Rapidly advancing technology, the Internet with its instantaneous, and increasingly mobile, access to information, increasing insurance deductibles and co-pays, regulatory changes, healthcare reform, high unemployment, evaporating assets, savings and general uncertainty are causing profound changes in the way patients view and interact with providers.
Business has deftly reacted to and adapted to these changes. Healthcare? Not so much. Most often, not at all.
Understanding how patient expectations and behaviors have changed is the first step toward successfully navigating the next five years of change. Adapting to these changes will increase everything from patient flow to reimbursement to malpractice insurance costs — all while making you increasingly competitive and less vulnerable.
This is not supposition or prediction, it is today’s reality. So, in reverse order, here are the top 10 changes in patient expectations:
Expectation #10 — New and better drugs: A cure for cancer is an amorphous thing. A drug that cures cancer? Now that is tangible. Today, patients are exposed to a constant stream of new drugs claiming to treat everything from chronic pain to restless leg syndrome. And, they expect something to be available to treat them, whatever their health issue may be. The reality of medicine is different, and how you relate and communicate with your patients will make the difference.
Expectation #9 — Portable Medical Records: The media, government spokespeople, and politicians speak of PMRs’ as a thing of today. They are, but only if you have invested in interactive EHR technology and staff training. Being an early adopter of medical technology is subjective. This one is not. The NIH estimates that 25 percent of the cost of medicine is administrative. Automation reduces those costs and, properly applied, provides a fast and favorable return on investment.
Expectation #8 — Accessibility: Requiring patients to call off-hours voicemail is frustrating for them and time consuming for you. Providing a cell phone number is a nice gimmick, but slogging through voicemails takes time and leaves anxious patients hanging. Think about texting. Reading and responding to texts takes seconds and everyone associates texts with immediacy. An automated response telling the patient that their text has been received and that their concerns will be addressed is a huge leap in perceived service. A response at a later time is a smart use of technology. Abusers can always be blocked. The bulk of your patients will appreciate the convenience and accessibility.
Expectation #7 — Communication: Being reactive is a leap forward. Being proactive using e-mail, Internet, and texting to educate, inform, respond, and book and confirm appointments is a key to patient retention, patient referral, and a more efficient operation. A relatively small investment in experienced professionals to perform the tasks yields big gains in revenue and reduced costs.
Expectation #6 — Personalized Medicine: With highly publicized advances in genetic research, medical care is becoming even more customized to a person’s health, family history, and genes. People are beginning to expect customized treatment, better results and fewer side effects. Keeping up with the latest technology, and being able to explain why it is not available or why you do not recommend it for that patient will become increasingly important.
Tomorrow, James Doulgeris will unveil expectations #5 through #1.
James Doulgeris is senior strategist for healthcare with HCP Associates, in Tampa, Fla. He has more than 35 years of healthcare and biotechnology executive management expertise, including serving as president, CEO, and on boards of directors for for-profit, non-profit, public and private companies in the hospital, ancillary provider, medical device and healthcare services industries. E-mail him here.