Oncology care and patients as consumers: Managing competitive pressures

eHealth Technologies blog: Steve Malta, Regional Vice President, eHealth Technologies

We’ve all read the different stats and articles on the growing trend of consumerism in healthcare. Oncology Practice Management reported that “Patients with cancer starting to act like consumers” is one of the top 4 trends affecting cancer program strategies. As the discussion around “patients as consumers” grows, how does your oncology department deal with this paradigm shift?

One of the most significant components of the “patient as consumer” trend is patient experience. It can make or break your department. And although patient care and outcomes is a critical factor in the overall experience, it is not the only consideration.

As patients become more engaged in their care, spend more time and use different approaches to evaluate and select providers, patient experience is critical to meeting expectations. Not only does it impact the patients you are caring for today, but it can affect future referrals and volumes as well. According to the latest “State of Cancer Care” from the American Association of Clinical Oncology, competitive pressures are among the top oncology practice pressures.

Your department needs to deliver a top-notch experience from the minute they are referred to your program and contact you for an appointment all the way to the end of their treatment. If their experience is lacking, it of course impacts that individual patient, but it can also have a ripple effect, putting future patient volume at risk. That one negative experience can turn into:

  • a damaging online review that hundred of people could access.
  • word of mouth recommendations to friends and family will suffer.
  • the patient could eventually inform the referring provider that their experience was not good, and the provider stops referring patients to your center.

Just one of these factors could put future patient volume at risk. The last thing your department needs is negative chatter about patient experience.

So, the question then becomes – what steps can your department take to ensure patients have as positive of an experience as possible?

As we work with cancer centers across the country, attention on patient experience is very common. We advise cancer center leaders on the impact that streamlining their incoming referral process can have on patient experience. Here are the top three ways to drive improved patient experience as new patients are referred and scheduled for appointments:

  • Schedule patients faster – No patient – especially an oncology patient – wants to hear that they have to wait for an initial appointment. Many departments experience a lag in their ability to book appointments because they need some patient information before they can schedule that appointment. Using record retrieval services expedites this time frame. Practices that partner with eHealth Technologies are able to get records up to 73% faster, which means they are able to schedule patients faster for their initial appointment.
  • Don’t burden the patient with providing their past medical records and images – Access to a complete medical is critical as patients are first evaluated and a treatment plan is developed. Staff time in your department might be limited but asking patients and their caregivers to search around for, request, and then deliver past records and medical images to your office for their evaluation appointment is an unnecessary burden. These patients are sick and scared and the last thing they need is to attempt to navigate the health care system to collect this information. Your team can rely on a partner like eHealth Technologies to do this work. We serve as an extension of your team, managing the requests input to our system for patients records and images, providing real-time updates on the status of requests and delivering the necessary reports in as little as 3 to 5 days.
  • Eliminate the need to reschedule initial patient consults and make the most of that first appointment – We all know how hard it can be to get the medical records and images needed for a patient’s first appointment. How many times a month do you have to reschedule a patient’s appointment because the clinical team doesn’t have the information they need? That not only puts your patient experience and satisfaction scores at risk, it frustrates providers, and has financial implications as each appointment slot that remains empty results in a loss of charges. The organizations we partner with have been able to reduce the percentage of patients that experience these delays because their medical record and image retrieval process is efficient and reliable. It also means that when a patient does have that initial consult appointment, it is as effective as possible because the clinical team has access to all of the information needed and can quickly create an effective treatment plan.

Our primary focus is to allow our partners to focus on what matters most – the patient. Working with teams to streamline their workflows and introducing support services that expedite scheduling of appointments and creating treatment plans is something that we see truly makes a difference in how patients receive care. How would you rate your oncology patients’ experience today? Is it time for your department to take a new look at how new patient referrals are processed?