Health Centers Embrace Digital Solutions to Improve Patient Communication and Operations

Technology is a critical component of healthcare, and health centers are embracing it. It improves operations, workflow, patient communication, accessibility, and engagement. Using digital technology can help streamline staff workloads to prevent: 

  • Long hold times for inbound phone calls
  • Dropped phone calls
  • Appointment no shows 
  • Unfilled appointments 
  • Registration bottlenecks at the front desk
  • Drains on limited staff resources 

In 2019, GPW Health Center in Northern VA was thriving and growing, but it also experienced many of these pain points. “We knew our communication with patients needed to change and become much more efficient, responsive, and positive for both staff and patients,” says Evelin Manzanares, GPW Health Center’s COO. The health center explored and instituted different digital solutions that, over the course of four years, resulted in: 

  • A decrease in no show rates from 32 to 14 percent. This led to increased confirmations and appointment backfills. 
  • Reduced waiting room bottlenecks.
  • Increased patient access to self-schedule appointments, any time.
  • Growth in the overall patient population served by the health center.
  • More time for care teams to follow up with patients who have more urgent care needs.

The health center first focused on patient communication and engagement. Working with Luma Health, the health center uses an SMS platform that integrates with its EHR to communicate with patients via text. Patients can send and receive messages, complete patient feedback forms, and post reviews directly onto social and web media platforms, receive test results and referrals, and submit paperwork. 

Patients, including older patients, have been very responsive and the uptake has been significant. “We needed a digital platform that was simple to use, and that patients could easily access. They did not have to set up accounts or have email addresses which many did not have,” says Manzanares. As a result, staff resources in their 3-person call team could be reallocated to start an inhouse billing and collections team.

At Castle Family Health Centers, Atwater CA, data drives technology solutions. “We have a culture that focuses on cohesive teams. We strive to ensure our patients are receiving the highest level of quality care,” says Peter Mojarras, Castle Family Health Centers COO. “And yet, we still need to operate as a business to be sustainable.” The health center depends on data from quality care performance measures, no-show and missed appointments, and patient, staff, and provider feedback to guide their efforts for improvement.

Castle Family Health Centers knew they needed to make some changes to reduce their high no-show rates. They began to work with Artera to use the company’s SMS technology to strengthen its communication with patients. Now, through text reminders and recalls, patients can be contacted seven, two, and one day prior to their scheduled appointments. With the transition to SMS technology as a core component of patient communication, no-show rates for primary care services have decreased by more than half, from 30% to between 10-12%. In addition, the health center uses the software’s “campaigning” feature to send select text messages to priority patient populations to remind them they're due for a specific service or screening.

Other digital solutions used by these health centers strengthen workflows, operations and patient care:

  • GPW Health Center is partnering with Collectly, a mobile billing system, to improve fee collections and payments. Patients now receive detailed billing statements via text messaging links. 
  • GPW is also partnering with Phreesia, a digital workflow software which enables patients to complete paperwork, insurance, co-pays, and health histories before their appointments.
  • Family Castle Health Centers is working with InteliChart to engage 25-30% of patients to use its patient portal for pre-appointment forms and lab results.
  • Through a foundation grant, Family Castle will soon be exploring how telemonitoring care programs that help patients self monitor blood sugar, blood pressure, and/or weight, can directly feed data into its EHR to manage chronic health conditions.