Americans are 21% less likely to call and talk to a healthcare provider now than they were just seven years ago. In contrast, while phone calls have declined in popularity, interest in texting and emailing providers has grown among patients.

Patients know that picking up the phone and calling their doctor’s office is one way to reach their healthcare team. Additionally, they want the ability to communicate back and forth with healthcare providers through digital channels. Unfortunately, that is often not as easy as it sounds. Patient-provider communication hasn’t evolved as quickly as Americans’ communication preferences. As a result, healthcare teams are missing opportunities to connect with patients in modern ways and give patients the healthcare experiences they expect. If you ask patients, it is time for healthcare to catch up.

West Corp. compared findings from two different surveys the company conducted (one from 2018 and one from 2011) and found that Americans are 21% less likely to call and talk to a healthcare provider now than they were just seven years ago. In contrast, while phone calls have declined in popularity, interest in texting and emailing providers has grown among patients.

Three times as many patients have texted with providers now than had in 2011 (17% vs. 5%). Also, patients are 29% more likely to email their healthcare providers now compared to seven years ago. For now, phone calls are still the most common way for patients and providers to connect. But patients are continuing to push for modern communication options, and they want healthcare teams to offer more opportunities to communicate through digital formats like text messaging, email and online surveys.

Allison Hart

One important point to note is that although patients may be less inclined to pick up the phone and call their doctor, they are no less interested in communicating with providers. In fact, West’s survey findings revealed that 74 percent of patients believe that more communication between patients and providers is needed outside of face-to-face appointments. Also, 69 percent of patients say they wish their own provider would communicate with them more often between appointments.

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In some ways, patients have helped clear a path for providers to improve and modernize healthcare communication. Across the country, patients have replaced their landline telephones with devices that enable them to easily send and receive digital communications. According to a 2018 Deloitte survey report, 82 percent of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone. That same report revealed Americans rely heavily on these devices for communication, and that the average person checks his phone 52 times per day. Ultimately, patients want to communicate with their providers in the ways that are convenient and comfortable to them. Patients are accustomed to using their smartphone to exchange text messages and emails. So, it is not surprising that they would prefer to be able to use these digital channels to connect with healthcare providers.

Here is a closer look at three types of digital communications patients are pushing for, along with examples of how providers can better meet the demand for digital.

Texting: An in-demand form of communication

Texting between patients and providers is poised for growth. According to West’s survey, patients are now twice as likely to want their healthcare providers to text them compared to seven years ago. Patients say they want healthcare providers to send them text messages about:

  • Confirming appointments (71%)
  • Post-treatment instructions (64%)
  • Health data captured through monitoring surveys (59%)
  • Requests for payment (56%)
  • Copayments (55%)
  • Lab results (54%)

Providers have been slow to adopt texting. Privacy concerns and questions about how to execute text communications are common barriers. But, healthcare teams may be surprised to learn that modernizing communication by implementing texting is easier than they think — particularly if they use their patient engagement technology to schedule and send automated text messages.

Email: An underutilized communication option

Although email has been around for decades, it often isn’t used to its potential for healthcare communication. Despite being open to communicating through email, only around one in five patients (22%) report having exchanged email messages with their providers. Healthcare teams that want to make email a larger part of their communication strategy can explore ways they can use email to do things like:

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  • Promote prevention and wellness by sending patients emails that outline what preventive tests patients should receive and when.
  • Support chronic disease management by sending disease-specific emails to groups of patients to educate them about what they should be doing to manage their condition.
  • Increase transparency surrounding billing by sending patients emails with detailed information to help them better understand billing.

Surveys: An unexpected communications forum

Few providers think of surveys as a solution for modernizing patient-provider communications. But surveys have a lot of potential and can be used to maintain a connection between patients and providers between appointments. Also, more than half of patients (53%) say they believe it is important for healthcare providers to deliver online surveys or check-ins that ask about their health.

Healthcare organizations can leverage surveys to do things like:

  • Monitor pain and symptoms in order to gain insights about changes in patients’ health and plan interventions.
  • Support patients with medication adherence by identifying when and why patients are struggling to take medications as prescribed.
  • Follow up with patients after hospitalizations to track their recovery and provide support in order to prevent readmissions.

Patients’ communication preferences have evolved, and as a result, digital communications are in greater demand across healthcare. As patients press for more modern communication, healthcare providers can respond by capitalizing on text messages, email and online surveys to strengthen connections with patients.

Allison Hart is vice president of marketing at West.

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