What Should Health Systems’ Patient Access Strategies Be Heading into 2023?

Health system leaders believe that improving patient access should be their top priority when strategically planning for 2023, according to a new report from the KLAS Research and UPMC’s Center for Connected Medicine

For the report, KLAS and the Center for Connected Medicine surveyed 61 leaders from 59 U.S. health systems. These leaders included C-level executives, vice presidents, managers and directors. A full 35% of the health systems included in the report had more than 1,000 beds — 27% had 501–1,000 beds, 27% had 1–500 beds and 11% were clinics or ambulatory organizations.

To improve patient access, respondents agreed that their health systems will need to make changes in three key areas — people, process and technology.

Most health systems have designated a specific person to oversee their patient access strategy, according to the report. This person is usually an executive who also has responsibility for other areas of the organization, but a handful of health systems included in the report said they have a dedicated leader just for patient access.

“Patient access always has technical aspects, but organizations really need a high-level person who acts as the strategic owner and elevates the issue,” said a chief medical information officer interviewed in the report. “They can help manage the differences across the organization when it comes to governance and technology. It isn’t always very apparent who that leader should be.” (KLAS did not identify the executives interviewed for its report.)

Respondents brought up other people-focused factors that health systems are struggling with when it comes to patient access. Some leaders said they are unsure how their organization can get patients to be engaged in their own care. 

Some leaders also identified difficulty getting the board to buy into organization changes, such as implementing new technology.  This change management obstacle is a bigger challenge for larger organizations due to the complexity of the enterprise and various different processes and stakeholders, according to the report.

“The people-related factors are very difficult,” the same chief medical information officer said. “That includes individual departments or even CMIOs wanting to hold on to products we used previously. We might have new people come in with their own points of view on what should happen around patient access technologies. Our organization needs to be able to reach a consensus, or we end up with a chaotic technology environment.” 

The healthcare industry’s lack of process standardization — regarding everything from appointment scheduling to data storage to payment — is a crucial problem that negatively impacts patient access, according to the report.

One health system CEO interviewed in the report said it was “maddening” to try and standardize these processes, because they vary between each practice and hospital. 

“Our organization used to be one hospital, but now we have more than 15 hospitals,” the CEO said. “We have just not been able to get all those people on the same processes so we can actually realize efficiencies of scale.“ 

When hospitals adopt new technology to improve patient access (such as telehealth, self-scheduling, remote patient monitoring and price transparency technology), it is only fruitful if patients and staff understand the process of how to use the technology. Unsure of how to educate patients and staff quickly, providers often turn to vendors to help guide effective processes for new technology, the report said.

The technologies that have been implemented the most by health systems to strengthen patient access are patient portals, appointment reminders and telehealth, the report showed.

Most health systems use patient portals. Since their initial rollout, patient portals have evolved from just repositories of test results to avenues for greater engagement. Now, patients can use portals to message their provider, schedule appointments and request prescription refills.

Appointment reminder solutions are also used by most health systems. These messages have been proven to reduce patient no-shows, and they free up staff since they’re automated.

Telehealth took off during the pandemic out of necessity. Now that things have calmed down a bit, hospitals are definitely seeing less telehealth utilization, but the modality still remains an important tool to advance patient access. This is true especially in the area of behavioral health, where telehealth usage continues to rise.

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