In recent years, technology and patient care delivery have fundamentally transformed the practice of medicine. The way patients want to communicate with physicians has also changed, but few physicians have noticed.
Patients with a question no longer want to wait until the end of the day, the next day or longer to hear from physicians. Unfortunately, medical practice workflows haven’t fundamentally changed, which is why patient communication still has several obstacles to overcome.
Practices that want to attract younger patients and retain existing patients must look toward adopting emerging communications software that embraces both simple texts (SMS) and multimedia texts (MMS) as part of a multiplatform communications strategy.
Ignoring the communications demands of younger patients is not a winning strategy for any medical practice. Here are six reasons why a unified communications strategy makes sense.
Younger patients are beginning to dominate
Taken together, those born in 1981 and onward comprise nearly one-half of the U.S. population. The four most populous generations in the United States are:
- Baby Boomers (1946-1964) – 73.5 million
- Generation X (1965-1980) – 65.7 million
- Millennials (1981-1996) – 71.9 million
- Generation Z (1997- ) – 86.4 million
Younger members of Gen Z are still frequenting pediatric providers, but already a tidal wave of young adults has arrived in general practitioners’ waiting rooms across the country. These patients are tied to their mobile devices and are accustomed to receiving quick answers to their queries. And while it may seem that younger patients are driving the charge, patients of all ages want — and benefit from — additional, faster methods of communication from their physicians.
Digital natives demand greater access
Although Americans of all ages rely on their smartphones to accomplish an ever-expanding array of tasks, millennials and Generation Z are more likely to think of their phones as extensions of themselves. To them, using technology to self-serve is the first choice in nearly all instances, versus picking up the phone.
It’s no wonder, then, that seven in 10 millennials have expressed a desire to use technology to share health data, manage their preventive care and book appointments. In fact, they assume that physicians already are sharing patient information in some electronic form other than a fax machine, which can come as a surprise (and a potential frustration) when they need copies of medical records.
For millennials, phone calls remains the primary method for appointment setting, in-person meetings and communicating with physicians, but other options are growing: 9 percent set appointments through SMS/text and 5 percent through chat/instant message (IM). Communications with physicians are conducted through SMS/text 5 percent of the time while 3 percent of those conversations take place via chat/IM.
Growing acceptance of text-based communications
Cell phones enjoy nearly universal use among Americans, with a 95 percent ownership rate. Three-quarters of those phones are smartphones that support simple texts as well as multimedia messages.
Although texting remains a small part of healthcare communications, younger Americans prefer texting to email or phone calls. Texts are opened 99 percent of the time, three times the open rate of emails. Most texts are opened within three minutes of receipt.
A multiplatform telehealth communications strategy that supports text messaging and chat/IM can create practice workflow efficiencies. Think about the amount of time staff spends calling patients about appointment reminders, prescription refill requests and other routine communications. Texting as part of a unified communications workflow can cut through the communications clutter that can prevent a practice from better serving its patients.