Meeting the Real and Virtual Needs of Today's Health Care Consumer

Added on Oct 16, 2019

By Lauren Keeley

stethoscope and computer Meeting the Real and Virtual Needs of Today's Health Care Consumer 
​By Lauren Keeley

Of all the digital innovations that are changing how patients communicate and interact with their care providers, telemedicine is poised to be the most disruptive. As telemedicine moves into the mainstream, “health care is not going to be what it used to be,” according to Dr. Steven Strongwater, president and CEO of Atrius Health. “Urgent care as we know it today is going to be a passing phase—visits will largely be virtual,” he said in his keynote address at the Press Ganey 2019 Patient Experience Executive Summit.

Dr. Strongwater’s prediction comes as no surprise—effective digital engagement is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the health care continuum, with health care consumers leading the way. A 2018 Press Ganey National Study found that when seeking care, consumers are more likely to turn to online physician reviews than to family and friends for a doctor referral, and 67% said they would research a physician on the Internet even after receiving a referral.

Yet, soon-to-be-published research from Press Ganey suggests that consumers’ desire for a digital connection to their providers is still fairly novel. In a recent national study, actual use of telemedicine was low—at 17%. But interest is growing. When consumers were asked if they would try telemedicine in the next 12 months, 27% responded positively. For those who were willing to try telemedicine, convenience and access, not surprisingly, were key drivers. Those who indicated they wouldn’t be trying telemedicine cited as their reason fear of a compromise in the quality and continuity they receive from their current provider.

“When it comes to overall patient experience, systems have the opportunity to embrace convenience and quality regardless of the setting,” said Chrissy Daniels, a partner in strategic consulting at Press Ganey. “Leading systems are implementing many methods of improving access and convenience, while staying laser-focused on delivering high-quality, patient-centered care.” Telemedicine needs to be more than an adjunct to patient care. It needs to be an integrated segment of the complete patient experience journey.    

As with all innovations, there is excitement about telemedicine, but also anxiety—both among providers and patients who fear that convenience will overshadow care quality and connection. As much as consumers value personalized, on-demand care, systems can differentiate their brand through their integration of compassion and connection into every care experience. 

The best preparation for incorporating virtual visits and other innovations into the array of options for consumers is to maintain focus on the care characteristics that drive patient loyalty through robust measurement and continuous improvement strategies. Organizations that have taken early steps into the digital health marketplace by including patient experience performance outcomes on providers’ online profile pages may be best positioned to guide patients through the transition to telemedicine. What’s more, as patients begin to experience and review their virtual encounters, those who are uncertain or seeking more information will be able to benefit from the experiences of those pioneers.

Telemedicine will not change what patients want from their providers, but it will force health systems to rethink their organizational structures to best meet the changing expectations of those they serve. As telemedicine becomes more prevalent, health care providers must keep their eyes on what matters to patients, striving to adapt and respond to the needs of patients as consumers.