Patients have heightened expectations after pandemic conveniences that have changed traditional communication preferences
The COVID-19 pandemic created numerous non-contact communication preferences for patients such as non-contact payments and doctor-patient text communication — and patients want to keep it that way.
A recent survey by Podium of 1,000 consumers across the U.S. revealed a new mindset on the part of health care patients. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer and patient expectations almost overnight, and patients now have heightened expectations and new communication preferences when visiting their local health care practitioner’s office.
COVID-19 has changed how patients choose a doctor
The top influencing factor hasn’t changed — it remains the overall price. But while before COVID, price was the most commonly prioritized among communication preferences by a landslide, it now only beats offering curbside and contactless services by less than 1%.
This indicates an important shift in patient priorities from cost to experience, with a growing expectation for safety and convenience.
Texting is No. 1
Social distancing restrictions have made many patients more interested in texting with their health care practitioner’s office.
While texting was already the preferred communication method for 9 out of 10 patients, 42% of respondents said they are more interested in texting with local health care practices now than they were before COVID-19. More than 60% of patients reported having received or exchanged text messages with a health care practice within the last 30 days. And more than 65% of patients of all ages think that texting makes working with a health care practice more convenient.
Communication preferences change
Patients report that they prefer texting to other methods of business communication. This sentiment is not limited to millennials.
Texting is now the preferred communication channel of all age groups, including those over 60 years old. Additionally, the survey showed that patients are almost twice as likely (1.8x) to prefer texting over any other communication method that an office offers, including calling, emailing, website chat and Facebook Messenger.
Pandemic-friendly services become the norm
Patients also report they do not want pandemic-friendly services to go away once restrictions lift.
Of patients who have taken advantage of services like curbside pickup, local delivery and contactless payments, 80.3% want one or more of those services to continue post-COVID. Almost 90% of patients say they are likely to return to a health care practice they first visited because of pandemic-friendly services, even after restrictions lift. And more than 50% report having avoided certain health care practices that do not offer such services, choosing to discontinue patronage or jump ship to competitors.
Next steps for local practices
What steps should chiropractors or health care practices take to move forward successfully?
- Health systems need effective patient communication channels — What companies need and what patients want during this time is secure, convenient ways of communicating to receive timely information.
- Patients are ready for more communication options — Most patients are eager to access telehealth tools and digital communication where they can receive medical care from the comfort of their own home. Texting could enable health providers to communicate information such as appointment reminders, feedback requests, or a notice that staff is running behind and a patient could come in 15 minutes later.
- Offer mobile payment options via text — Collecting and paying medical bills is a nightmare; communication bounces between providers, insurance and patients, and letters come in the mail with confusing information about how much was charged versus how much a patient owes. This outdated system is something consumers have left behind in most other industries, yet still face in health care. Offering mobile payments can help reduce friction and increase patient satisfaction.
- Serve patients’ digital needs with HIPAA-compliant digital tools — The patient demand is for simplicity and convenience. The HIPAA demand is for strict regulation of Protected Health Information (PHI) in transit. For patient communication preferences centered around PHI, the answer is through mobile web-based browser sessions. Whether you’re communicating through an app or an online patient portal, you need to have control of what happens to patient data — and texting (about PHI, not necessarily for scheduling, feedback or payments) does not meet HIPAA standards of security. Add in a few authentication steps and have patients opt-in to whatever form of messaging you use, and you can communicate with patients in a convenient and secure way.
- Think of preventative health care — Health care is historically reactive; patients visit health care organizations when they’re sick or experience an ailment. But as the industry makes more of a digital transition, it’s possible that the tools patients already use could become more integrated into their future health care experiences. Wearable health trackers could provide intelligent recommendations (based on data) not just for patients themselves but for their health providers interested in preventative health care.
The face of health care is changing rapidly, and unprecedented challenges lie ahead. But if chiropractors work to keep a close eye on what patients expect and need, you’ll be able to utilize this technology to innovate and adapt quickly for success now and in the future.
JOSH COMBE is a freelance writer for Podium, a multi-product business review and text messaging platform that’s modernizing the way local business gets done, named “One of the World’s Most Innovative Companies” by Fast Company in 2019. To learn more, check out Podium’s State of Local Business in 2020 report at Podium.com.