Insights from an NP on How to Master Efficient Patient Communication
Hometown Health Center is a nurse practitioner owned center that offers mental health, functional medicine, primary care, and urgent care services. The pandemic led to an uptick in virtual visits within their clinic and the need for a more robust and secure system that can support all of their patient communication.
We interviewed the owner, Kaela Thurman, to learn about her passion and how she successfully manages her high patient call volume.
What made you interested in becoming a nurse practitioner?
When I was in high school I completed an externship at a hospital and fell in love with working in trauma. I saw a few nurse practitioners in a pediatric trauma ICU and I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I realized after going to school to become a nurse that I didn’t want to work in a trauma ICU anymore. I ended up doing ER nursing for 10 years and then decided that I wanted to focus more on clinical work. So I went back to school to become a nurse practitioner. After being a nurse practitioner for a few years, I decided to open up my own business and got to bring my administrative and clinical skills together. Now here we are working on year 4!
What initially brought you and your clinic to Spruce?
Due to the pandemic, 50% of our patient visits became virtual, and we needed a platform that would allow us to easily manage our patient communication. We started getting a very large number of phone calls, and since we have such a small staff we weren’t prepared to handle them. Spruce has given us the ability to communicate more efficiently and effectively with patients, even with a small staff and large call volume.
What about the platform allowed you to have more efficient patient communication?
With Spruce, we can respond to a patient via a text instead of a phone call. We also have the ability to see all of the phone calls on the same screen, so we were able to increase our responsiveness. Prior to Spruce we just had two phone lines. That meant that several calls were getting the busy signal and going straight to voicemail. Every time you miss a phone call, you’re missing an opportunity for business. As an owner, it’s important for me to be able to go back through our call log and see how responsive we were. Spruce allows me to do this.
Is there something that Spruce does for you and your team that you didn’t realize it could do?
We just sent our first mass text by adding tags onto patients. We did a billing audit and found that a lot of patients had credits. We were able to send them a celebratory, “Hey, great news, you’re getting money back!” A lot of offices probably wouldn’t have gone above and beyond to rework those claims so their patients can get their money back, but it was an opportunity to market ourselves and build up what we’re doing here. That was a really nice feature.
We are also looking forward to integrating Spruce with the EHR Elation and the payment system, Stripe. There are so many platforms in medicine. My team and I are hoping to have them all communicate, because having so many things that don’t communicate makes the workflow and workload more difficult.
I also love that you can send a message in Spruce the same way that you can send a regular text. For example, I can use emojis. I don’t believe that healthcare should be so red tape. Having this ability is really beneficial.
How would you describe your patients’ experience?
We are in a rural area, so a part of our population is not super tech friendly. For those people, Spruce has been great because they’ve still been able to get texts without having to download an app. For more tech-savvy people, they really enjoy Spruce. It feels like VIP access to the team, because a lot of times getting a hold of a medical office feels next to impossible, but patients have an app where they can just message us.
For telehealth specifically, everyone completes the visits via Spruce. We tell patients to expect a video call at their appointment time. Everything else should have been done prior to the visit. I also like this from a workflow standpoint, because it’s much easier to just have the provider initiate the visit when they’re ready, instead of the patient attempting to call in.
What are your top two favorite features and why?
Team Conversations: I really enjoy the ability for the team to communicate, because I don’t have to create specific emails for everybody. We have many ways to communicate with each other but we’ve opted to just use Spruce. I like it because the team has the ability to access Spruce at home, while also having the ability to turn off their notifications when they’re taking a day off. There’s a nice balance.
File Attachment: Spruce also creates a secure way to share documents with patients. I don’t love sending documents through emails even if the patient initiates that request, so it’s convenient to be able to send it through Spruce securely.
Which team features do you use?
We mainly use team conversations. We typically have different conversations going on at once. One for billing questions and one for every group that needs to communicate. I also have one with every individual staff member, and I keep ongoing conversations with the front desk and the back office staff. I send little videos to my team for morning huddles as well.
What would you say makes your team special?
Everyone is here because they really add something to the team and to the patient experience, whether it’s their clinical, front office, or people skills. It’s our goal to treat our patients like a member of our own family, not just a number, but actually a patient.
How Hometown Health Center Uses Spruce:
The following features help Hometown Health Center effectively manage patient communication. Use the link below to learn more!
- Bulk Messaging: This feature allows you to make an announcement to your patients without having to message each one individually, for efficient patient communication. For example, let several patients know that your office hours have changed or that a new service has become available.
- Phone Trees: Phone trees present patients with two or more options when they call your practice. For example, they can press 1 for “new patient” or 2 for “existing patient.” Adding a phone tree helps you triage inquiries, improve efficiency, and manage patient needs.
- Desk Phones: You can eliminate your phone bill with Spruce by powering desk phones through our phone system. All voicemails will be captured in the Spruce app for you to listen to and easily loop in other members of the team.
Set me up! Use this link to set up a call with us and master your patient communication.