Lofty Ambition: What Healthcare Can Learn From the Airlines

Healthcare organizations need to start treating patients like airline passengers. It’s a bit of a head-turning statement isn’t it? But there’s truth in it - here's why.

Healthcare organizations need to start treating patients like airline passengers. It’s a bit of a head-turning statement isn’t it? But there’s truth in it.

Historically, our experience with the airlines entailed interacting with a travel agent, booking a trip, bringing our paper ticket to the airport counter and getting on our flight. We had no idea, in advance, whether our departure had been changed or our flight was canceled. Changing flight plans was a tedious procedure and rarely were travelers made aware by the airlines of options and information that could improve their trip overall such as rental car discounts, upgrades, hotel stays, and weather forecasts.

Consumers are Expecting More Information, Faster

Today, for the most part, airlines have changed their game. That’s because we, as consumers, have raised our expectations around how we want to be communicated with, how much information we want and what “channel” we want that communication on. As a result, many airlines, including Delta and Alaska, keep passengers up-to-date and informed through texting, automated voice, email, and mobile apps, depending on channel preference.

Most crucially, when there’s a flight cancellation or delay, hundreds of passengers can now be notified immediately and given the means to self-service and rebook their flight or change their travel plans without creating swells of inbound calls or lines at the gate counters.

It’s all about leveraging technology to create easier transactions and a better passenger experience. Why should healthcare be different? It isn’t. Patients are airline passengers, banking customers and retail consumers;  and their experience expectations are just as high.

Improve the Patient Experience

Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers in San Diego, part of Sharp HealthCare, a Baldrige Award-winning Pioneer ACO. Like many providers, Sharp provides appointment reminders to patients, but they’ve taken this engagement one step further, expanding reach to more patients to improve adherence and health outcomes, create greater efficiency in their contact center, and ensure that expensive clinical resources don’t go unused due to patient “no shows.” In effect, they are creating a better overall patient experience.

Sharp now employs a combination of texting and high-quality automated voice, depending on patient preference, to provide their reminders. Both channels enable automatic transfer to their contact center to reschedule the appointment instead of just canceling. Capturing a cancellation from the patient also enables Sharp to fill that appointment slot with another patient.

Reduce No-Shows & Satisfy Clinical Quality Measures

With the average cost of a non-emergent outpatient appointment in the U.S. being $236, this “newly realized revenue” can add up fast. For example, if a provider experiences 75 cancellations a day, but can reschedule half of those over 250 annual “bookable days,” a provider can realize $2.3 million in revenue per year that they wouldn’t annually.

Sharp has also gone on the offense in terms of satisfying key clinical quality measures under CMS ACO, Meaningful Use and other sets—proactively informing and reminding patients about cancer screenings, flu shots, mammograms, etc., explaining why these preventive measures matter, and enabling them to transfer to an agent to schedule appointments. The result is much more efficient outreach, improved health outcomes and—again—an enhanced patient experience.

Embrace the Change, or…

Provider reimbursement models are changing, patient expectations have increased, providers are facing increased competition for market/patient share, patient ranks are expanding and budgets are stable or shrinking. The stakes have been raised in healthcare and progressive providers and other healthcare organizations are embracing these changes. Because, let’s face it: who wants to end up like Pan Am?

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Vance Clipson

About Vance Clipson

Vance Clipson, senior principal, industry solutions for Nuance Communications, focuses on vertical-specific strategy and marketing with an emphasis on healthcare, financial services and government. Clipson brings 25 years of experience translating industry needs and data into market strategy and programs for Milliman, PacifiCare Health Systems and other organizations.