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December 13, 2010

Online Health Access Improves Patient Satisfaction at UPMC


The recent World Congress Summit on patient communication and branding strategies for hospitals and health systems highlighted the importance of integrating electronic health records with value added services for patients such as online access to lab test results and care providers as well as easy-to-use online appointment scheduling. Keynote speaker Sandra Danoff, vice president and chief communications officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) told attendees that pro-active outreach and communications about health care quality is an essential element in building a trusted health care brand.

She noted that today’s consumers are inundated with negative information about health care providers and treatments, with almost daily news stories about medical errors such as overuse of radiation or stenting along with the adverse effects from mistakes made in hospitals and clinics or by individual physicians. This is a major change from the era when health care advice was automatically considered trust worthy and providers were unquestioned in their expertise.

As a large urban system, with 20 hospitals, 2,700 employed physicians about 5,000 total medical staff and 400+ sites for outpatient care, UMPC has made a significant investment in establishing a reputation for quality and innovation in health care. Along the way, Danoff says, she has learned that hospitals and health systems have to move beyond just providing information to the design and delivery of interactive services that empower patients.

For example, no matter how much general health and wellness information a specific hospital might provide on its website, consumers who want to start browsing medical conditions or look up symptoms are most likely to go first to WebMD or another well-established consumer health information brand. There is little value to UPMC in trying to get consumers to start their general health info search on the hospital web site. What potential patients really want to know when they do navigate to UMPC.com is much more action oriented. At the point the consumer visits the UPMC web site, they are at point where they need help deciding what to do about a medical issue – or possibly they are ready to make an appointment to see a care provider.  

So UPMC makes it a priority to provide consumers with actionable information on their web site using an integrated platform model. Danoff gave an example of the information provided about bariatric surgery options. This information includes a discussion of the indications for this type of surgery including basic information that is aimed at the patient and that includes a clear rendering of the surgical process along with stories the feature the outcomes results of successful surgery. Patients are also offered the option to link directly to a physician who performs this surgery and to request an appointment

UPMC has launched a number of programs to extend the ability of all UPMC patients to get an appointment online, to check on test results and even to schedule a digital e-visit with a care provider. The hospital system’s  “access initiative” was designed to provide every symptomatic patient an opportunity to see a care provider within 72 hours maximum after requesting an appointment. This initiative started with about a 70 percent success rate in the first year; after making this 72 hour appointment access a benchmark for the annual reviews and marketing budgets of each UPMC clinic, the success rate is now close to 100 percent.

As a result, UPMC has been able to use more of its open capacity at the same time as improving patient satisfaction rates and increasing annual revenues – all without adding staff or other costs to the care delivery system.


Dr. Cronin is a Professor of Management in the Information Systems Department at Boston College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Monda

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