Patients increasingly want to access online services to enhance convenience and communication with providers, according to a recent national survey conducted by TechnologyAdvice Research. Yet, the majority of respondents in the “2015 Trends in Patient Engagement” survey said a number of digital solutions that would be helpful are not offered by their primary care practices.
“Only 19 percent said their physician offered online appointment scheduling,” noted Cameron Graham, survey author and managing editor for TechnologyAdvice, a company that conducts research and analysis of IT products in a number of industries including healthcare. “Only 17 percent said their physician offered online bill pay.”
In addition to scheduling and payment functions, Graham said viewing test results or diagnoses online also ranked high among survey participants. However, only 27.8 percent said their physician provided that option. Graham pointed out all three of the most desired digital services are fundamental patient portal features. With that in mind, he continued, “There’s a big discrepancy between what patients report having access to and the EHR adoption rate among physicians.”
Graham said electronic health record adoption rates are in the “high 70s, low 80s” by office-based physicians in the United States. “A lot of those systems should have online appointment and bill pay capabilities,” he said, adding some of the older systems might not have those options but virtually all newer products offer robust patient portal resources.
“I think one of the big takeaways is that the patients don’t seem to be aware of the tools their physicians probably have,” he said. The other option, Graham continued, is that offices have these capabilities but are not using them. Either answer could spell trouble for practices.
“When we asked how important these services were when people were choosing a physician, 60.8 percent said it was ‘important’ or ‘somewhat important,’’ Graham said. “If physicians are offering these in-demand digital services, a more proactive approach to promoting them is needed and could create an advantage in attracting and retaining patients.”
Graham added he also believes physicians need to more fully embrace digital services. “Patients value them a lot. Physicians think of them as an extra or add-on.” With meaningful use requirements staged to increase health information exchange and promote patient engagement, Graham noted the effective use of patient portals could help practices hit the necessary benchmarks to access incentives.
However, he noted, there probably won’t be a ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to patient engagement. “We did find age played a role in which services patients wanted their physicians to offer,” he said. Not surprisingly, the demand was much higher by younger adults than in the senior population. “Among the 25- to 34-year-old demographic, almost 40 percent said they would like to have a smart phone app for scheduling appointments; but among the 65 and older demographic, only 3.8 percent said that would be something they’d want.”
Similarly, 35.3 percent of patients ages 25-34 would like for their physician practice to offer secure messaging outside of office hours compared to just 11.5 percent of those ages 65 and older. Of the six digital services listed on the survey (online appointment scheduling, smartphone app for scheduling, online test results/diagnoses, online bill pay, secure messaging, and health resources/educational material), 23.5 percent of those ages 25-34 reported they didn’t want their physician to offer any of the services, while 44.2 percent of participants 65 and older had that same response.
Graham continued, “I think it’s important for physicians to be aware of what these different demographic groups want.” He added such information could help providers tailor their message accordingly when discussing the different ways patients could access the practice and engage with providers.
Another disconnect highlighted by the survey was provider follow-up. While 68.6 percent of respondents said it was either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ that a physician follow up with them, only 30 percent reported receiving any follow-up from the practice that wasn’t tied to bill pay. “They’re very good about following up related to money,” Graham pointed out, but patients want more than that. In addition to building rapport with a patient, Graham said digital communication offers an easy way to make sure instructions were understood and are being followed, check on medication adherence, share prevention tips, and remind patients about the need to schedule routine screenings and services.
The “Trends in Patient Engagement” survey included responses from more than 400 adults across the United States regarding their digital experience at primary care practices. The survey was conducted Jan. 5-7, 2015. A download of the survey whitepaper is available at technologyadvice.com/research.
TechnologyAdvice, which is headquartered in Brentwood, Tenn., offers free, neutral research and analysis of IT products to connect businesses with technology options that best address each company’s specific needs. The company works with businesses and practices looking for the right software for just a few people up to large enterprises in need of solutions for thousands and has assisted Apple, Oracle and HP in selecting new technology. Last year, TechnologyAdvice was named to the top half of the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies.