Go Digital or Go Home: Strategies to Attract Today’s Digitally Engaged Patient

The future of healthcare is digital, and cosmetic surgery practices that hope to thrive better be, too. From apps to wearable tech, EHRs to analytics, the proliferation of digital technology promises to remake every aspect of the medical profession.

A recent report from Adobe puts the shift into perspective:

When asked if they were comfortable using apps to self-diagnose based on their symptoms:

  • 40% of those ages 50 or older said yes.
  • 50% of those ages 35­–49 said yes.
  • 59% of those ages 25–34 said yes.

When asked what healthcare tasks they’d done via smartphone:

  • 21% said they’d scheduled an appointment, with 55% saying they’d like to do so exclusively via their device in the future.
  • 17% said they’d emailed a doctor about a concern, with 61% saying they’d like to do so exclusively via their device in the future.
  • 15% said they’d scheduled a medical procedure, with 51% saying they’d like to do so exclusively via their device in the future.

And when asked what impact digital technology has had on their healthcare experiences, 25% of digitally savvy patients said it had improved the quality of their care. By comparison, just 11% of non-digitally savvy believed that the quality of their healthcare had improved.

The takeaway? Patients increasingly rely on digital technologies, believe they experience better care because of them, and expect their healthcare providers to accommodate them.

As a recent article in AdAge puts it,

On the technology front, innovations such as embedded sensors and tracking/monitoring, big data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based health data — just to name a few — are starting to have the same kind of fundamental impact in healthcare and life sciences that digital is having in every other aspect of our lives. These innovations literally change how we live and work, creating new behaviors and expectations in a virtuous cycle that is both self-reinforcing and constantly rising.

For patients, those behaviors and expectations boil down to convenience and efficiency: If a digital tool delivers one or both, they’ll embrace it, which means practices should, too. Here are three strategies worth considering.

Self-scheduling

The days of requiring patients to call during business hours and book an appointment are long gone. When it comes to convenience, it’s hard to overstate the value of self-scheduling. According to Accenture,

  • 77% of patients think that the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important.
  • Approximately one in five medical appointments were self-scheduled in 2016, up from 9% in 2015.
  • By the end of 2019, 66% of healthcare systems will offer digital self-scheduling, and 64% of patients will book appointments using such tools, accounting for 38% of all appointments.

That translates into an estimated 986 million appointments that will create $3.2 billion in value, which will accrue exclusively to providers who accommodate self-scheduling.

Patient portals

Allowing patients to access their health records via an online portal facilitates convenience and efficiency. It minimizes wait times, facilitates data entry, and eliminates the need for patients to fill out forms every time they come in. For practices that hope to attract digital-first patients, recent research from CDW suggests that offering a patient portal is evolving from a nice-to-have to a need-to have:

  • 98% of patients say they can access a patient portal (up from 60% in 2016).
  • 62% of patients say they’re using online patient portals more today than two years ago.
  • 78% of patients with access to a patient portal say it has helped them take a more active role in their healthcare.

According to the study, online patient portals have surpassed web-based access to healthcare information as the No. 1 method for encouraging patient engagement for both patients and providers. Forward-thinking providers are getting the message, noting that having a patient portal leads to improved patient care, improved record keeping, and increased office efficiency.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine is also set to grow, with video consultations expected to increase to 158.4 million by 2020, up from just 19.7 million in 2014, according to a report from Tractica. The folks at CDW, however, are less bullish:

  • Just 9% of providers say they’re “very comfortable” with the idea of telemedicine, with another 46% saying they’re “somewhat comfortable.”
  • 20% of patients are “very comfortable” with the idea, with another 29% “somewhat comfortable.”
  • 32% of practices currently offer telemedicine, but less than one-quarter of them (23%) have actually used the technology.

The hesitation isn’t surprising when you factor in the concerns, including privacy, reimbursement, and the fundamental challenge of online diagnoses. But, ultimately, the technology will improve, engagement will increase, and practices that provide such services will gain powerful tools that will not only address patients’ needs, but serve as differentiators in a crowded, highly competitive market.

As Lisa Mayernick, vice president of healthcare and financial services at consumer insights company, Maru/Matchbox, puts it,

There is clearly an opportunity for early movers to grow market share by offering digital medical experiences that improve patient satisfaction and increase overall efficiency. Physicians are starting to see the writing on the wall and understand the need to begin adopting new technologies in order to compete.

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About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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