The Art of Giving Patients What They Want: Industry Experts Discuss

December 1, 2022 | Carenet Health

This September, the Stericycle Communication Solutions 2022 Client Symposium, “The Art of Patient Engagement,” took place in San Diego, CA. One highlight of the event was a lively panel discussion on surprise findings from Stericycle’s recent patient engagement survey, led by senior vice president of product and strategy, Matt Dickson. Joining Matt were John Lynn, the founder and chief editor of Healthcare IT Today, Adam Cherrington, the vice president of digital health at KLAS Research, and Jared Johnson, co-host of the Healthcare Rap podcast, and founder of Shift Forward Health.

To learn more about the current state of patient experience, and healthcare  consumer preferences,watch the panel discussion.

The survey, “Understanding Patient Needs for Access and Convenience in Today’s World,” compiled responses from 1,004 healthcare consumers and delivered insights into what patients want from their health care experiences. Panel members discussed some of the survey’s findings, including data on which channels of communication patients prefer, and how decisions are made in today’s healthcare market, where multiple options (including retail clinics, telehealth appointments, and home visits) are available for consumers.

Telephone Is Still an Important Channel

One of the survey’s unexpected findings was that many patients still want to schedule appointments and coordinate with their care teams by phone.

“We actually are seeing a pretty clear preference for people saying they want to communicate with their providers via telephone,” Dickson said. “What’s interesting about this is, I think the narrative has been that younger consumers don’t want to pick up the phone. But what we’ve found is that even in that 18-34 demographic, about 46% of them book their appointment or book their most recent appointment via telephone, and 43% always schedule their medical appointments via telephone.”

“I think at the end of the day, people want convenience,” Lynn replied. “The key to what you said, though, is different people want different conveniences. That is true across age groups. You said the older group wants the phone more. But guess what? Even the younger group wants the phone, as your data illustrates, when they need an immediate answer. Or when they don’t trust that they’re going to text their provider and get a response.”

Why Is Telehealth Usage Trending Downwards?

Although telehealth saw a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are starting to move away from this channel and prefer to be seen in person.

Our survey shows that at their most recent primary care appointment, 93% of patients reported having an in-person visit, compared to 71% of respondents in 2020, and 78% in 2021, which is a significant difference over the three-year period.

“Not two days ago, I talked to a chief patient experience officer, and this person brought up the fact that telehealth is down,” said Cherrington. “Is it the connectivity? Is it the wait time for the telehealth visit to start?”

When asked what types of care were preferred for telehealth, patients reported primary care and mental health as their top preferences. Telehealth is here to stay in the healthcare ecosystem, but providers should focus on using telehealth for treating issues that are suited to virtual care.

Insights on the Expansion of Non-traditional Healthcare

Retail healthcare is gaining a foothold with patients looking for convenience, but still has some issues to resolve before consumers find non-traditional care venues meet their expectations for patient experience.

“What we found is that 81% of our respondents have received care in a nontraditional setting in the last year and 95% of people who did receive care at a nontraditional healthcare setting said they intend to do it again,” Dickson stated.

Traditional healthcare systems need to watch their backs, as consumers continue to choose the location, convenience, and opportunity that retail health clinics offer. Loyalty influences are changing rapidly. Saving patients time and offering dozens of locations to meet them where they are already shopping are the new ways to gain loyalty from time-poor healthcare consumers.

Thoughts on the Growing Impact of Online Reviews on Patients’ Provider Selection

When searching for a new doctor, customer experience and reviews play a role in the selection process. According to Stericycle’s patient engagement survey, 72% of younger adults reported that online reviews impact their decision on where to seek healthcare. 

According to Lynn, the onus is on the healthcare system to proactively and regularly monitor reviews left by patients, so the feedback is balanced and up to date. “Leaving reviews to happenstance instead of intentionally incentivizing and asking patients to leave feedback is not ideal – if you proactively address reviews, they will reflect who you actually are, and provide context for new patients to weigh up.” 

“I feel like there's an opportunity that we don't want to miss with consumer transformation,” said Johnson. “It is a transformation and it’s building upon the digital transformation that’s still very much in progress at every healthcare organization. But it’s an opportunity to […] make things easier at the end of the day for consumers.”

Learn more about the current state of patient experience, and healthcare consumer preferences. Watch the panel discussion.

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