Creating and Maintaining Patient Engagement by Understanding Patients’ Needs

February 17, 2022 | Stericycle Communication Solutions

From booking hair appointments and ordering food deliveries online to mobile banking and virtual online meetings, consumers are accustomed to using multiple devices and platforms to manage their lives. When it comes to healthcare, however, the use of technology to schedule appointments, find appropriate specialists, and meet with clinicians has been slower to evolve until challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated adoption and opened the door to new technologies. As a result, new healthcare technologies have flooded the market to engage patients.

Download our 2021 Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey Report

However, it takes more than just deploying new technology to attract and retain patients. To create strong patient-provider relationships and foster patient loyalty in today’s consumer-driven world, your health system must have insights into what healthcare consumers want and expect from you.

Below are insights from our 2021 Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey that will allow you to create patient engagement strategies that meet the needs of your patients.

Patient Engagement Starts with a Strong Foundation of Trust

Engaging patients and responding to their communication expectations in this competitive environment starts with understanding their preferences and pain points. We surveyed 500 healthcare consumers across the country for our 2021 U.S. Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey.

The results shed light on the current high and low points in the patient journey and show opportunities for healthcare providers to strengthen patient engagement and satisfaction with appropriate communication channels and tools.

The survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of healthcare consumers trust the information they receive from their providers.

95% of respondents expressed a high level of trust in their providers.

98% of respondents felt that they could communicate freely about their health concerns with their providers.

This represents a critically important foundation of trust between providers and their patients that health systems can successfully build on. Using technology that consumers are familiar with to improve access, convenience, and care coordination, health systems can better engage patients along their healthcare journeys.

Healthcare Providers’ Influence on COVID-19 Vaccination

One of the most important findings in our survey was that healthcare providers can influence patient decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Among the survey respondents who were not yet vaccinated:

29% of respondents said that information from their provider would make them reconsider getting the vaccine.

22% of respondents said being advised by their doctor to get the vaccine would motivate them.

15% of respondents would think about being vaccinated if their provider educated them about the possible side effects of the vaccine.

Effective Patient Communication Requires Using the Right Channel at the Right Time

With the array of options to communicate with patients – phone calls, email, and text messages – the survey uncovered clear preferences and engagement statistics. Our survey results provided nuanced insights into which channels might be best to leverage for these patients.

For example, email messages to patients from primary care providers are a key communication vehicle.

92% of survey respondents who receive email communication from their providers say they open and fully read or scan the messages.

Only one-third of those surveyed said they are likely to respond to emails.  

29% of respondents are more likely to respond to a phone call.  

27% of respondents prefer text messages.

Two-thirds of patients said appointment reminders helped them follow-through, an increase of 14% from our 2020 survey.

A key takeaway for healthcare providers is to use a combination of patient communication tactics to help patients understand how to access care, encourage them to take action, and remind them of appointments and ways to adhere to their care plan. Such tactics should include automated text and email messages and live phone messages because one size fits all approach doesn’t drive action.

Offering a variety of ways to schedule appointments is also necessary. Our survey found:

40% of respondents reported using the telephone to make appointments.

Only one-third of the healthcare consumers in our survey had used an online or mobile option to schedule an appointment.

Among those who had not used online scheduling to book a medical appointment, two-thirds cited a lack of technology or confusing experience as reasons that prevented them from doing so.

13% of respondents said their provider didn’t offer online scheduling.

Website forms were the least popular at 10%.

Long Waits Push Patients Away

Our survey conclusively found that health systems risked losing patients to more responsive and available providers. When asked how long they were willing to wait for a non-emergency appointment, patients clearly highlighted their impatience with long waits.

Up to one week was acceptable for 83% before they would consider other care options. There was an even split between those willing to wait for one to three days and those for whom four to seven days was acceptable.

Hybrid Care is the New Gold Standard for Patient Engagement

Following the dramatic impact on in-person visits during the first year of the pandemic, the hybrid model of care, combining telemedicine visits with in-person care, has become increasingly popular. More than three-quarters of the healthcare consumers in the survey had at least one telemedicine appointment in the previous 12 months.

Satisfaction among those who experienced telemedicine appointments was high—85% rated their experience as good or excellent, mostly due to convenience (41%), safety (36%), and cost factors (11%).

While more than half of survey respondents had an in-person visit in the past year, survey results found reluctance (among 53%) to access in-person care because of COVID-19 concerns and only 12% of patients over age 65 said they were comfortable with in-person visits.

Even so, in-person appointments will still play an important role because virtual visits may not always lead to the resolution of the patient’s concerns, and there are certain types of evaluations, of course, that require patients to come into the office.

The Time is Now to Strengthen Patient Relationships

Studies have shown that consistent communication tailored to patient needs and demographics can strengthen the emotional connection with providers, demonstrate care and concern, and nurture long-term relationships.

Since trust between health systems and their patients is high, as shown in our survey, healthcare providers have a great opportunity to use technology that consumers are familiar with to further enhance communication and meet patient expectations for scheduling appointments, answering their questions, addressing concerns, and providing access to care in a timely way.

For more insights on patient preferences, download our 2021 Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey.

2021 Stericycle Communication Solutions U.S. Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey. Download The Report.

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