for all when providing competent care to patient populations. Access to virtual care, for example, remains an issue. Not all consumers can receive virtual care—or even determine whether their physician offers it. In addition, broadband availability is a major concern for rural populations, as well as patients living in poverty. Of note, incorporating strategies that consider limited workday flexibility and language preferences is integral to a cohesive patient engagement strategy. This ensures the healthcare ecosystem represents everyone in a variety of manners.

In an on-demand world, it may seem that convenience and speed are the only way to keep patients satisfied. But when providers pivot away from convenience and toward greater competence in care, leveraging their knowledge to direct diagnosis and treatment, strategically implementing convenience best practices, and communicating clearly, patients receive the quality care they need. The resulting improved health outcomes and patient-provider rapport more than make up for a little “inconvenience.”

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