Banner Health used digital patient intake to decrease waiting room foot traffic, promoting patient safety as critical to the patient experience.
If COVID-19 gave the healthcare industry anything, it was the opportunity to redefine patient care and the patient experience. At Banner Health, that meant the opportunity to redefine patient safety and how it relates to overall healthcare quality.
Outbreak of the novel coronavirus is arguably one of the biggest healthcare disruptors in recent memory. For clinicians fighting it on the frontlines, COVID-19 marked one of the most trying medical challenges in decades. In the public health space, messaging, public trust, and outbreak detection remain key hurdles for keeping a cap on the virus.
And for medical personnel handling cases not related to COVID-19, such as chronic disease management or primary care or elective surgery, questions are now arising about what constitutes a good care experience and the role that patient trust and safety play in that.
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The Arizona-based Banner Health is confronting those questions head-on and seeing this as a new opportunity to redefine patient experience as a part of patient safety.
“All the work that we’re doing is just to make it as safe is possible for people,” Christopher Stallings, senior director of Consumer Digital at Banner, said in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT. “A lot of businesses are really getting the chance to redefine what quality means and for us, that’s safety.”
Like most healthcare organizations in the thick of reopening their non-COVID medical services, the team at Banner health know that hospital and clinic safety are top priority.
Even back in March and April, most anecdotal evidence suggested that facility environmental services would skyrocket to the top of patient satisfaction checklists due to COVID-19. Reports also suggested patients would prefer to visibly see healthcare organizations adhering to cleaning and safety guidelines.
“Safety was the biggest sense of vulnerability with COVID,” Stallings confirmed. “As we talked to individuals, they didn’t want to go in for care. And sometimes that care was something that was actually needed. And so we needed to create an environment and talk about the environment that we had already created so that people felt more comfortable coming in for that care that they did need to have.”
Thus began Banner’s push to integrate patient safety as a key portion of its patient experience efforts. While Stallings said patient safety had previously been at the center of Banner’s clinical guidelines, it is now playing a marked role in healthcare consumerism. Safety procedures are a part of what the health system’s consumers want to experience when they receive care.
Stallings and team had to fit that knowledge into its long-running strategy to deliver on consumerism in healthcare. They started with their waiting rooms.
“Our strategy has long been, how can we really make this a better experience for the patient?” Stallings posited. “And before COVID that was, well no one likes the waiting room and no one likes to fill out all the forms when they get to the waiting room.”
Even before the pandemic, Banner was working out a strategy to minimize the role of the waiting room, in which most of the patient intake process has traditionally taken place. More specifically, the health system was working out how to place some of that patient intake process at home with the patient, instead of inside the waiting room.
That framework shifted when COVID-19 came to the United States, and has come further to the forefront now that Banner joins other healthcare organizations in reopening elective procedures and other non-emergency, in-person care.
What was once a patient satisfaction endeavor — removing the often burdensome waiting room — also became a patient safety imperative. Regardless of anybody’s ability to wipe down surfaces or segment sick- and well-visits, Banner and its patients didn’t want to have the added risk of patients congregating in the waiting room if it could be avoided.
Those goals accelerated Banner Health’s plans to streamline the patient intake process and cut out the waiting room altogether.
Using technology from LifeLink, Banner Health has pivoted all of its patient intake forms to digital, ideally to be completed by the patient prior to the visit.
Upon appointment scheduling or patient registration, the health system ensures it has the patient’s mobile phone number and asks the patient if Banner can send all of the information to get ready for the appointment via a link embedded in a text message.
A few days prior to the appointment, the patient will be asked questions like whether she would like to opt into the state health information exchange or if she has more than insurance carrier. The patient completes the typical intake information.
Then, an hour before the appointment time, Banner sends another message to the patient outlining new procedures giving patients the option to wait in their cars for their appointments. Patients can click a link in the text message that notifies office staff the patient has arrived.
“At this point, we keep them engaged and say things like, ‘you’re welcome to come in, but you’re also allowed to stay comfortable in your car. We’ll let you know when your exam room is ready,’” Stallings explained.
Office staff members monitor who has arrived and who is waiting in the parking lot. As soon as an exam room is ready, the staff member hits a button that pushes a message out to the patient inviting her to come in. Staff members meet patients at the door and escort them to exam rooms.
“There are some things that are in there that keep our patients engaged while they’re waiting in their car and safe,” Stallings said. “We work to prepare them for a new experience and help them understand some of our additional safety, in a nutshell.”
Banner was able to pivot an existing strategy that had not yet been deployed at scale in a short time period. Central to this success has been Banner’s longstanding commitment to consumerism in healthcare, Stallings said.
Had the health system not already been piloting the system among a Medicare Advantage population, it would not have had the groundwork necessary to meet the moment so quickly.
“We had this strategy in place to really reduce the waiting room in its entirety,” Stallings pointed out. “With the catalyst of safety on the minds of all of our consumers and on the minds of all of our clinics, we were able to put that in very quickly.”
Of course, that cannot be the case with every healthcare organizations across the country. Banner Health is a prominent health system with relatively large amounts of capital to have already been exploring these systems. More specifically, the health system has had the resources to be on the cutting edge of healthcare consumerism for years.
Other organizations looking to making a similar pivot need to look at where they, too, have resources that align with their patient experience goals, Stallings recommended.
“Every system that we’ve interacted with really needs to focus on their strategies,” Stallings concluded.
“That’s what’s been paying off for us: just to look at the strategy that we had beforehand and seeing what is the most meaningful thing to accelerate. Without a strategy, we wouldn’t have been able to pull this off. But with it, we were prepared, we’ve made all kinds of digital products we wanted to provide. And with the changing landscape we were able to accelerate some of those products.”
Source: Patient Engagement Hit