Guest Column | January 23, 2019

Tackling Patient Communication In 2019 And Beyond

By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach

Patient At Doctor

Patient consumerism. It’s become a pretty popular industry buzzword, but do you really know what it means? Generally, patient consumerism is defined as “the proactive involvement of patients in determining the type of healthcare experiences they spend their hard-earned dollars on.” As researchers at Rice University noted, today’s patients are interacting with the healthcare industry as consumers rather than as passive patients. It was only a handful of years ago that patients seeking information about a doctor or treatment options were able to find only the most basic of knowledge—and even that took some legwork. That meant that, much of the time, decisions simply came down to which providers and treatments their insurance covered.

Fast-forward to today, patients can access a ton of detailed information about things like a physician's experience with a particular procedure or a hospital's complication and readmission rates. Armed with this knowledge, patients are demanding a greater role, and have higher expectations, over their healthcare experiences. This impacts everything from which practice a patient chooses to the types of treatments they receive. Experts agree that practices need to recognize that patient consumerism is here to stay and that means that those within the industry need to look for ways to facilitate higher levels of patient empowerment and engagement.

The Relationship Between Patient Consumerism And Technology

A recent survey performed by Deloitte found that one of the best ways to engage today’s patients is through the use of technology. Technology enables patients to oversee tasks such as the management of their health data, self-care at home, accessing educational materials, and better management of their healthcare dollars. From wearable tech to online health records, technology is assisting practices in empowering their patients. One of the most impactful way patients engage with their practice is through regular communication. But in order for practices to communicate with patients outside of the office, they will need to adopt more tech-savvy communication methods.  

Today there are a variety of ways to use technology when managing patient communication. One of the most effective? Text messaging. Texting is the most popular form of communication today, so it makes sense that it should be leveraged in driving strong patient relationships. Through the use of SMS, practices add convenience and familiarity to the process of reaching out to a patient. In addition, the use of texting has been found to be an effective way to keep patients motivated and engaged.

Beyond texting, patient portals, practice websites, and email are also integral parts of a strong patient relationship management strategy. Patient portals give patients the access they want to their private health records and health history. These are stored in a single, easy-to-access location so that patients can review them at their leisure. Through email, practices are able to keep in regular contact with patients, sending out practice updates and education based on the unique needs of different patients. A practice’s website is another great way to provide education to patients. Through the use of FAQ pages or a blog, a practice website can be the source patients turn to when they have questions about their health (rather than some random chat group!). It is a great way to set yourself up as the expert in the eyes of your patients.

What Is The Future Of Patient Communication?

While texting, email, and websites will continue to be central to strong patient communication strategies, it is likely that additional “techy” forms of communication will become mainstream as well.

Social media. We admit social media has been around for a while, but very few practices are taking advantage of it the way they could be. Think about it. One of the major purposes of social media is the creation and maintenance of relationships. This is true for healthcare relationships as well. Through social media, practices can share educational tips, local healthcare issues, and even a bit of their personality. It’s easy to see why 60 percent of doctors see social media as an avenue for delivering better healthcare to patients.

Chatbots. You know…those little boxes on websites where you can type in questions and get answers? Those are called chatbots. Chatbots can be found pretty much everywhere in e-commerce these days, but they have recently started to pop up (get it?) in the healthcare world as well. With chatbots, instead of having a conversation with another person, the user talks with a “bot” that’s either powered by basic rules or machine learning. Chatbots can help patients set up appointments and later send reminders for them. While they can’t make official diagnoses, if patients report their symptoms, a bot may be able to give a likely diagnosis. Chatbots are almost an individualized FAQ feature. Patients are able to get some of the most commonly asked questions answered without taking away any time from the practice.

Modern patients are changing the way practices interact with their patient base every single day. Fortunately, technological innovations are making it possible for practices to meet the ever-evolving demands of a tech-savvy world. Through things like SMS, email, websites, social media, and chatbots, practices are able to reach out to patients in an efficient, effective manner.

About The Author

Jim Higgins is the CEO and founder of Solutionreach. Since 2000, Higgins has innovated and guided the direction of the Solutionreach technology to meet all patient relation management needs of dental, vision, plastic surgery and medical practice specialties.