In 1818, Mary Shelley's groundbreaking novel "Frankenstein" was published, detailing the calamitous outcome of one man's pursuit to generate life by assembling disparate body parts. Today, this iconic tale serves as a metaphor for organizations integrating mismatched, disparate patient engagement solutions, giving birth to a "Frankensystem."
The Birth of the Frankensystem in Patient Engagement
Over the last decade, patient expectations have been largely influenced by the convenience standards set by industries outside of healthcare. Much like the seamless experiences they encounter in other aspects of their lives, patients have come to expect instant access to health information, the ability to schedule appointments online, and the option to communicate with healthcare providers on their terms.
Many providers who were already leveraging a patient portal through their electronic health records (EHR) vendor found that the technology alone lacked all the features necessary to drive the optimized healthcare experience patients were looking for. Using the portal as their foundation, healthcare providers began exploring other healthcare technology to fill functionality gaps. Over time, they invested in innovative technology that prioritized convenience, accessibility, and personalized experiences for patients.
But, a challenge arose.
The patient engagement landscape was vast and many vendors only catered to one or a few pieces of the patient engagement puzzle. There would be one vendor for intake, another for scheduling, another for virtual visits, and yet another for post-visit follow-up. Over time, these bolted-on, disparate solutions became what is known today as the Frankensystem.
Rather than try to navigate the multitude of patient engagement tools available, other providers decided to rely on their EHR's patient engagement technology to help them achieve a more cohesive and streamlined experience. What they didn't realize is that developing patient engagement solutions is a costly endeavor for an EHR company, and to get products to market more quickly and cost-effectively, they, too, turned to partnerships with healthcare IT vendors. This led to an even more monstrous Frankensystem — one that was masked behind the trust that had already been established between the EHR provider and the healthcare organization using it.
Although created with the best intentions, Frankensystems were not built to cohesively work together, impeding the very goal they were created to achieve —a consistent, convenient, and optimized patient experience.
How Frankensystems Impede Patient Engagement
Frankensystems are notorious for wreaking havoc on patient engagement. They also end up creating additional work for staff members that are already stretched to the limit. Let's explore the various challenges that can arise, from fragmented user experiences to decreased accessibility and impaired communication.
Fragmented User Experience
Each component of a Frankensystem comes from a different vendor, leading to a disjointed experience for both patients and staff. Multiple logins add unnecessary frustration, and the inconsistent look and feel across each solution exacerbates the issue. Beware, as these impediments can quickly manifest into fewer return patients and a burned-out workforce.
When technology is bolted together, it often complicates access to information because it’s siloed in different systems. Patients can easily become confused if they need to go to the patient portal for health information, another system to access messages, and yet another to attend a virtual visit. Staff may be even more sensitive to non-integrated systems because they need to download and then upload information manually to create reports or move information from system to system.
The lack of seamless communication between various platforms can impede the flow of crucial information, undermining patient trust in their care. For example, if a patient does not receive a message that their lab results are in or has difficulty finding them, they are more likely to call their provider from that point on rather than use technology they don’t have confidence in.
Forcing together mismatched systems often yields operational inefficiencies, leading to increased labor costs and reduced productivity. A common sign of a Frankensystem can be found in front desk staff – they are continually stressed and often accrue overtime because of manual administrative processes.
Drained patients have had frustrating interactions with Frankensystems and subsequently fled to another practice, despite being happy with their care. The number of negative digital experiences a patient can tolerate before becoming a drained patient is difficult to predict. For some, it may be consistent portal outages. For others, it may be slowly delivered patient messages or the inability to schedule an appointment online. If you have a low return visit rate, drained patients may be the cause.
How to Spot a Frankensystem
Are you using a Frankensystem? Here are some warning signs:
Your EHR partner announces a new partnership: New partnerships for functionalities such as patient intake or scheduling mean the technology was not created by in-house development resources and will be bolted on to your existing technology.
There are broken promises on future enhancements: If you're unknowingly using a Frankensystem that's been pieced together over time by your EHR vendor, there can be promises of new functionality or enhancements that never come to fruition. Beware.
Your technology lacks a cohesive look and feel: Moving from one system to another is not only jarring from a visual perspective, but different user experiences can be confusing and frustrating to both staff and patients.
You are required to use different logins: Because each aspect of the patient journey is managed by a different vendor in a Frankensystem, you'll likely need to jump between different systems.
Your technology is slow to load: Frankensystems usually run slowly because information needs time to travel between systems – which also creates opportunities for information to become blocked or delayed.
It's difficult to get questions answered: Because each part of a Frankensystem has its own operating system, it’s often a laborious process to get support or help should the need arise.
Your practice has negative reviews: Frankensystems cause complaints that are often reflected in poor online reviews by patients that mention an organization’s patient engagement technology, or lack thereof.
Internal adoption of technology is low: Learning a Frankensystem is often prolonged and laborious because it’s difficult to feel comfortable when you’re working on incongruent platforms. If staff doesn’t feel confident in using the technology post-implementation, they’ll be less likely to use it.
You find yourself bogged down with paperwork: Frankensystems are notorious for creating administrative burdens. If your patient engagement technology doesn’t save labor and streamline workflows, chances are you’re dealing with one.
Strategies to Avoid the Frankensystem
Check References: Take care not to blindly follow recommendations from your EHR vendor; ask for references. It is also critically important to confirm each reference uses the same EHR as your organization.
Assess Your Needs: Since unkept promises are a hallmark of Frankensystems, be sure to ascertain if your organization can afford to wait for something that has been promised in the future. What will the ramifications be if the promised functionality isn’t delivered?
Do Your Research: Check to see what accolades and awards have been given to the technology you are considering. Frankensystems will struggle to have good reviews.
Conclusion: Piecing Together the Bigger Picture
The world of patient engagement is intricate and ever-evolving; that’s why it’s critical to be able to discern the Frankensystems that lurk in the shadows.
Choosing a mishmash of disjointed systems, though seemingly innovative, can be a recipe for inefficiency, frustration, and risk. Much like how Dr. Frankenstein’s creature wreaked havoc due to its unnatural creation, a Frankensystem, born out of mismatched integrations, poses significant challenges to healthcare providers, staff, and most critically, patients.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom. Register for our webinar on October 31, 2023 at 2 pm ET where we'll show you how you can banish patient engagement monsters like the Frankensystem to the past. Register by filing out the form on this page.