Healthcare Experience Blog

Will money make doctors talk?

We all know that email has changed the way we communicate on a day-to-day basis. I’m sure you use it to keep up with friends, family members, and professional contacts…like I do. However, do you use email to correspond with your doctor?

In our recent 2014 “What’s Reasonable?” study, we found that nearly everyone that’s already online wants email access to their doctor.  In fact, 93% of our respondents told us that they would choose a doctor that uses email over one that does not, all other factors being equal. And 25% of those people would pay $25 per episode to communicate with their doctor via email.

Emailing is certainly convenient for the patient, because it allows us the opportunity to send along a question or comment when it’s convenient for us.

But what about for the provider–the doctor or nurse, at the receiving end of that email?

Doctors and other providers have been slow to embrace this idea for a number of reasons, some of them very sound. It creates an additional workflow for the doctor, without any additional reimbursement (in most cases). There are issues related to privacy and HIPAA. There could be issues related to quality of care, based on miscommunication. And a constant stream of incoming emails raises the specter of putting a doctor “on call” basically well-beyond their already long hours.

Nevertheless, One Medical Group has made a business out of allowing patients online access to doctors, as part of a new model of primary care. For $199 a year, you get:

  • Email communication with your doctor
  • Preferred access for same-day appointments
  • Digital access to your medical records
  • Digital access to your lab and test results
  • Digital Rx refills
  • Digital communication for treatment (common issues)


Physicians will be involved with email to a much greater degree than ever before as Meaningful Use takes hold. Patients will then be able to contact doctors through a provider’s patient portal. Reimbursement of the dollars spent to build the portal and be “more wired” are dependent on at least some nominal degree of online interaction. But will doctors go further and use email to extend their services? And will payers, employers, and maybe consumers pay them to do so? The demand for email with a doctor is apparent. How this demand will be met is not yet clear.

To view the full recording of the 2014 “What’s Reasonable?” webinar, click here. To download a PDF of the results slide deck, click here.

Consumers want more digital access in healthcare

As I write this, the way we communicate with each other personally, professionally, and in healthcare, is changing rapidly.

In our recent “What’s Reasonable” Study of more than 400 American consumers, more than half of our respondents said they own a smartphone, which is comparable to the percentage cited in a recent Pew Research Center poll.

The adoption of “smart” devices extends across the generations. There is higher adoption in Generations X and Y (as I would expect), but there is also a significant amount of usage among Baby Boomers (42%) and Seniors (20%). Mobile communication gives us the ability to get a hold of family, friends, and, in some cases, healthcare providers, right now, on our own terms, from wherever we are. No wonder it’s so popular.

Are consumers ready to interact with healthcare using mobile devices? One way to assess that is to see what consumers are ALREADY doing online in other parts of their lives. Do they use the Internet for banking and online bill pay? Making travel arrangements? In our study, 8 out of 10 people say they go online to manage their finances; almost 60% say they make their travel arrangements online. So the answer is clearly “yes.” This shows that consumers are willing to entrust their personal and financial information to brands they trust, for services they value.

A “self-serve” behavior outside of healthcare activities has also translated into consumers’ inclination to seek information about healthcare, particularly around the quality and cost of healthcare. Almost half of our respondents are already going online to look up information about a doctor and one in four has used the Internet to try and find the cost of a medical procedure. Rather than rely on someone else to give them healthcare information, or simply do what they’re told to do, patients are taking charge. And using the Internet to do so.

Our study confirms that healthcare consumers are starting to act like retail customers, rather than passive recipients of technical services they don’t understand and don’t have to pay for.

In my next blog, we’ll look at whether consumers are willing to pay, out of their pockets, for digital access and assistance. And which kinds of digital access are most important, right now, to consumers across the age spectrum.

In the meantime, if you’d like to view our 2014 “What’s Reasonable?” webinar focusing on patient expectations of online versus conventional access to providers, you can download the PowerPoint deck from the presentation here or download the full audio/visual recording here.

It’s 2014. What’s Reasonable?

There’s been a lot of buzz about consumers gaining access to their Electronic Health Records, being able to go online and see their medical test results, and wanting to communicate directly with doctors using email.

But how many consumers really prefer online versus more traditional modes of communicating and gaining information? Just as importantly, how significant is email conversation with a doctor, and will consumers pay for this? And how do these preferences differ among Seniors, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers?

We wanted to find out. So we conducted our 2014 “What’s Reasonable?” national study with over 400 American consumers.

The results were surprising to us, and may be to you as well. Fewer people than you might imagine want to go online to see their lab results or set up a medical appointment. A lot more than we guessed would prefer to take a patient experience survey online or via an app than via the two methods most widely used today: mail and phone.

Some hospitals and systems are well on their way to making it possible for us to do many of these things, driven in part at least, by the mandates and funding associated with the much-maligned Meaningful Use legislation.

So now’s a good time to gauge those efforts against what consumers told us are their current preferences, knowing that a growing percentage of the population wants to do things digitally and achieve instant gratification.

I invite you to join us for a free webinar in which we will reveal–and discuss–the results from our new “What’s Reasonable?” study on what consumers expect regarding online access to doctors and health information. This one-hour webinar is on Thursday, May 29, from noon-1PM CDT. Please email abby.shields@catalysthcr.com with your name and the name of your organization to register.

Hindsight is 20/20: What CXOs wish they had known

In a recent white paper that I co-authored with Jason Wolf, president of The Beryl Institute, we asked patient experience leaders to reflect on what they wish they had known before assuming their current positions.  We thought it might prove valuable to those who may be hiring a Chief Experience Office (or equivalent) and to those who may be considering accepting such a position.

Several patient experience leaders told us that it’s critically important that a new CXO determine to what extent a “culture of experience does or does not exist” in the organization. It’s easy to give lip service to “putting patients first,” but not so easy to actually do so, day in and day out, throughout an organization.  Take some time to talk casually with a cross-section of people who hold a variety of jobs.  Ask them cultural questions like “what’s it like to work in this place?” or “how often do the nurses complain about the doctors?” or “whose responsibility is it to guide visitors?” The answers will provide clues as to the real operating culture of the place, not just what the mission statement says.  Also interviewing various department and functional heads, such as the person handling clinical quality, the person responsible for HR, etc. will provide an early indication of the likely degree of collaboration that may exist to advance the PX improvement agenda.  Going beyond a formal interview with the CEO or COO allows the newly-appointed CXO to more accurately determine how far the organization has yet to travel to foster a patient-centric culture.

Another theme that emerged was patience. Patience is a virtue, and the CXO role requires a lot of it, we were told. Several of the interviewees spoke to the fact that they wish they had changed their mindset before going into their current job.  They came from environments where there were short-term goals, actions, and results.  Now they must mentally prepare themselves for longer-term, more subtle changes, and the results may not be evident for months or even years. Patient experience improvement isn’t so much a single goal as it is “an improvement journey” with performance indicators, like HCAHPS and employee engagement scores.  The CXOs reinforced the idea that it takes not only a herculean amount of effort, but gobs of time to create meaningful change, especially behavioral change, throughout a hospital or an entire health system.  Patience is a neccessity.

By people’s comments, it is also clear that there is a delicate balancing act between instituting certain core values and practices every day and every time versus allowing/encouraging flexibility in how key standards are implemented.  “One size fits all” as a dictum usually generates tremendous resistance.  Health systems are made up of many hospitals that are all different sizes, require different resources, and have their own specific needs. While tactics that work in one unit or one hospital may seem like the obvious choice for others, it’s often difficult to “impose” them from the top.  Involving staff through guided, interactive discussions of how patient experience is delivered today and how this can be improved, within the context of asking them to be mindful of what called them into healthcare in the first place, can create deeper, more meaningful cultural change.  People are then empowered and encouraged to act on the values of the organization, rather than merely repeat a required script.

While the “end game” is cultural change, the bigger picture is moving away from a strictly physician-focused or clinically-focused model to a truly patient/family-focused one.  As such, measurement along the journey is essential.  Several of the patient experience leaders told us that their previous background in using numbers and statistics was extremely helpful in their current jobs.  From the get-go, a new CXO should be prepared to understand, communicate, and utilize HCAHPS scores in their experience efforts. “Data” and “stats” along with “stories” and “quotes” are needed to positively influence the behavior of physicians, department heads, and all other staff. People want to know how they are performing, and how their performance stacks up, over time, and against benchmarks, including internal goals.  So the CXO must learn to use the numbers to his/her advantage.

To learn more about the emerging role of the CXO in healthcare and what our respondents had to say, click here to download this ground-breaking new white paper.  Be sure to enter code CXO_CATALYST at checkout to get this at no charge.

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