Patients seem to be increasingly comfortable managing their health care through digital media. Last summer, our private practice of eight retinal specialists decided to find out exactly how comfortable.
From July to August, 2015, we conducted a survey of 200 of our patients during their office visit and asked them what health-care related tasks they were already doing online. Using this data, we’re starting to look at how our medical practice might evolve to better serve our patients.
Specifically, we wanted to know how many of them used their smartphone, tablet, or personal computer to perform these routine health related tasks:
- Schedule a doctor’s appointment.
- Pay a medical bill.
- Read an online doctor review.
- Research a medical condition.
In general, utilization of online service to do any of these was inversely proportional to age.
Scheduling a doctor’s appointment
Even though our practice is largely referral-based (meaning other doctors send patients to us to help diagnose and manage their condition), we are seeing that many of our younger patients prefer the convenience of scheduling an appointment online much like they would use OpenTable.com to make a dinner reservation. Online outfits like ZocDoc seem to thrive on this type of service.
Paying a medical bill online
Who has stamps anymore? Online commerce is everywhere, and people are more comfortable than ever with online payment platforms. 21st-century medical practices should consider creating an online portal on their websites able to take payments.
Not only is this more convenient, anytime you can make it easier for patients to settle their medical bill can only help your bottom line. The next question is whether or not your practice is going to accept Apple or Samsung pay.
Read online doctor reviews
Yup. Our patients read them, and doctors can’t ignore them, no matter how good you think you are.
It’s well known that consumers are more likely to post a scathing review reporting terrible service than to post one of great care that they have come to expect as standard.
It doesn’t matter if most of your patients are Medicare-aged where only 27 percent of them actually read your reviews. Why? Because younger people consider them important and younger people often help their parents choose a doctor.
Likewise, younger patients will eventually become your older ones.
Do yourself a favor, look up your reviews. If there are any one Star duds, bury them with a ton of five Star complements. Consider reputation management services to help you follow and ultimately boost your ratings. In a digital world where we are constantly measured in “likes,” you’ve got to play the game.
Research a medical condition
Our findings show that a large majority of patients, young and old, are scouring Internet media to see if a “sudden onset of cobwebs” in their vision is normal. Because of this, it makes sense to update your practice’s website with the most up-to-date medical information within your specialty. Stay current. Put it in layman’s language.
Consider providing links to reputable online sources such as your professional academy’s website or well-respected medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic or CDC.gov.
Also, during visits, be prepared for a much more “informed” patient and be open to guiding them towards useful online resources. An “informed” patient is much better than a misinformed one, and you can’t always believe what you read on the Internet. Blogs included!
Stay ahead of the competition
Health care will always be a service profession. Part of providing great service is being able to adapt to how our patients continue to change how they manage their health.
Perhaps our research may help practices decide whether or not to offer specific online services. Each medical practice should decide for themselves if it’s worth the investment based on their patient population’s preferences.
I wouldn’t be surprised that in the near future, practice website’s might include patient portals, virtual avatars, and telemedicine at a click of button.
Just remember, all the bells and whistles on your website won’t ever replace sound medical decision making and great bedside manner in the overall care of your patient.
But, it might help them find you.
Robert Wong is a retina specialist who blogs at 36th and Hamilton.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com