For a long time, the old adage of “customer is king” didn’t really seem to apply to the physician-patient relationship. That’s changing, as reimbursement has grown more tied to patient outcomes and satisfaction in recent years. The importance of ensuring a good patient experience has never been more important.
Patients want great doctors, of course, but they aren’t qualified to evaluate your clinical skills, so they tend to judge you based on their experience as a consumer. And consumer expectations are changing rapidly, especially among young people, as one industry after another leverages the Internet to communicate and sell.
So what, exactly, does that mean for you? Let’s look at some emerging trends to better understand what patients want from their doctors.
More Access and Greater Convenience
We’ve talked before about how people are working more hours per week than ever. That means it’s harder to find time to get to the doctor. Combine that with the fact that it takes an average of 18 days to get an appointment, and you’ve got a recipe for frustrated patients who might be forsaking appointments simply because they can’t find the right time to come in.
Patients want convenience — and younger patients in particular equate convenience with online access. That means they want to schedule an appointment, communicate with their doctor, see test results and other health information, and pay their bills from their keyboards or even their phones.
According to Salesforce’s 2015 State of the Connected Patient report, as many as 31 percent of responding patients said they place value on “the ability to book appointments and pay bills online when they’re choosing a doctor.” Among millennials (individuals aged 18 to 34), these numbers are even more pronounced: upwards of 70 percent said they were interested in the convenience of a mobile application that would help them manage their own care by scheduling appointments and viewing personal health information.
Appointments need to be convenient (i.e. available during times before and after business hours and on the weekends, for full-timers) and easy enough to come by. Practices that can’t provide easy access risk losing patients to those that can.
Access to Medical Records and Digital Services
Patients want the days of spending time, energy, and money to get copies of their medical records to be over — yesterday. They want 24/7 digital access to their medical information via a patient portal that would prevent them having to call the doctor’s office every time they need to get a look at their records. One survey of 406 patients conducted by TechnologyAdvice Research showed that over 60 percent said that access to digital services played a role in their selection of a provider, and over 30 percent wanted to be able to see test results online. Yet, in the same study, only one-third said that their providers actually offered such access.
A similar study by Intuit Health showed that nearly 75 percent of patients polled said that they wanted to be able to pay their bills and communicate with their doctors online. Further still, patients wish to be able to engage digitally not just with their personal medical records, but also with their doctors. And they want to do this outside of scheduled appointment times. The vast majority of patients — 93 percent, in fact — are more likely to choose a doctor who is willing to communicate via email even if they were charged for those email communications.
Time With the Doctor
Patients don’t want to feel rushed in the exam room — and neither do doctors. But with new patients flooding the system under the reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act, the pressure to squeeze as many visits in to each day is overwhelming.
The problem lies, in part, in low reimbursement numbers for primary care physicians and particularly for practices that accept Medicare and Medicaid. When reimbursements are low, doctors must see more patients to survive — leading to jam-packed schedules and harried providers who crank through appointments as speedily as possible.
The result: as many as three in five patients feel like their doctor is rushing through their exams, according to one poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Patients can tell when their doctor is eager to “get them out,” and this can feel especially upsetting when they are ill or frightened about a particular ailment. Rushing may also lead patients to feel concerned that they aren’t getting the most thorough care — all reasons someone might consider looking for a new doctor.
Good Communication and Empathy
No matter how much time we spend on our mobile devices and no matter how much technology reduces our need for human interaction, good bedside manner from doctors will always remain important to patients looking for the best care. In fact, as reported by one recent study, nearly 60 percent of people said that physician-patient relationships and physician personalities were “the most important factors in distinguishing a high-quality physician.”
The importance of clinical empathy hasn’t been lost on teaching institutions, either: Duke University’s oncology fellows are required to take a dedicated course on the subject, Massachusetts General Hospital offers an online course called Empathetics, and starting this year, the MCAT will include questions about human behavior and psychology for the first time.
Empathy doesn’t just lead to happier patients — it can lead to healthier ones, too. One 2012 study conducted by Italian researchers indicated that, of 20,000 diabetes patients, those who were treated by physicians displaying the most empathy ultimately had lower rates of complications than those who were treated by physicians who showed low levels of empathy.
So, what do we know? Patients want to feel that their doctors are accessible, and that their doctors care about their well-being. These desires can be addressed with technology — like patient portals, for example — and with adjustments in doctor behavior (since showing empathy can lead to better patient satisfaction, outcomes, and retention, it truly does pay to pay attention to it). In other words, remembering that patients are customers, too, can go a long way to ensuring that your empowered patients don’t choose to start visiting one of your competitors.
Interested in learning more about how to improve your patients’ experience with your practice? Get in touch with Everseat to discover a simple way to enable your patients to conveniently book appointments, simplifying your scheduling and reducing your number of unfilled slots.