Embrace Technology to Maintain a Healthy Medical Practice

It's no secret patients are using technology to augment their relationship with physicians and enhance their own care maintenance, so physicians would benefit from embracing it as well and using the internet to their advantage.

More than half of 600 baby boomers surveyed would download a general information medical app based on a recommendation from their physician, according to a recent survey by Mitchell Public Relations, a division of Mitchell Research and Communications. Perhaps more importantly, physicians were the overwhelming choice as most influential over family and friends when it came to app recommendations.

Scott Sangster, chief executive officer of HealthinReach.com, a free website that offers discounts and online scheduling for dental and medical appointments nationwide, is not surprised by the survey’s results.

“The good news is that patients have historically and will continue, we believe, to look to their doctors for advice about all kinds of tools and information to help manage their care — as they should,” Sangster said. “So, it doesn’t surprise me that patients would either go online or download an app based on the advice of the doctor.”

And that, says Sangster, is information that doctors should leverage.

Augmenting the relationship

It’s no secret that patients are using technology to augment their relationship with physicians and enhance their own care maintenance. Sangster points out that doctor-patient in-person communication may last for 10 or 15 minutes and occur only two to three times a year, leaving the vast majority of time for patients to utilize other ways of creating their own care maintenance.

Even when physicians don’t recommend a specific application, their patients are beginning their consults, in many cases, before they go into the office. And they’re continuing the consult after they walk out of the office. They’re using applications and websites to maintain or extend that consult beyond their interaction with the actual physician.

As such, Sangster says that just as patients value medical app recommendations made by physicians, physicians would be wise to stay abreast of what medical apps their patients are using.

“A physician benefits from the fact that, over the course of six months, he or she may see 500 to 700 patients come through their office,” Sangster explains. “And the fact is that [these patients] are going to see 500 to 700 more things in the world of technology than an individual physician can. And so I think that for physicians who are looking to stay abreast of technological developments, it makes sense to extend that out and listen to what patients are finding useful and not finding useful, as well as continuing to try new things themselves. I think it is bi-directional.”

Shift in consumer expectation

Sangster points to an underlying shift in the nature of consumer expectations, or patient expectations, from their interactions with the health care community. And part of that is the greater expectation of customer service that is being enabled by the internet and mobile technology.

Patients have seen how the internet is used to improve services being offered by other traditional consumer-oriented industries, like online retail or restaurants, and they can compare the health care industry.

“I think increasingly patients are looking to health care to see those same kinds of adoptions of technology to improve the service that physicians can offer,” Sangster says.

That, Sangster says, means providing more information to patients pre-visit, as well as post-visit education. According to Sangster, 50% of information in a consult is forgotten by the patient. This is unfortunate, he says, since that information can be important and there are plenty of simple tools and services that can help close that loop.

HealthinReach.com offers post-visit notes, so that physicians and their practices can remind patients about prescriptions or follow-ups.

“And Health and Reach will even remind the doctor’s staff that it’s time to reach out and bring that patient back in, and it will remind the patient that it’s time to schedule an appointment for their next annual visit,” Sangster says. “Patients are used to that level of service in other industries, but in health care, seem to get lost in the process.”

Embrace technology

Sangster says that research indicates that one-third of patients are consistently researching doctors online. Those patients know a great deal about their physician before setting foot in their office. In addition, 60% of Americans research some type of health-related information online.

“It’s incumbent upon doctors who hope to maintain healthy growing practices to begin to, if they’re not already, embracing the internet and mobile technologies, and platforms for finding new patients and maintaining their relationships with patients,” Sangster says. “And I think they need to do that quickly.”