A Different Type of Contact Tracing

By Dana Jacoby
President, Specialty Networks Consulting

In the practice of epidemiology, “contact tracing” refers to the process of mapping the people that have come into contact with an infected patient. Certainly, contact tracing has become widely discussed during the COVID-19 pandemic. By analyzing each of point of contact, health officials have a tool to manage each of the steps and ultimately to improve the outcomes. This same idea of “contact tracing” is tremendously instructive when applied to other situations as well, such as the contact points within our medical practices.

Specifically, when we can map the process and manage each of the points of contact, we can create a well-planned, beneficial outcome for our patients along their healthcare journey. There are dozens of contact points along that path. Here we will explore five critical contact moments and discuss some best practices for improved outcomes.

  • The Introduction. The moment of introduction is typically well before the patient actually meets their doctor for the first time. This contact point is our first opportunity to create a remarkable experience. For example, understanding that nearly 100% of new patients came as a result of a referral from a general practice physician, one successful group created a “welcome packet” introducing the staff and physicians, describing the specialty practice and setting expectations for the new relationship. The welcome packets were distributed to the referring offices so that the initial contact was informational, professional and inviting and the patient left the referral looking forward to a good experience.
  • The Intake. New technologies offer an opportunity to revolutionize this next contact point in the patient journey. How many times have new patients had the experience of being ushered into a crowded waiting room and presented with a stack of papers to complete before having a meaningful conversation with another person? That isn’t an ideal start to a great journey by anyone’s standards. Instead, the tools of telemedicine, secure document transfer and database management offer the possibility to manage this step and complete all these essential steps efficiently and comfortably. We have known that much of the intake process can be accomplished from home before the first visit; it took a pandemic to help us decide that crowded waiting rooms should be avoided. As a result, we can embrace new alternatives and invent a much better experience.
  • The First Meeting. Managing the next point of contact is absolutely essential. The adage, “You only get one chance to make a first impression” is absolutely true here and the entire course of the doctor/patient relationship can be set at the moment the patient first steps into the practice. Ironically, the doctor isn’t directly involved yet. Knowing this, one thoughtful medical practice recently engaged an outside call service to manage their incoming telephone calls. That small step freed up the office staff to focus 100% of their attention on the patient in the office without being distracted by ringing telephones. The results were that the practice’s productivity increased and the patients were thrilled to be the center of attention.
  • The Consult. The contact point between the doctor and the patient is always critical, and more so in a COVID-19 environment. While the other team members play important supporting roles, it is the physician who owns this point of contact. Again, new technologies can be used to build or break the outcome. For example, one successful physician sets his appointment clock so that he can watch his clients as they walk in. Much can be deduced about their pain levels by simply watching their steps. Another keeps copious electronic notes in his database about family, hobbies and athletics. Rather than ask, “How are you feeling?” he asks “How’s your tennis game?” The patient is more inclined to share the details of their experience than to simply say, “I’m fine.” Compare this to less mindful physicians who spend their consult opportunity focused on the laptop screen and completing online data, leaving the patient with the disappointing feeling similar to trying to have dinner with someone who is constantly on their cell phone.
  • The Follow-Up. The patient’s contact trail doesn’t end when they leave the doctor’s office. Their journey continues for days and weeks after. A keen physician will seek to create an actionable, measurable experience for their journey beyond the consult. For example, one best practice that we advocate at Specialty Networks Consulting is the use of a Patient Navigator or someone who is tasked with personal follow up in a meaningful, timely, and systematic way. Another best practice is to create a list of actionable “to-do” items on a notecard, postcard or refrigerator magnet to stay involved with the patient contacts moving forward.

Certainly, these five contact points are not an exhaustive list. By simply becoming aware of the process, we will become more aware of the moments that patients interact with our teams. Taking the next step of mapping and managing those intersections is our opportunity to better understand the experience and to create a remarkable outcome.