Today’s medical practices may have more demands on their time and attention than ever before thanks to increasing regulations combined with staff shortages throughout the industry. As a result, many practices are embracing workflow automation. Using technology to digitize certain tasks may help reduce some administrative burdens, easing employee burnout and boosting customer satisfaction.
As healthcare continues to digitize, many medical practices are looking for ways to streamline routine work — such as intake, patient communication, and more. Doing so may give providers more time to focus on what lies at the core of their work — helping people — and provide for the health and safety of their patients at the same time. In this blog, we will take a look at the current state of workflows in healthcare and provide ways to help improve workflow efficiency with automation.
Manual workflows may be becoming a thing of the past
Traditional workflows in healthcare can be highly inefficient. Paperwork, unnecessary phone calls, and manual recordkeeping can waste valuable time for both physicians and staff. Medical Economics’ 2022 Physician Report cited these and other administrative burdens as significant challenges for medical practices today.
There’s no denying that manual workflows can be ineffective for modern medical practices. They not only have the potential to waste time and drive staff burnout — they can also be prone to human error. It is important to note that manual workflows may not only impact your staff, but they may lead to a negative patient experience as well.
It may come as no surprise, then, that healthcare is undergoing a massive digital transformation. According to the “2022 Future of Healthcare study” conducted by HIMSS, roughly nine in 10 U.S. health systems plan to digitize in some way over the next five years. At the same time, many Americans are becoming more engaged in their health than ever before, embracing wearables and health-tracking apps to stay on top of their well-being and keep their doctors informed.
All this to say, if you want to take steps toward getting ahead of your competition by building a happy work environment for your staff, and offering a welcoming environment for your patients, you may want to consider replacing manual workflows wherever possible.
What workflows can be automated by medical practices?
There are a plethora of manual tasks that healthcare organizations can help streamline with workflow automation software. Let’s take a look at several tasks that, if automated, could help you save time and offer a better patient experience.
Between collecting insurance, emergency contact information, demographics, pharmacy details, health history, and consent forms — the patient intake process can be time-consuming for many of the parties involved.
Patients may spend quite a while in the waiting room filling out paperwork, while your staff is spending just as long — or even longer — manually processing this paperwork. On top of that, if patients don’t show up to their appointments on time, intake can cause a bottleneck of delays that can negatively impact the patient experience.
The 2022 MGMA DataDive Practice Operations data report found that the median waiting room wait time increased in 2021 to 16 minutes, and the median exam room wait time increased in 2021 to 9 minutes. That could be 25 minutes a patient has to wait to see their doctor. Manual intake processes may play a role in these wait times.
With workflow automation software, you can help digitize the intake process and ask patients to provide all the necessary information before they even step foot into the waiting room. This is done by having patients fill out digital forms from a computer or mobile device.
Paperwork and recordkeeping
Medical offices deal with a lot of paperwork, including the intake forms mentioned above and other clinical, social, and administrative documentation needed to manage patient care and billing. So much so, that the burden of paperwork and quality metrics continues to be cited by physicians as a top challenge. Printing, translating, transcribing, filing, and shredding paperwork can waste time and leave confidential patient information vulnerable to errors, loss, and theft.
Electronic health record (EHR) platforms have become widely used to digitize paper forms. But a common complaint from physicians is that they may require you to manually enter the same data across multiple systems. So while EHRs may replace some time-consuming and repetitive tasks, they also may be causing frustration.
Workflow automation solutions are designed to ease some of these frustrations. When it comes to data syncing and interfacing with other systems, workflow automation platforms may help eliminate the need for manual data re-entry into multiple systems.
Many medical practices that we talk to say they believe their immediate staff — or their third-party call center — is spending many wasted hours managing outgoing and incoming phone calls related to appointment scheduling, prescription refills, or lab results. While we don’t suggest automating these types of calls, we do recommend replacing routine phone outreach with other forms of communication, like automated text messages and voicemail transcription.
Doctor’s offices may never be entirely phone-free, but you can automate unnecessary outgoing and incoming calls. Imagine if you no longer had to call patients with appointment reminders, pre-visit instructions, or intake-related questions. Or if you didn’t have to call them after their appointments with care follow-ups or to get their feedback. Whether inbound or outbound communication, routine calls can tie up your phone lines.
And what about what patients want? They may not pick up your calls in the first place and may prefer a text message instead. Automating routine patient phone calls with a patient communication platform such as Klara can help you avoid endless circles of phone tag, help give your providers and staff more time to focus on quality care, and help create a better patient experience.
Managing appointment calendars
How much time does your staff spend fielding appointment requests or calling patients with appointment reminders? You may be able to take these workflows off your plate entirely with the right automation tools.
For scheduling, a workflow automation solution could enable you to add a self-scheduler to your website that shows appointment availability by provider and/or practice location. That way, patients can schedule their own appointments online, without needing to call the office.
Ahead of their visit, you could set pre-visit communications to go out to your patients automatically, including appointment reminders, pre-visit instructions, and intake requests.
Routine patient communication
We’ve touched on routine patient outreach a bit so far. Still, it’s worth mentioning again. Making a phone call isn't the only way to give your patient communication a personal touch. Whether you're sending automated reminders or text-message responses, you can customize the language you include to ensure it feels personalized to your patients and true to your practice. Some examples of communication workflows that you could automate include:
- Appointment scheduling: Including new appointments, cancellations and rescheduling
- Pre-visit outreach: Appointment reminders, instructions, and intake
- During visit outreach: For telemedicine appointments, send instructions on how to access the virtual exam room
- Post-visit outreach: Care follow-ups, satisfaction surveys, reminders to schedule another appointment
- Non-emergent matters: Prescription refill requests, lab results, etc.
- Personalization: Add a patient name field or friendly greeting to your automated SMS templates
Staff communication and collaborative care efforts
Medical teams need an efficient way to communicate and collaborate — whether they work at the same practice or across different healthcare systems. Workflow automation tools can help streamline staff communication and care team collaboration to help reduce administrative back-and-forth and minimize the risk of things falling through the cracks in patient care.
10 potential benefits of automated workflows
There are many reasons why workflow automation in healthcare is quickly becoming the norm. Check out 10 of these reasons below:
1. Helps to minimize errors
Whether a staff member can’t read a patient’s handwriting or simply inputs information incorrectly from a patient’s form, manual data entry can be prone to human error. When patients provide their own information digitally, you can be more confident in its accuracy. Plus, the information won’t get “lost in translation,” since the data can be automatically stored in their patient file.
2. Save time for providers and staff
Manual processes can be time-consuming for medical teams. With the right workflow automation software, you can help improve operational inefficiencies that consume your time and might negatively impact the patient experience. As outlined above, these tasks involve everything from intake processes to routine patient communication, to staff and care team collaboration. With workflow automation you may be able to save valuable hours that were previously spent on paperwork, phone tag, fielding and triaging calls, and more.
3. Streamline system integrations
Your practice may use multiple systems to manage its day-to-day operations. These could include an EHR, practice management software, a patient communication tool, a telemedicine platform, or more. With the right workflow automation software, you may be able to streamline and connect your systems so that you can spend less time toggling back and forth between platforms, avoid duplicate data entry, and focus on one app or tab at a time.
4. Protect data security — and promote its accuracy
Working with paper files and manual data entry may not only be time-consuming but can also be risky. For example, you could accidentally forget to shred or properly store a patient’s paperwork or misread something they’ve written. Fortunately, many workflow automation tools help minimize human error and are built for HIPAA-compliant practices, making the accuracy of protected health information (PHI) a top priority.
5. Increase workflow scalability
If you’re bogged down by paperwork, routine calls, and other manual and repetitive tasks now, imagine what it may be like as your practice grows.
Or maybe you haven’t been able to grow because your time has been devoted to administrative duties. That’s another obstacle that many practices face.
Either way, automation tools can help you streamline — and scale — your workflows so you can work toward improving efficiency no matter how many patients you see.
6. Shorten patient wait times
We noted earlier that patients may wait a median of 25 minutes to see their providers. When automation tools, such as Klara, allow you to digitize paperwork and complete patient intake in advance, appointments may be more likely to start on time.
7. Improve work culture
Physician and staff burnout can be a real problem for medical practices — especially in a post-COVID world. Fortunately, you may not feel as stretched thin when you take repetitive tasks off your and your staff’s plates. Plus, when you’re happier at work, you may be more likely to be more engaged with patients.
8. Reduce costs
Automating workflows may help you save on certain expenses, like expensive call centers or paperwork-related costs that quickly add up (i.e., paper, printer ink, shredding services, etc.).
9. Improve patient outcomes and overall patient experience
Automating manual administrative tasks may benefit physicians and staff as well as patients. For example, you may experience improvements such as:
- More time to focus on patient care: If your mind is free of administrative stress or you’re no longer toggling between systems during an appointment, you may be able to better focus on your patients and be more present and less distracted.
- Easier care collaboration: With digitized and integrated workflows, you may be able to more easily communicate and collaborate with your patients’ other providers. This can help you to be on the same page and have a more accurate and holistic view of your patients' health and care plans.
- Better communication: Patients often complain about how difficult it is to communicate with their doctors. With automated workflow tools, you may be able to offer patients the communication options they want, like the ability to text your practice.
10. Increase trust
At the end of the day, each of these benefits can have a compounding effect on your practice’s overall success. Patients may see better outcomes and have a better experience with your practice, which means they may be more likely to trust you with their care. They may continue seeing you, leave positive reviews, and refer their friends and family.
How Klara can help automate your workflows
Klara’s conversational patient engagement platform helps medical practices automate patient workflows across the entire patient journey for both in-person and virtual visits. Klara gives your practice the ability to consolidate multiple vendors into one, simplified platform. This helps to streamline the healthcare journey, keeping patients engaged on their preferred communication channel, and enabling staff to focus on their core responsibilities.
With Klara, you can automate routine patient outreach via personalized text messages. All inbound and outbound communications — including transcribed voicemails — are saved to a single conversation thread that assigned team members and providers can access.
Klara helps medical practices improve workflow efficiency by automatically routing patient questions and concerns to team inboxes where they can be quickly assigned, enabling staff to respond and close the loop faster. In addition, Klara interfaces with many EHRs including athenahealth, Nextech, AdvancedMD, Allscripts, Greenway Health, ModMedⓇ and more, in order to help practices improve overall operational efficiency across systems.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Klara can help your practice streamline workflows, book a demo today.
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.