The Modern Patient: Understanding Today's Healthcare Consumer

October 4, 2018 | Wendy Trem
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Americans haven’t experienced physician house calls from a kind doc with a little black bag in decades, but modern patients seem to want some of that back—such as the immediacy and personal attention of healthcare professionals. What exactly are consumers looking for when they shop health services or suddenly need care? And how do medical providers keep their business relevant in such a dynamic culture?


1. The Need to Know

Patients do crave knowledge, and most today are web-conscious enough to look for health info online often or always. Modern patients research diagnoses, treatments, physician histories, drug side effects, and cures—all before they set foot in an office. They’d rather log on to a free med site than sit in a waiting room and pay for advice.

But once patients have exhausted their internet med search capabilities, they often want a professional to talk to. Access to a doctor they can count on holds significant value in a world teeming with M.D.s. And in both emergency and routine health episodes, it’s a two-way exchange: Patients want doctors to know the symptoms experienced or the incident details, and patients want to know themselves the specifics of the doctor’s diagnosis and recommended plan. Today’s healthcare hasn’t changed much from the knowledge-based system it’s always been.

2. Look Me in the Eye

Most healthcare relationships start the real info sharing with that first appointment, a getting-to-know-each-other session in the office. The patient finds a provider, submits all the paperwork, establishes insurance, and most importantly, finds a comfort level with the physician and staff.

Patients and doctors alike desire that type of in-person conversation to launch their partnership. Once there’s a basis for understanding and proceeding, many patients are happy to let the conversation continue online, on the phone, and outside the clinic. But early on, especially if there’s a serious or emergency issue, they want to see the people they’re going to trust with their health.

And honestly, numbers one and two here are not new. Confidence and progress from both ends are still based on effective, educational listening and talking, knowing who you’re talking to and spending a little time with that person, plus doing a little personal research.

3. Message Me

But no surprise—the key to engagement with modern patients is what Robert Istepanian first termed in 2006 mhealth—mobile-based health communication. Consumers want all pertinent information—from a doc they love and trust—but today, they want it via technology.

“Patients frequently want to receive relevant details in the speediest and tersest ways possible: namely, emails and texts.”—Robert Nagler Miller, AMA

Patients hold the key in their hands: Smartphones in this situation don’t indicate that patients want to make or get a phone call from the clinic. Even apps aren’t used as regularly as health providers might wish—they’re not doctor-specific, personal enough, or helpful enough during episodes. And please don’t sign patients up for a huge portal of info to wade through.

Mobile users (which is almost everyone today) prefer email or text communication—and good news, docs and staff do, too. Evidence-based practice says these two methods of doctor-patient communication save money and yield improved results.

Want digitally-enabled patients to follow through? Send them a short text with all the basics. Have info that seems less text-appropriate (way too much or involves an attachment)? Email them. Over and done. Mobile methods aren’t preferred in addition to phone calls and visits. For many modern patients, mhealth is replacing in-person or audio contact. Happily for all, consumers consider it just as legit, and medical regime adherence rates (taking pills and DIY therapy) are higher.

According to this HealthyTXT whitepaper, texts, in particular, are considered multi-faceted ways to wellness:

“The current use of text messaging within health care can be broken down into 5 segments: 1) appointment and medication reminders, 2) preventative health, 3) population awareness, 4) education around diseases, conditions and procedures, and 5) pain management.”

So, if there’s one piece of the picture here that’s most significant, this one is definitely it: mobile mail and messaging are the premier opportunity for modern patient engagement.

4. Easy Peasy

Convenience definitely wins the day within the mhealth venue: Modern patients want it fast and simple. A quick response, Health Hero suggests—such as a follow-up message from the doctor or nurse, sent even before the patient leaves the office—“reduces patient anxiety. Patients feel more in touch, informed, and less alone (especially with videotaped messages and care/technique demonstrations) in vulnerable times.”

The all-in-one pleases patients as well. Embedding everything in that text or email engages patients more effectively. Include disease infographics, treatment videos, pharmaceutical research PDFs, at-home therapy instructions, or multimedia pain management explanations—all tacked onto the text or linked in the email.

5. Everybody Together Now

If modern patients bring all kinds of internet knowledge to the table, but still desire simplified mobile engagement with their medical professionals, then segmented, compartmentalized medical practice won’t cut it.

Integrated care means all parties are talking to each other, and the patient is never left feeling in the midst of a fight. A cohesive med plan today cuts through this complexity and gets general practice physicians, therapists, lab techs, specialists, and even pharmacists working as partners for and with patients, not as competitors. Consumers value unified health strategy far above access to ten individually strong medical professionals that the patient must coordinate alone.

6. Handled Like a Pro

Patients expect expert, polite, kind care in the examination room—and in mobile communication, they want the same. Accuracy and readability are vital in mhealth. In those texts and emails, skip jargon (that’ll just drive more questions), and never use slang (that’ll just create concern about capability).

As professionals, physicians also can’t throw privacy and confidentiality out the window. So, this is yet another reason for that first in-office visit: create an understanding of preferred, secure, acceptable modes of communication with each patient. Electronic transfer of protected health information is risky, and medical professionals—no matter what the request of the patient—are responsible for compliance and for letting patients know about potential threats to security. Health providers can never include a patient’s personal identifying info. And texts and emails must become part of a patient’s electronic medical record.

Where to Go from Here: Engaging and Empowering

The clarity and speed of both giving and receiving information is an essential part of the healthcare experience. Physicians want engagement and compliance. Patients want empowerment and advocacy. But creating and maintaining a simple but strong healthcare relationship between doctors and their patients isn’t impossible.

Health professionals can start by considering the scope of their practice and assessing where they’re at in terms of mhealth—just beginning, semi-connected, or fully mobile. Implementing the above advice to transition to a higher level of tech-based healthcare will also be most successful when patients participate in the process. Patient surveys are a starting point—learning preferred modes and points of interaction during their health journeys. Coordinately, clinics can explore existing health tech solutions with the support of a digital consulting firm that specializes in healthcare.

The world of mobile-based, real-time, hassle-free, patient monitoring and communication platforms is expanding at a steady rate. Utilizing these tools allows expectations to be met for both parties in a way that safely supports health.

Topics: Customer Experience Customer Obsession Healthcare

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