Over the course of telehealth development, many have questioned the relational limitations of tech-enhanced health care. Will digital health help clinicians and patients become closer, or will it distance the two sides even more than they currently are?

This question revolves around patient relationship management. What it once was, how it works today, and what improvements can be made to make telehealth services more relational and effective.

As a whole, many health care systems are investing in digital health tools, not because they immediately increase reimbursements, but because these resources pay on the back end of services rendered.

Even though patient loyalty is flagging within medical systems, upcoming generations are more digitally connected than ever before, meaning telehealth services can potentially improve patient relationships faster than alternative methods.

Though not seen at first glance, these improved patient relationships often lead to better patient retention and, thereby, more stable revenue streams. Moreover, because loyal patients are one of the best sources for referrals, these same patients often continue to enhance existing revenue engines.

Patient relationship management and retention also help care teams lower individual patient’s risks for complex diseases. This means telehealth services can potentially lower the amount of money medical systems spend on chronic illnesses.

If directors want to improve the bottom line of their program, managing patient relationships through telehealth tools may be the ticket to get them there.

How Were Patient Relationships Managed in the Past

Until fairly recently, patient relationships were managed organically. Patients shared symptoms with their doctor. Clinicians addressed these concerns with tests, evaluations and diagnoses. Patients bore the brunt of responsibility for maintaining relationships with their care team.

That’s not to say medical practices didn’t maintain lists and records from patient interactions. Clinicians simply didn’t have efficient ways, like telehealth tools, to use this information to advance patient relationships.

And even though there were incentives to encourage patient follow up, without the technology to manage the data, tracking patient interactions took up too much time. As a result of this manual entry approach to patient relationships, clinics ended up putting a lot of responsibility on patients.

How Are Patient Relationships Currently Managed?

Now that health care services include telehealth and other digital options such as EMRs, most patient relationships are managed electronically. And while the aim of government initiatives, such as Meaningful Use regulations in 2014, were well-intentioned, the implementation of EMRs was challenging for many practices.

Fast-forward to the present day. EMRs are now the primary telehealth services available to track patient data. For example, EMRs allow the running of reports within these databases to establish trends in patient health. And while these platforms allow clinicians to track patient progress based on their last appointment, EMRs don’t typically help care teams take note of what’s happened in between appointments.

For instance, a patient with pre-diabetes can easily fall through the cracks with EMRs unless a doctor also puts them in a program to help manage their condition. While this depends on the type of practice a patient visits, if clinicians aren’t proactive, patient conditions can suffer.

The challenge is that clinicians and care teams need a way to keep track of these concerning conditions so that people get the care they need. More often than not, mental notes, post-it notes, and spreadsheets simply don’t cut it when it comes to tracking the complex needs of patients.

That’s why telemedicine tools like PRMs are so valuable. They help care teams stay current with patients’ needs without increasing their workload or complicating their workflow.

What Are the Ingredients for Seamless, Scalable Relationship Management?

Scalable patient relationship management involves both the patient and their care team. However, these connections aren’t fully dependent on one or the other. When care teams use patient relationship management tools they have a more seamless way to engage their patients.

For example, medical staff can automate messages to be sent through the telehealth platform to patients every two weeks. They can set specific reminders to actively check-in with at-risk patients via phone. They can also schedule text messages to be sent to stable patients every two weeks to monitor how they’re feeling.

At the same time, telehealth automation enables alerts. This reminds care team members to make contact with patients every two weeks. Due to more outreach from care teams, patients are more likely to communicate bothersome symptoms.

While medical staff members have more tools to follow through on relationship management, patients, on the other hand, can contact their care team through multiple channels. This allows patients to choose the most convenient communication method for their lifestyle. The result of this dual responsibility is more conversations and lower patient drop off rates.

Overcoming Obstacles to Better Patient Relationships

Barriers often stand in the way of better patient relationships. By eliminating these barriers, through more convenient modes of communication such as telehealth platforms, both patients and clinicians can take steps forward in relationship management.

Unfortunately, many patients are subjected to complicated telemedicine systems that are difficult to navigate. As a result of these confusing channels, they avoid reaching out to their care team.

On the other hand, clinicians, while comparable to modern-day superheroes, are still human and can’t always remember one patient’s needs among the flood of in-person appointments. Even though medical staff cares about their patients, details may get lost as they try to give their full attention to the patient at hand.

Care teams need patient relationship tools that don’t overload them with alerts. At the same time, these tools should also pinpoint patient needs from afar.

The key is to encourage patients to consent to in-platform telehealth tools. This consent allows them to connect via videoconferencing, email notifications, texting and other convenient forms of communication. As a result, both patients and clinicians simultaneously begin building better relationships.

How Patient Relationship Management Can Help Health Systems Thrive

Capitated payment models are becoming commonplace. Medicaid and Medicare have switched reimbursements from fee-for-service to value-based care. As such, health care services need to prove that care teams are effective at producing positive patient results.

However, to conserve resources and lower expenses, care teams need to become more efficient while boosting these levels of care. In other words, patient relationship management matters because it can increase productivity and improve patient-reported outcomes.

Patient relationship management tools, for instance, provide a real-time view of patient conditions. Welkin takes this a step further and uses this data to provide a comprehensive, big-picture view of the patient’s symptoms – both in the past and in the present.

In this way, care teams can view patients’ progress or regression over the course of months and years. With patient relationship management tools, care managers can also note any downward trends in patients’ adherence to care plans. As a result, medical staff can preempt patient drop off and better retain patients.

What’s even better is that all members of the care team, from nurses to specialists, can view the most recent information, leaving less room for miscommunication and repetitive questions. Consequently, patients are assured that care teams really know them and can be trusted to provide medical oversight, especially for chronic illnesses and comorbidities.

Relationship management enabled by telemedicine tools also allows medical staff to connect with patients via their preferred mode of communication. With convenient communication, patient relationship management tools end up providing patients with accessible medical advice so they can follow through on their care plans and avoid more costly treatments.

All this to say, seamless patient relationship management exists to benefit health systems’ bottom line. By making it easier to monitor at-risk patients and stay connected to low-risk patients, telehealth services allow care teams to establish trust. This trust ultimately benefits patients, clinicians, and health systems.

To learn more about how patient relationship management can improve your patient’s outcomes and your program’s cost effectiveness, download “What Is PRM and Why Is It Important?”