Behind the Bots: The Strategy and Technology Behind Communicating with Patients Between Visits

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A typical healthcare consumer visits their doctor’s office 2.7 times per year. But between these visits are the real moments that matter for managing a patient’s health over time. Hospitals and health systems are seeking ways to engage their patients outside the fifteen-minute appointment window.

I recently chatted with two industry experts on how patients want to communicate with doctors outside the office, how technology can be leveraged for convenient access and how ultimately, hospitals can strategically employ these mechanisms to improve the patient-provider relationship.


Brad Bowman, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Healthgrades

Steve Leibforth, Vice President, Solution Consulting, Healthgrades

How do patients want to communicate with their doctors between visits?

Bowman: Patients want to stay in touch with their providers in a familiar, simple way. The more conversational approach, the more likely a patient is to continue engaging. The movement to better interact with patients between visits is truly driven by the consumer; it’s about hospitals meeting them where they are, communicating in a comfortable way, and empowering individuals to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

Leibforth: Many consumers want to communicate about their health in a convenient way, too. I work with hospitals and health systems across the country and for their patients, it’s really about being able to have access to help when they need it. That’s why often times, patients pop into an urgent care center or they get a flu shot at the clinic in their supermarket. But if they have an existing relationship with a clinician that can be extended via technology and engage on their terms and related to their health issues and lifestyle focus, then it’s a win-win.

How can technology be used to engage patients between visits?

Bowman: At the heart of how hospitals can communicate with patient between visits to drive better health outcomes is storytelling. Technology can weave together clinical information and patient generated data in a very useful way. Hospitals that invest in technology that does this can serve up information about health that educates, engages and inspires consumers to take control and to partner with their providers to encourage them along the way.

Leibforth: Many health systems have very sophisticated CRM systems in place, which gives them information about their patients to personalize communications that influence their healthcare decisions. Coupling data insights about consumers with technology solutions like chatbots that understand and reach patients most likely to benefit from ongoing communication with their doctor and can maintain or improve their health is very exciting. 

How will these mechanisms improve the patient-provider relationship?

Bowman: Hospitals want to engage patients to help affect positive behavior change around their health. Under value based models, hospitals will need for patients to make better decisions and change behaviors that they might not want to change. It’s about leveraging technology to strengthen the relationship patients have with their providers, not replace it.

Leibforth: The second most important relationship someone has is with their doctor (after their significant other). Having a mechanism that drives better communication between the two parties can help to avoid dangerous and costly health issues, so it’s a worthwhile investment for hospitals to make to serve their communities as well as assist in populations of patients in a value driven or risk based healthcare world.  

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