Can tech help patients only have to tell their story once?

Photo: Patty Hayward

78% of consumers say they want a choice of how they interact with providers, according to a survey by IT vendor Talkdesk. In part, that means they don't always want to have to call and sit on hold to get a healthcare issue resolved.

If a patient can only get so far in a healthcare interaction before hitting a wall and having to make that dreaded call, then the healthcare organization has failed them, contends Patty Hayward, vice president of industry strategy for healthcare and life sciences at Talkdesk. What's worse, the patient may have to repeat their story over and over again, she adds.

Healthcare IT News interviewed Hayward to talk about that survey, her opinion of text and chatbot tools, the importance of carrying a patient's story from voice to text to chatbot to virtual agent with nothing lost along the way, and the role technologies like AI, machine learning, natural language processing and medical-grade speech-to-text can play here.

Q. In the survey your company conducted, the vast majority of respondents said they want a choice of how they interact with their providers. Can you elaborate on this finding with more from your report, and what the finding truly means?

A. Our survey of nearly 700 healthcare consumers around the world showed that 78% said it was important to be able to engage with health systems through their preferred channels of communication. This desire reflects how digital technologies have increased the choices and expectations of consumers, including healthcare ones.

More specifically, it means healthcare consumers who text, message, email and use mobile apps in every other aspect of their lives want to use these same technologies when communicating with their providers or health plans. And why wouldn't they, when the alternative is being put on hold or endlessly bounced around a phone tree?

These aren't mere inconveniences. Consider that 63% of our survey respondents said their provider is not able to deliver an excellent experience in a completely digital way, while 67% said just one poor patient service encounter would diminish their brand loyalty.

These sentiments impact a provider's bottom line, because unhappy patients leave if they have an alternative. Now, of course, healthcare consumers have more alternatives than ever, because care models and technology have evolved so much in recent years.

Q. You contend that healthcare provider organizations adding text and chatbot tools will not solve the underlying issues that stymie communication between healthcare organizations and patients. Why do you hold text and chatbots in such low regard?

A. Text and chat tools have an important place in a provider's patient communication strategy. I would like to point out, however, that it's the fractured approach to their deployments that can cause unintended silos of communication.

If a patient doesn't get what they need from the chatbot and escalates to voice, the patient is usually left to explain again their reason for calling. This can cause frustration and costs valuable agent time.

These channels should be synchronized on a complete platform for communication that utilizes all channels, meets the patient where they are most comfortable and stays with them along the entire journey.

Q. You say the solution is a communication hub that can carry a patient's story from voice to text to chatbot to virtual agent with nothing lost along the way. Please elaborate.

A. A fragmented patient journey is a failed patient journey. If information becomes siloed in one channel and inaccessible to a live agent, it can lead to frustration for the agent – who, after all, is being prevented from doing their job efficiently – as well as frustration for the patient, who may have to provide the same information over and over again.

Even worse, information lost along the patient's journey can lead to gaps in care. When you're dealing with a patient who has, for example, multiple chronic conditions, these care gaps can become dangerous and expensive. When information is siloed, support agents may not have all the appropriate information to be proactive and personalized to that individual's needs.

An integrated communications hub can aggregate data gathered through multiple channels and present it in a way that makes it easy for live agents to instantly know where patients are in their journeys and what the agent can do to facilitate the next steps, even if it's something as simple as confirming a clinic appointment for the patient.

Q. What role can technologies like AI, machine learning, natural language processing and medical-grade speech-to-text play here?

A. Providers want to deliver better patient self-service, and efficiently and effectively address patient needs. When patients do need to speak with staff live, they want to understand the reasons why their patients are getting in touch with them.

The great thing about AI in the patient experience is that we have the opportunity to use technology to solve the same problems providers have contended with for years, but in more efficient and accurate ways.

Conversational bots can draw on EHR data and invoke functions like rescheduling an appointment via self-service, instead of a static phone tree. Agents can have an automated "co-pilot" assisting them live with recommended actions and answers, instead of hitting the "hold" button and asking a manager.

Instead of manually entering post-call or chat notes in a spreadsheet, we can gather patient intent and sentiment automatically with speech-to-text in every interaction, making those insights easily searchable and actionable.

There is an understandable tendency to hesitate when it comes to AI in healthcare. Too often, vendors and even some early adopter providers start with cool technology and search for a problem to solve with it.

We see the most success starting with a focus on the "jobs to be done" by AI and automation. When you look for the places where patients want more speed and convenience and less empathy – like canceling an appointment or verifying identity – providers can find the opportunities to create value, let the staff focus on high-empathy, high-complexity conversations, and deliver an elevated experience.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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