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Healthcare Experience Blog

It all starts with…an email

If you’ve read any of my past blogs, or know anything about my company, you know that we are major proponents of online surveying. But online surveying in healthcare often comes with a huge obstacle: capturing patients’ email addresses!

Of course, some healthcare organizations routinely ask patients for their email address, but others do not, or don’t do it consistently, across various touch points.

This boggles my mind. What other major industry misses such an opportunity to open an electronic channel of communication with its customers?

According to the Pew Research Center, some 85% of Americans use the Internet*, and I would guess, most of these individuals have at least one (if not several) email addresses.

Of course the large freight train called “Meaningful Use” is lumbering down the track. So this will be an incentive for greater electronic communication between providers and patients, as providers must show that consumers are using portals to access their medical information, communicate with their doctors, and so forth.

Meanwhile, we encourage all healthcare organizations, including physician practices, to implement processes that will routinely allow patients/consumers to “opt in” and provide their email address.

In our recent “What’s Reasonable?” study, we found that 92% of our respondents had been to see a doctor in the last year, but only 23% of them said they received a patient satisfaction survey. This could be because mail surveying is expensive for a provider to do on a routine basis, considering the cost of the paper, printing, postage, data entry, and reporting. Organizations may not want that kind of expense to survey all their patients, even though the feedback is crucial to improving quality of care.

Online surveying is more convenient for both the organization AND the patients.  Based on our experience, online surveying offers a response rate similar to that of mail. Would you be more likely to take an experience survey if it were emailed to you rather than one that is snail mailed? Eight in ten (79%) of our study respondents said they would prefer to take an experience survey online rather than by phone or mail.

There are many benefits of online surveying, as evidenced in our white paper on this topic. Any organization, big or small, healthcare or non-healthcare, can benefit from the convenience and affordability of online surveying. And our surveys deploy to smart phones and tablets, as well as to desktop and laptop computers, so that consumers on the move can still provide valuable feedback.

To learn more about how patients feel about online surveying and using the Internet for their healthcare, download the results of our 2014 “What’s Reasonable?” study.

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.

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