Proactive patient outreach can be a core part of your patients’ care journey. When you connect with patients outside of the clinical setting — be it via email, text or phone call — you can help build relationships with them and may increase their involvement in their own healthcare experience.
In this post, we outline key information about automated patient outreach and patient outreach solutions that may help you stay ahead of the competition.
Introduction to patient outreach
So what is patient outreach, exactly? Simply put, it is the outbound communication you make to existing patients between their appointments. It can also refer to outreach you make to people you hope will become patients — aka your prospects.
For example, outreach can include anything from appointment reminders and follow-ups to test results, care check-ins and more.
Importance of effective patient outreach
At Klara, we talk a lot about the importance of patient engagement. With an effective patient outreach strategy, you may be more likely to keep patients engaged in their care. This enables you to earn their loyalty, and they may even recommend you to friends and family.
Challenges in achieving successful outreach
Consider these common challenges before creating your patient outreach strategy:
- Limited time: Developing and maintaining an outreach strategy takes a lot of time, which can be limited for healthcare providers and their staff. The good news is that once you have a strategy in place and have created your communication materials, you’ll be able to focus your time on maintenance. If you’re concerned about the work that’s involved in implementing or nurturing your patient outreach solutions, you may want to consider outsourcing the work or block some time each day to devote to outreach efforts.
- Lack of appropriate technology: A lot of patient outreach continues to be manual, with staff members spending time on the phone scheduling and confirming appointments, calling patients with test results, or simply playing phone tag. Without a tech-driven patient engagement platform, patient outreach can be a laborious process.
- Poor patient engagement: A patient outreach strategy is dependent on your patients engaging with your communications. A number of factors could prevent their engagement. For example, they could be too sick or busy, they could be building trust in your practice, or they could experience common health access barriers.
Strategies for effective patient outreach
To overcome the aforementioned challenges and help launch an effective patient outreach strategy, consider these strategies:
- Leverage technology: Patient engagement platforms like Klara exist to help take the guesswork — and wasted time — out of connecting with patients. The right technology solution can allow you to automate routine outreach, triage incoming patient chats, and better track interactions.
- Train your staff: Your technology is only as good as the people who use it, so training your staff on how it works is key. Beyond the technology, make sure your staff is equipped with the right scripts, and provide tips to encourage positive, seamless patient interactions.
- Add personalization: Patients may appreciate personalized communications. For example: Address patients by their first names instead of with a generic “Hi patient”. Acknowledge their last visit.
- Avoid spamming your patients: Patient engagement works when you’re consistent with your outreach, but that doesn’t mean you should over-communicate. If you send too much information, your efforts could backfire.
Utilizing technology and tools
Patient engagement platforms aren’t limited to those that allow you to automate routine patient outreach. Health technology today is sophisticated and offers multiple outreach options, from telehealth and virtual visits to patient portals and communication platforms. These tools offer convenience and accessibility for patients who are unable to visit your office or who want to avoid playing phone tag with the front desk.
Telehealth and virtual visits
Since COVID-19 popularized remote medicine, more providers have added telehealth as a practice mainstay. Digital communication tools allow healthcare professionals to interact with patients and supplement in-person visits.
Patient portals are powerful tools for doctors and patients alike. They are platforms that allow healthcare organizations to communicate with patients and share medical information. Providers can keep patients engaged by sending relevant reminders and messages, sharing health education materials, and posting results. At the same time, patients can access their medical records, view test results, schedule appointments and request prescription refills.
More and more practices are adding messaging widgets to their websites, allowing patients to schedule appointments or chat with a provider or staff member. Like portals, these platforms allow patients to easily initiate conversations, ask non-urgent questions about their health, and receive responses in a timely manner.
Developing and implementing a patient outreach plan
So how do you put a patient outreach plan in motion? Consider these four steps:
Step 1: Identify target patient populations
In addition to the data you already have access to, you could also collect information through patient surveys or by looking externally at the community you serve. In other words, is there any information about the general demographics, health needs, or healthcare access in your local area that could help you personalize outreach?
Step 2: Set specific and measurable goals
Why are you reaching out to patients? What do you hope to achieve? Setting clear and measurable goals allows you to track progress and identify opportunities for enhanced focus. Consider setting goals that follow the SMART framework: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, a SMART goal might be the number of patient portal registrations within a month or a certain percentage decrease in no-shows after a three-month period.
Step 3: Design outreach activities and materials
There are a number of outreach activities you could try as part of your patient outreach strategy. Routine patient communications are the most obvious — appointment reminders, intake form collection, post-visit summaries or care instructions and patient satisfaction surveys. Others include:
- Educational materials and health campaigns: To help attract new patients and keep existing patients engaged, consider running health campaigns or wellness programs focused on a particular health issue. You can provide educational materials with preventive care information, for example, and offer free public screenings or sessions promoting healthy behaviors.
- Community outreach and events: To help establish your practice as a trusted resource in your community, consider participating in local events. For example, if there’s a farmer’s market, consider having a booth to provide relevant health and practice information. Community events can help foster connections and attract new people.
- Recommendations from current patients: Happy patients can be excellent advocates. In addition to positive reviews and testimonials, current patients may decide to recommend their friends and family to your practice.
- Social media: Maintaining an active online presence is a great way to engage with patients and your local community. Social media can be used to provide educational content and share practice updates.
Step 4: Evaluate the success of the outreach program
Remember your SMART goals? It’s time to evaluate them.
Let’s use appointment reminders as an example. You send appointment reminders to help avoid no-shows and help maintain a full schedule. Your success metric here would be a percentage decrease in no-shows from one month to the next. At the end of a particular month, compare the number of no-shows to the month prior, then calculate the percentage difference.
If your no-show rate is lower, then your appointment reminder outreach may be working. If it has increased or stayed the same, you may need more time for your outreach to take effect or it may be time to rethink your approach. Maybe you’re sending reminders too early. Maybe the language could be clearer.
Inclusive patient outreach
A smart patient outreach strategy is accessible and inclusive, taking into account the impact of social determinants of health and customizing outreach for patients who may experience barriers to healthcare access and outcomes.
Cultural competency and relevance
Consider making your outreach efforts culturally sensitive. For example, you may wish your communications to include images of diverse people, incorporate relevant cultural symbols, and acknowledge alternative healing approaches different patients may value.
Overcoming language barriers
Language barriers are common in healthcare. To overcome them at your practice, consider using materials that are translated into different languages, hire multilingual staff, or use language assistance services, like third-party translators or digital language translation tools.
Addressing health literacy
Health information can be difficult for patients to understand. The key is to share information as clearly as possible, use plain language over medical jargon and add visual aids like photos, illustrations or infographics.
Engaging patients in the outreach process
As we’ve outlined throughout this post, patient outreach and patient engagement go hand-in-hand. In addition to the strategies we’ve already mentioned, remember that your approach should be patient-first.
Patient-centered outreach approaches
Rather than focus on how your practice can benefit from patient outreach, think about how outreach can help your patients. What are their unique health needs? How can you empower them to be proactive with their health? What information will be relevant and helpful to them? How can you make each patient feel like they’re a priority?
In addition to deploying the strategies we’ve outlined above — like personalized communication, various communication methods, and an inclusive, culturally sensitive approach — empower patients to become part of the decision-making process.
The future of automated patient outreach: The role of technology and telemedicine
These days, patient outreach is increasingly shaped by technology. Advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation enable healthcare practices to use technology for personalized and efficient patient engagement. Telemedicine is playing a pivotal role, allowing for remote patient outreach and virtual consultations.
Klara — a leading conversational patient engagement platform — can help you launch your modern patient outreach strategy, offering automated communication options, streamlined patient messaging, seamless telehealth options and more. With Klara, you’ll streamline inefficient workflows, improve patient engagement, and have time to focus on what’s most important: offering patients your best possible care.
This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult with your legal counsel and other qualified advisors to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations and standards.