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The important differentiating characteristics patients seek in a primary care physician may not be what you'd expect.
What do patients value most in a physician? Doctors may think the answer is “a perfect bedside manner” or “exact treatment plans that improve outcomes.” While these are certainly traits that patients desire, it turns out that patients are also interested in more than compassion and clinical expertise.
As patients take on greater financial responsibility for managing their care, their expectations are shifting. Today, practices are expected to offer more personalized services. Patients crave experiences tailored to their preferences, in much the same way that modern financial institutions offer mobile check deposit. They want a physician who is engaged in their healthcare, understanding of their busy lifestyles and easy to reach.
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According to the 2017 Patient-Provider Relationship Study, which is based on a survey of nearly 2,100 patients ages 21 to 70, all patients want four key things from their physicians:
1. Greater connectivity;
2. Online tools;
3. Convenience (via text); and
4. More time with their doctors.
Given that the study also shows that an average of one in three patients is switching physicians, striving to meet patients’ ideals is not just a noble endeavor - it’s a necessary one. Taking a closer look at each of these four key factors can give practices a better understanding of the most effective ways to improve patient satisfaction and loyalty.
Few things are as frustrating for patients as not being able to reach a physician when they need medical attention. As the Patient-Provider Relationship Study notes, this is especially true for millennials, whose preference for convenience is expected to further disrupt the traditional healthcare system.
One way to improve connectivity is to leverage mobile apps that let patients communicate with practice staff, or make appointments, or pay bills. Asking and answering simple questions through a HIPAA-compliant app streamlines communication and can have a positive effect on the patient experience. The same holds true for letting patients schedule or change their own appointments via mobile app - without having to call the practice. Such connectivity both empowers patients and creates in-office efficiency.
Next: Patients are growing more accustomed to going online for everything
Armed with mobile devices, patients are growing more accustomed to going online for everything. One of the more recent studies on digital health trends, Rock Health’s Digital Health Consumer Adoption 2015 survey, reveals eight out of 10 internet-connected adults have used at least one digital health tool. A separate report by the consulting firm Accenture has projected that by the end of 2019, 66% of U.S. health systems will offer digital self-scheduling, and 64% of patients will book appointments digitally.
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Patient relationship management (PRM) solutions can help physicians respond to this demand through patient-facing tools such as e-newsletters that help physicians target specific populations such as individuals at high risk for developing diabetes, or patients over age 65. Branded e-newsletters can inform patients about new treatments, remind them when it is time for a check-up, and provide trusted resources and information about how to spot budding health issues. In doing so, they can help physicians improve overall population health.
A growing number of patients also prefer to receive appointment reminders and other information via secure text messages. Figures from the Patient-Provider Relationship Study back this up. According to the study, 73% of patients desire the ability to text their doctor’s office and 79% would like to receive text messages from their doctor’s office. This data isn’t surprising. Unlike voicemail, which requires patients to interrupt what they are doing to listen to a message, texting makes receiving and responding to notifications easy - patients can do it anytime, anywhere, at their convenience.
Physicians can easily accommodate this patient preference using automated text reminders, recare messages, follow-up reminders, patient confirmations and last-minute scheduling notifications using PRM tools.
One of the biggest complaints among patients-if not the biggest-is that they don’t get to see their doctors for as long as they would like. This problem is growing as the physician shortage, coupled with increasing paperwork and documentation responsibilities, strain workloads. It’s difficult for already overburdened physicians to find more time to spend with patients.
Next: Making the ideal a reality
Nothing can replace in-person visits. But the right technology can help ease work-related burdens that take time away from patient care. Case in point: Giving patients the ability to text with providers allows them to freely ask and answer questions in an unhurried environment-a stark contrast to feeling rushed while grabbing a quick phone call between patient visits.
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Physicians can also use email marketing tools to dispatch personalized education materials, such as new research that demonstrates the effectiveness of an emerging therapy or treatment offered at the practice.
Every patient’s vision of an ideal doctor may be slightly different. Still, the Patient-Provider Relationship Study reveals that most patients desire four key characteristics that are predominantly centered on strengthening communication and the patient/provider relationship. Whatever tools and tactics a physician deploys, by addressing each of these four components through automation, primary-care providers are likely to improve their own workflows while simultaneously creating higher levels of patient satisfaction.
Jim Higgins is the founder and chief executive officer of Solutionreach.