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Technology has changed the practice of medicine-clinically and operationally. But what about the technology on the business operations side of your practice? Do you have a strategy for keeping up in this mobile world?
A mobile strategy is your plan for developing your presence and interactions where your patients, increasingly, are looking for you: on their mobile devices. A mobile strategy also includes the services you offer to meet patients’ consumer expectations, such as the ability to make appointments or payments with their mobile device.
To see this from a patient’s perspective, put yourself in the role of a consumer and consider how much you do using mobile technology. You shop on Amazon, book your travel through online resources, monitor your health, and keep up with friends and family. You take advantage of technology to make your life more convenient and much of the time this is done from your phone or other mobile device.
Your patients are doing the same thing. When they need a doctor, the first place they go is the web, which they usually access via a mobile device. They ask friends, they check their insurance company’s provider directory or search via Google. Sometimes they do all three.
Just for fun, try searching for your business through these channels to see what you can find. If patients search for your specialty from their mobile devices in your region, do they find you? Are you doing anything to reach them beyond an advertisement in the local yellow pages?
When you do come up in web searches, review your profile. If prospective patients get your name from a friend and search for you, do they find a profile about you that you control, or does a third party control it? Is your information up to date regarding the insurance companies with whom you contract?
After a patient finds you and does some research on your background, they want to take action. Can he or she schedule appointments on a mobile device or chat with someone on your staff to learn more about your practice, or are you using antiquated methods such as a landline phone and automated menu system? A mobile strategy should address all of these areas.
Note that a mobile strategy is not the same as a social media strategy. There might be some areas of overlap, such as keeping your profile and services up to date on social media sites or communicating with patients via Twitter, but for the most part these are separate strategies.
For many physicians, the idea of adding a mobile channel to the business is overwhelming. But mobile devices now are everywhere, and the expectation that you will be available through these devices is only going to increase.
Consider that according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, global mobile devices and connections in 2014 grew to 7.4 billion, up from 6.9 billion in 2013. In other words, there are more mobile devices on Earth than people.
And mobile isn’t just for younger patients. The Financial Brand published an article recently about mobile payment trends, showing that the 65-plus age group is becoming more tech-savvy, with 23% of them now owning smartphones. The 41- to 64-year-old demographic has significantly higher adoption, making up roughly one-third of the national population using mobile technology.
If anything, this information should make clear how many of your patients are likely turning to their mobile device when it comes to medical needs. I suggest the following three actions to get you started developing your mobile strategy.
For patients to choose you, they have to find you. You have two choices here. The first is to find one or more apps and point your patients to them. This could be accomplished by partnering with your EHR or practice management vendor to find an app that lets you control your profile.
The second is to claim your profile. Search for your name on Google to find organizations that include you in their listings. Find out which of these you can claim and update, including Yelp and similar review sites. Aim for consistency and accuracy in presentation of information. This approach will require time and resources and has to be performed a few times each year.
I also recommend you reach out to your contacts at insurance companies with whom you have contracts and confirm they have the correct information about you and your services.
Want to know what kinds of mobile services matter to your patients? Ask them. You can do this when they schedule an office appointment, or by adding a link on your practice’s website to an online survey tool, such as SurveyMonkey.com. Make sure that no protected health information is captured and limit it to one or two questions that are updated monthly.
Ask patients about their level of interest in performing any of the following activities from their mobile devices: making payments, scheduling appointments, finding your office via a maps service, consulting with you, texting and/or receiving push notifications, or obtaining access to telemedicine services such as video consulting, or access to a nurse line after hours.
Once you know what is most important to your patients, you can develop a road map to get you there. Create a checklist, establish a budget and outline the resources you need to help you achieve it. In many cases, it will be best to outsource a lot of these activities. Ask your existing partners and be clear that you are looking for patient-facing mobile solutions and not more devices that your practice has to purchase.
As do so many of your patients, I expect now that I can do whatever I need on my mobile device whenever I want. This convenience benefits your patients, but it can also help your practice’s bottom line. All that’s required is to take control of your mobile presence and offer the mobile-ready services your patients expect.
Hanny Freiwat is the co-founder and president of Wellero, developer of a mobile healthcare payment app based in Portland, Oregon.