Four Ways to Adapt to Changing Patient Expectations

March 27, 2015

As Millennials and Generation Y join the workforce, and as Baby Boomers move past middle age, practices will need to meet changing expectations.

When analyzing the evolving healthcare landscape, it’s easy to only consider the requirements of regulatory agencies rather than the patient needs that are responsible for such requirements.

Currently, two major shifts are taking place: Millennials or Generation Y are rapidly coming to the fore in the workforce, and Baby Boomers are moving past middle age, expanding the elderly population.

These changes will significantly alter the traditional patient/physician relationship, often in different ways, and practices need to be prepared for what that will entail.

Here are some of the most prominent changes to expect.

#1 mHealth Prominence

In a recent survey, 46 percent of physician respondents expected mHealth apps to improve their relationship with patients. This same number also expected to integrate mHealth in some form into their practice within the next five years.

mHealth apps, or more specifically fitness app usage, is experiencing a meteoric rise that’s 87 percent faster than the overall mobile application market. Millennials have a well-worn reputation for being tech savvy, and 25 year olds to 34 year olds are 41 percent more likely to use fitness apps than the average mobile user. However, 35 year olds to 54 year olds were 47 percent more likely.

Because the market for fitness apps and healthtrackers is still relatively narrow, it’s encouraging that middle-aged patients are beginning to use these applications at a comparable rate to their younger counterparts. Health apps will eventually become a prominent source of data for providers to reference when treating patients with chronic conditions, and when retrospectively analyzing an acute condition.

#2 Proliferation of Patient-Generated Data

Speaking of data from mHealth apps, patient-generated health data (PGHD) also has a huge rule to play in future physician/patient relationships. Though the data entry obstacles prevent many patients from using a health application for longer than six months, advanced technology should make data capture more intuitive, which will provide doctors with an objective history of what’s happening with each patient in between office visits.

This type of data can be harnessed for population health management and fed into analytics systems that generate risk scores for patients who are particularly vulnerable to adverse events or acute conditions. These programs can also account for factors such as past behavior.

The new Stage 3 proposed rules for meaningful use reflect the importance of PGHD. In the proposal, providers would be required to incorporate data produced in a non-clinical setting into their EHR for more than 15 percent of all unique patients.

Despite the potential of such information, all data is not created equal. Providers will need to establish protocols with their patients about what signifies meaningful data, and what data isn’t clinically valuable.

#3 Shared Decision Making

In an effort to better engage patients in their well-being, expect changes in the dialogue between patients and physicians at the point of care. Colloquially referred to as shared decision making, giving patients greater leeway to decide the course of their treatment (within logical bounds) is becoming the norm.

Shared decision making has become more common because both Millennials and Baby Boomers are gathering more information from their own research (likely via the Internet), and presenting it to their physicians. Regardless of whether the information is valid or invalid, it behooves the physician to use it as an educational opportunity.

But shared decision making isn’t all about coddling the patient or refuting false facts: Research suggests that shared decision making leads to greater patient satisfaction and a reduction in elective invasive surgery - an important factor in reducing the cost of care.

#4 Convenience of Care

Due to the expensive nature of inpatient care, hospitals and health systems are referring more traffic to outpatient clinics and opening more clinics to meet the increased demand. These high traffic clinics can cannibalize independent physicians’ business because they’re designed for convenience, which is exactly what younger patients crave.

Millennials already frequent retail and acute-care clinics at nearly double the rate of their elders, and studies have shown that nearly 25 percent of parents chose a retail clinic over a pediatrician when their child presents with certain symptoms.

The main reasons for going to the retail clinic were more convenient hours (36 percent) and a lack of availability of office appointments (25 percent).

To compete, independent practices will need to use all the medical software at their disposal to optimize work flows and make every patient’s interaction as convenient as possible.

The demographics are shifting, and expectations are changing. In the vast majority of scenarios, technology provides the key for independent practices to keep pace.