What the Future Brings: Automation for the Physician Practice

In the not-too-distant future, computers could assimilate even more of the provider’s front- and back-office systems, freeing employees to work on other necessary and strategic jobs that focus on patient care and customer service.

Automated solutions powered by artificial intelligence or currently available software solutions can help bring order to the front and back office. Providers who want to remain relevant and competitive in the future are bringing these services online today and freeing staff for other jobs.

Times Have Changed

“For decades,” an article in Physicians Practice relates, “physician groups have enjoyed the enviable position of providing a service that consumers wanted so much that they would tolerate long waits, confusing bills, and inconvenient delivery times in order to see a physician. In other industries, a company that provided this level of service would likely be out of business. Patients are increasingly demanding immediate access, convenient hours, and multiple ways to communicate with their physician. Patients now compare service across industries. The level of service they receive at a Nordstrom's or the Four Seasons influences their expectations for service from their physician's office.”

Today, however, many of the ways consumers are used to communicating with companies don’t exist within the provider realm. Consumers book appointments online for everything from haircuts to hotel rooms. They expect customer service agents to be available online 24/7. Customers want to access information about their activities via a customized portal, which allows them to view every detail of their interactions.

Patients of all ages (59%) say they would choose a primary care doctor who offered a patient app featuring the ability to make appointments, view bills and see personal health data, according to a Harris Poll/Salesforce survey. For millennials, 70% say they would choose a primary care doctor offering this service, according to the poll.

Automate Routine Tasks, Improve Customer Service

Automating portions of the front- and back-office is one way to quickly catch businesses that have provided online customer service experiences for years. It helps staff focus more on customer service and less on menial tasks.

A portal allows online appointment scheduling and payment, text reminders, as well as symptom trackers, all of which help automate the front office. Using virtual assistants, or chat bots, can help patients who prefer to call the practice. This technology can help with password resets or address account issues. Each supports customer satisfaction improvements when implemented correctly and bundled as part of an overall patient strategy.

Back-office automation is another way to help staff concentrate on patients. A significant amount of back-office work involves revenue cycle management (RCM), which itself is a combination of several different tasks integral to the success of the practice.

Even today, for example, RCM solutions complete many tasks electronically that provider offices used to complete manually, like calling a payer to check patient eligibility or enquiring about a claim.

Automate and Deploy

A fair number of larger physician practices already have joined the automation wave: “68% of physician groups with more than 10 practitioners now outsource some combination of collections and claims management,” according to the MGMA Performance and Practices of Successful Medical Groups: 2014 Report.

It’s important to note the goal of automation is improved efficiencies for the office and better customer service through thoughtful placement of employees throughout the practice, rather than a reduction in workers.

Automating the front- and back-office allows deployment of staff to other positions or to other work that can positively impact the business as a whole. These employees can engage directly with the patient to improve customer satisfaction and care by providing additional information and assistance that may be needed outside the automated tasks. Continuous improvement of the physician/patient relationship will be crucial to the ongoing financial health of the physician practice as the healthcare industry transitions from fee-for-service to value-based care, and patient satisfaction and health outcomes become the measures by which doctors are judged. 
 
Although not all healthcare organizations are ready to completely adopt automation, it’s important to evaluate the many different technologies available and choose the ones that may help improve the overall efficiency of the practice.

How do you see automation making an impact on the provider practice or healthcare in general?
 
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