Patients more likely to share information with physicians via email, text

February 1, 2013

Whether or not physicians are comfortable with moving their practices into the virtual realm, more and more patients are moving in that direction, and some say digital communication may even improve their level of honesty with their doctors.

Whether or not physicians are comfortable with moving their practices into the virtual realm, more and more patients are moving in that direction, and some say digital communication may even improve their level of honesty with their doctors.

For “Technology Beyond the Exam Room: How Digital Media is Helping Doctors Delivery the Highest Level of Care,”Televox-a high-tech engagement communications company-polled more than 1,000 consumers about their preferences when it comes to digital communications with their healthcare providers.

Overall, 85% of consumers said that digital communications such as text messages, emails, and voicemails are just as helpful-if not more helpful-than in-person or phone conversations with their physicians. Additionally, more than one-third of survey respondents admitted they would be more honest about their medical needs through an automated call, email, or text message than they would be in person with their doctors. Nearly 30% said they would talk more frequently about their nutritional habits and fitness regimens through digital communication, according to the report.

Digital communication also can help physicians gain patient trust in an era when little opportunity exists to take more time to bond with patients during office visits. Three in 10 consumers polled said that receiving some kind of digital communication from a doctor between visits would increase feelings of trust, and 51% said that such communications make them feel more valued as a patient. Another 35% say digital communication improved their opinion of a provider, and 34% reported feeling more certain they would visit that provider again. Patients who don’t follow their exact treatment plans could benefit from additional communication, too, with 35% admitting they would be more likely to follow a physician's directions if they received reminders via email, voicemail, or text message.

Consumers surveyed by TeleVox also identified their preferences related to digital communication. Email was the favorite method overall and was poll participants' preferred communication tool for feedback after an office visit. Roughly 55% of consumers also said they prefer email when it comes to seasonal health offers such as scheduling flu shots and for payment reminders. When it comes to appointment reminders, however, consumers reported a preference for phone calls. For patient care between visits, survey respondents were split down the middle, with 45% preferring phone communication and 49% preferring email. Likewise, 45% of poll participants said they preferred phone calls for notification of medical or health product recalls, whereas 50% said they preferred emails.

Preferences are further refined in the study by gender and generation. More than 20% of men polled said that communications from their physicians should go beyond telling them to get healthy; they should tell them how to get healthy. Three in 10 said that digital reminders about appointments and patient care would increase trust in a doctor, but roughly half expect that communications be relevant to them individually and personalized to their specific needs. About 14% of the men surveyed said they would ignore or refuse digital communications that are not personalized with their information.

Similarly, 11% of women said they would reject communications that were not personalized. More women were open to digital communications-with 42% saying text or email communications would be helpful-but 35% prefer phone communications, and 10% wanted direct mail.

Age didn't prove to be as large of an obstacle to digital communications as one might think, either, according to the report. More than 80% of baby boomers-who visit their healthcare providers more frequently than their younger counterparts-said they would find text, email, and voicemail messages helpful. But 42% still said their preference was for phone communications.

Regional differences regarding digital communication preferences were observed, too. Roughly 40% of consumers in the South and West said text or email communication would be helpful, whereas 30% said they prefer phone calls. In the Midwest, however, only 32% said they would appreciate text or email communications; 34% would prefer phone calls, and 9% would prefer direct mail-on option not even noted by consumers in the South and West. Similarly, 49% of consumers in the Northeast said they preferred text and email communications, 36% said they preferred phone calls, and 8% said they preferred direct mail.

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