Evolutions in technology continue to merge with a trend toward consumerism in healthcare. As a result, patients are expecting a different kind of experience in managing their healthcare, one that is digital and allows for patient engagement, shared decision-making, accessibility, and transparency.
An Online Presence
Patients take their healthcare seriously, and they invest untold hours into researching both their health conditions and their healthcare providers online. This cybersleuthing often frustrates healthcare organizations. Many patients use the internet to research their symptoms and self-diagnose before arriving in the exam room of a provider who has spent years mastering clinical skills. Likewise, a provider can follow evidence-based guidelines and give the patient excellent care and still receive negative reviews online: “I asked Dr. Smith for antibiotics for my cold. He wouldn’t prescribe me any even though Dr. Jones always does!” The challenge of countering unfair online reviews is felt across all industries, but healthcare is unique in that the stakes are higher for a consumer when choosing a healthcare provider than they are when choosing a counter-service burrito joint for lunch. Negative reviews are also difficult to refute due to the importance of protecting patient confidentiality.
But where there is a challenge, there is an opportunity. Patients cybersleuth because they are invested in their care and seek shared decision-making. A strong web presence can counter many of the negative impacts of online searches. A comprehensive website that includes provider autobiographies, publications, and research interests shows the potential or current patient that the providers are professionals dedicated to providing excellent patient care. To reach prospective patients, many healthcare organization websites are including physician-reviewed blogs covering medical topics patients commonly research.
For current patients, a patient portal is an opportunity to increase patient engagement by facilitating easy access to medical records, secure messaging, and additional health information such as digital copies of handouts given to the patient during the healthcare encounter. Patients who may have concerns about their provider can often be reassured after reviewing the visit summary in the patient portal, where they see the detailed documentation and notes of clinical thought processes that have typically not been viewable to the patient in the past.
In addition to being more invested in the details of their healthcare, patients are also growing evermore impatient with opaque billing practices that blindside them with large bills weeks after a healthcare encounter. Especially in primary care, patients are expecting to know costs in advance of care, which they know is a reasonable expectation because they see a menu of services and prices hanging outside the retail clinic when they buy vitamins in the grocery store. While pricing is not always so straightforward, providers can meet patient expectations of pricing transparency by routinely running payment estimates.
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Most people have demanding lives of their own, and inconvenient appointment scheduling can cause a major disruption to these lives. A toddler eye exam during naptime is a recipe for disaster; a long wait in a chaotic waiting room is a challenge for people with sensory processing disorders; and repeated midday appointments will be stressful for a professional who is juggling work obligations with managing a chronic disease. Healthcare organizations can do many things to improve scheduling for patients, such as limiting wait times, offering at least some amount of weekend or extended hours, and limiting unnecessary appointments to relay simple health information with the use of secure messaging and nurse lines.