Want to Drive Patient Satisfaction and Capture More Market Share for Your Physicians? Make It Easy for Patients to Self-Schedule Virtual Visits

June 18, 2021

jane-brubaker// By Jane Weber Brubaker //

Even as healthcare organizations build out their marketing stacks to better reach, engage, and serve patients and prospective patients, health technology companies are building stacks of their own, for some of the same reasons — to help their clients improve patient access and convenience.

NextGen Healthcare was named by KLAS in 2021 as the top practice management solution and the number one ambulatory EMR for practices with 11 to 75 providers. Through strategic acquisitions, the company has been assembling the components of an integrated technology platform built around its core electronic medical record. On the practice management side, NextGen Health offers a full range of services, including revenue cycle management, billing and payments, electronic data interchange (EDI), healthcare data analytics, and clinical documentation.

Recent acquisitions focus on patient experience. During the company’s Q2 2021 earnings call, CEO Rusty Frantz said, “The way providers engage with patients must change and must evolve. Unless providers go to a platform approach with integration, they are not going to have the patient experience that they truly need. Providers are realizing that they just moved into ‘consumer land.'”

Grant Lunney

Grant Lunney, vice president of patient experience solutions, NextGen Healthcare

NextGen Healthcare made a significant move into “consumer land” itself through the acquisition of virtual visits provider Otto Health in December 2019, following a partnership between the two companies announced in October 2018. “The biggest focus area for us was to take NextGen virtual visits from a workflow-centric application to something that was very scalable and sustainable,” says Grant Lunney, vice president of patient experience solutions at NextGen Healthcare, and former strategy officer and vice president of product for Otto.

That was before COVID-19. Little did anyone know just how scalable the solution would have to be, with the pandemic looming just over the horizon in early 2020.

When the pandemic hit, Lunney says, the question became, “How do we go from 500 providers to 15,000 providers using the platform? When you go from 5 to 7 percent of your visits being virtual to 95 percent of your visits being virtual, that makes a heck of a big difference.”

One challenge is scaling the solution to handle the sharp uptick in volume, and another is maintaining and continuously improving the quality of the patient and provider experience.

Reducing the Burden on Providers

Different types of providers have different requirements. For example, federally qualified health centers and community health centers have different needs than multispecialty practices. But Lunney and his team have found that about 80 percent is the same across the board: “There’s a lot of overlap in these things, regardless of specialty.”

Helping providers be more comfortable with the technology is an ongoing challenge. “It’s so easy for technology to be a burden,” Lunney says. “It’s something that we continuously solve: How do you make this a seamless part of their workflow without it being a burden?” The product team’s approach is to “take out as many touches as possible, make it as quick and seamless as possible, and integrate it into [providers’] workflow.”

Making It Easy for Patients

Despite the tremendous surge in telehealth visits, it’s still not that easy to schedule a virtual visit or participate in one, or sometimes even to know it’s an option. Lunney’s patient experience team has been working toward simplifying the process. “Make it one-click access, because every time you put an obstacle in between a patient and that visit, you are going to reduce your chances of that visit being successful,” he says. “Don’t make the patient download a mobile application, and don’t make them go to the Apple Store and create a username, login, and password.”

NextGen’s one-click experience is enabled by patient self-scheduling, a core component of the patient experience platform. “That facilitates the creation of a visit for any patient,” says Lunney. “It can be driven from a website, from an advertisement — it can be driven from anything.” The patient selects their time, and if they are a new patient, the self-scheduling solution creates a new patient record. “As soon as that visit is created, that’s what kicks off the communication back to that patient,” he says. The scheduling functionality is the same for office visits and virtual visits.

As the healthcare industry adjusts back to more routine patient care post-COVID, Lunney hopes providers will recognize that the convenience of virtual visits is a major driver of patient satisfaction. “We still sell short the amount of time that we’re taking out of a patient’s schedule. Let’s say they have transportation issues, or they need to find childcare — these are all things we have essentially alleviated by having telehealth be a focus,” he says. “It’d be a darn shame to only look at this as a COVID solution.”

NextGen tracks patient satisfaction scores using Net Promoter Score (NPS). The score for virtual visits currently averages 70, a very strong indication of patient satisfaction. “When you use virtual visits in tandem with patient self-scheduling, you see those NPS scores go even higher,” Lunney says.

Strengthening Patient-Provider Relationships

The virtual-visits application is not a direct-to-consumer solution. “We use it as a way to strengthen the relationship between the patient and the provider. That’s where we drive value,” says Lunney. “Our focus is to drive stickiness between the patient and the provider.”

The tools for self-scheduling and virtual visits help practices better serve their communities, for new and existing patients. Lunney says, “We’ve seen a strong investment from our practices [that] want to capture more market share and be a more prominent provider of virtual care services in our community.”

The practices that have been successful have looked at telehealth not just as a replacement for an office visit but as a way to form more effective relationships with patients, notes Lunney. “It’s a way to invest more in patients,” he says, “and that’s where we start to see the NPS scores on the patient side tick up and provider satisfaction ticks up, too.”

Jane Weber Brubaker is executive editor of Plain-English Health Care, a division of Plain-English Media. She directs editorial content for eHealthcare Strategy & Trends and Strategic Health Care Marketing, and is past chair of the eHealthcare Leadership Awards. Email her at jane@plainenglishmedia.com.