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How technology is creating a Frommer’s Guide for healthcare

Dr. Reid Conant, CMIO, Tri-City Medical Group

Dr. Reid Conant, CMIO, Tri-City Emergency Medical Group

I remember buying paperback Frommer’s Guides before traveling to a new place, and paging through the different sections of the city to see maps and read restaurant reviews. It was instant access to valuable information right at your fingertips. While extremely useful at the time, these guides were static, and the information quickly became outdated. The days of hard-bound encyclopedias, large paper road maps, and printed city guides are gone; however, the convenience of having aggregated information in your hands at all times is just as important as ever. The availability of smart technology keeps us connected to a world that is constantly changing around us and, when it comes to healthcare, this has some interesting implications.

A patient’s guide to navigating better healthcare

Studies have shown that the availability and convenience of having immediate digital access to information is rewiring our brains, changing how we mentally organize information and how we think about finding answers to our questions. Millennials, who grew up with smart technology and now outnumber Baby Boomers, think differently about finding health information than other generations, and this is ushering in a new era in healthcare. 

As part of its ongoing research on the changing practice of the Art of Medicine, Nuance conducted a 3,000 person global survey to explore the evolution of patient behaviors and preferences. One of the findings showed that 39 percent of patients consult their smartphones before seeing their physicians, and this number jumps to more than 54 percent when it comes to young Millennials. So, when a college student has the chills, muscles aches, and a sore throat, she will likely reach for her phone and search her symptoms instead of dialing her physician or nurse practitioner. It’s an interesting data point and serves as an important indicator of how people are beginning to think about – and approach – their personal health. 

Historically, the practice of medicine has had formally-defined roles where the patient seeks the physician’s advice and, in many ways, must blindly trust that the counsel received is accurate and best suited for the patient’s condition. There was no quick way of knowing whether your physician or specialist had a history of positive health outcomes. While most Millennials have probably never picked up a Frommer’s Guide to find local restaurants, more than 85 percent own a smartphone and have undoubtedly have used Yelp! or searched online to do so. Access to the latest information enables more informed decision making, and accessing online ratings and reviews is becoming second-nature for consumers. It is only a short matter of time before patient reviews on healthcare organizations, physicians, care teams, and clinical outcomes are readily available to healthcare consumers. This will impact the healthcare referral system, as patients will be able to assess physicians and specialists based on other patients’ experiences.

Additionally, as patients shoulder more healthcare costs, they will seek to find the best outcome for their dollar. Like Frommer’s, healthcare review sites will enable individuals to search procedures, outcomes, bedside manner, and cost, before selecting a particular physician. In fact, approximately 42 percent of Millennials check physicians’ online reviews during their search process. This is a tremendous win for transparency in our industry, but this means physicians and healthcare organizations need to understand their patients’ needs and preferences, and they must have a system in place for monitoring and addressing feedback in a timely manner. 

Not all patients react the same way when dissatisfied with their care. The survey found that younger patients stay true to their social nature and more than 60 percent tell their friends when unhappy with their healthcare experience. This is different from the majority of patients age 55 and older, who provide direct feedback to the healthcare organization or physician when dissatisfied with their experience. When you take these data points and combine them with the fact that 70 percent of Millennials use personal recommendations from family and friends to find a doctor, it becomes apparent that healthcare organizations and providers, alike, need to be aware of patient behaviors and how they react to an unsatisfactory experience. 

Patient expectations in the age of technology   

Despite hyper-connectivity, patients still prefer the classic tenets of good bedside manner and value the art of medicine as much as the science. In fact, more than 73 percent say that time for discussion with their physician contributes most to better medical care, followed by verbal communication of specific recommendations, privacy (no one else in the room), and eye contact. 

To be honest, I found these results to be a pleasant surprise. The world is more connected and social media-savvy than ever before, and I expected these behaviors to apply to healthcare, as well. Although people may send frequent updates and share personal health-related news with their social networks, they still value the private conversations and relationships they have with their doctors. While I think health IT is incredible and holds untapped promise for better care, I did not go to medical school because of cool technology – I went because I wanted to get to know my patients and help them. And, it’s good to know they want that, too.

With the Internet of Things bringing us closer to everything around us, healthcare consumers will increasingly rely on healthcare review sites to assess the best care options, in a desired location, at a certain price point. They will use these resources to map their healthcare experience. After all, if we consult a review site before going out to a restaurant in a new city, why wouldn’t we do the same before trusting someone with our health? 

 

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