Guest Column | January 3, 2020

Patient Communications: Remembering The Past While Looking To The Future

By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach

200_Doctor sharing information no tablet with patient

Can you remember where you were on December 31, 1999? Most likely, you were gathered with friends or family, ready to celebrate the dawn of the year 2000. It was an exciting time—and doesn’t really feel like it was too long ago. And yet, in terms of technology and communication, it really was a different lifetime.

The internet had just gone mainstream. Most were just dipping their toes in this exciting new world…even if it took 20 minutes for a dial-up connection to log on. Some cutting-edge healthcare organizations had even created basic websites. The advent of social media—with its likes, tweets, and hashtags—was still years away. Cutting the cord and moving to a mobile phone was all the rage. And while very few cell phones had access to the internet or music, they could still be used to call or text friends.

It was definitely a simpler time for the healthcare industry. It was a time when the whole family went to one doctor and it was paid for by their insurance. Good care and a simple postcard reminder before an appointment met much of their expectations. But, just as technology has changed, so have the demands of patients. Today’s patients have more access to information. They are more technologically savvy. They Google everything—including healthcare. Studies show that 80 percent of internet users look for health information online while 72 percent of patients first evaluate a physician via online reviews. The line between their physical world and their digital world is becoming more and more blurred.

Technology Has Changed The World Of Healthcare

It’s almost difficult to comprehend the milestones we’ve seen in technology and communication in the past twenty years in the healthcare industry. The overall digital shift forever changed both the way we interact with patients, and the expectations patients have for their provider. Some of the latest advancements include:

Two-way texting. Texting lets people answer messages when it is convenient for them. And because no audio is required, texting is possible in situations where a phone call would not work. The ability to text back and forth with their provider is one of the technological advances most appreciated by patients. Around three in four patients say they want the ability to text their doctor. This number is continuing to rise as millennials—a very technologically demanding generation—play an increasingly large role in the healthcare field.

Text to pay. Studies are clear—today’s patients are moving to paying their bills through digital methods. A full one in four smartphone users have paid a bill from their mobile device and 44 percent of all bill payments by millennials were made electronically. Unfortunately, 90 percent of healthcare bills are still being sent in paper form. Experts estimate that collection rates could be 25 percent higher if healthcare organizations would communicate financial information with their patients through the channel they prefer.

Artificial intelligence. Adoption of AI technology is widespread in the business world. Ninety-three percent of executives say that emerging technologies such as deep learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, help their businesses be more competitive. Unsurprisingly, AI is also making an impact on the healthcare realm. Chatbots are just one example of AI in use today. Through chatbots, patients are able to access care more quickly and easily. These chatbots also reduce pressure on overworked healthcare systems by ensuring more efficient interactions. It is estimated that by the year 2022, the use of chatbots in healthcare will result in a savings of $3.6 billion. In addition, we’re on the cusp of using artificial intelligence to handle financial transactions, schedule appointments, or explain health insurance coverage options. Fortunately, these are also aspects of healthcare that more than 60 percent of patients say they feel comfortable using AI to do. While automating business processes is currently the most common use of AI in healthcare, this is a field that is rapidly advancing and from which we will continue to see many additions.

Lessons To Remember As We Look To The Future

Let’s imagine our patient interactions 20 years from now. Could it be that everyone will wear sensors to continuously monitor things such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood oxygen levels? Will a provider be able to detect potential downturns in a patient’s health and then proactively reach out to them first? Perhaps most of our healthcare needs will first be met by some sort of artificial intelligence with the doctors only needing to address more urgent needs. It’s easy to imagine a world where the vast majority of communication takes place digitally, likely in an asynchronous manner. Smart devices (in whatever form they may take) will probably keep us connected at all times. It may be that most patient interactions occur virtually.

Whatever advancements may come, a couple of things are clear. The integration of the physical life and the digital life will continue to advance, and the human element of care will always be necessary. We need the efficiency and advancements that technology will bring us. We also need the aspects of compassion and gut instinct that are so uniquely human. There is no doubt that adopting the right balance between technology and humanity is now, and will continue to be, the key to strengthening the patient-provider relationship and pushing the industry forward into the future.

About The Author

Jim Higgins is the founder & CEO of Solutionreach. You can follow him on Twitter: @higgs77.