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"In sickness and in health" doesn't just refer to wedding vows any more. It should also describe the level of communication between a doctor and his or her patient.
That's the gist of a recent survey conducted by Varolii, which suggests that the majority of Americans, armed with the latest smartphones and a desire to manage their own healthcare, want to communicate regularly with the healthcare industry.
"The survey validates, for us, that patients want to to be reminded," says David McCann, CEO of the Seattle-based developer of customer interaction management solutions. "They really want to communicate with the doctor … who is a trusted person. The irony is that the doctor does not get paid to phone you."
The survey, "Better Health Through Better Communications," was conducted in August and received responses from 1,001 adults across the United States. It indicates that more than 80 percent believe it's the doctor's job not only to treat them when they're sick, but to keep them healthy when they're not sick. And yet, 70 percent of those surveyed also say their doctor has never checked up on them when they're healthy.
"Quality healthcare goes far beyond the annual check-up or seeing a patient when they have the flu or are in pain," said Vance Clipson, Varolii's healthcare market manager, in a press release accompanying the survey results. "It's no longer enough to treat patients when they are finally sick – patient care must include more preventative care and wellness programs to get them health and keep them healthy. Innovative healthcare providers are moving away from focusing heavily on acute care and instead shifting their focus to proactive care, patient wellness and chronic disease management."
McCann says that trend reflects a fundamental change in the American healthcare landscape, which is shifting away from the old "heads on beds" philosophy of treating – and being reimbursed for – patient encounters and toward outcomes measurement. That shift toward accountable care includes an emphasis on healthcare management, or continued interactions between providers and patients to help prevent wasteful of avoidable medical crises.
"We believe reminders are pretty strategic," he says.
Half of those surveyed say a reminder – in the form of an e-mail, phone call, post card, text message or smartphone app – could have helped them avoid a health problem in the past, and 45 percent would prefer an e-mail from their providers, but only 19 percent of providers currently use e-mail and even less use smartphone apps (4 percent) or text messages (7 percent).
Of those surveyed, 80 percent said a reminder from their doctor would be helpful in helping them maintain an ongoing treatment plan, and two-thirds say reminders would help them improve their health through diet or exercise. Of that number, 38 percent said they'd prefer e-mail, while 16 percent sat text messages would be most helpful.
On the flip side, McCann says doctors are frustrated "because they're basically being paid to physically meet patients." He says they "need to tune in to the fact" that those meetings won't be beneficial to them if they cover avoidable or wasteful medical expenses, or lead to hospital readmissions. Their workflow, he says, will best be served by an automated, regular means of communication with patients to improve health management, avoid costly and necessary medical interventions and save the actual medical appointments for what's necessary.
Those communcations, he says, need to be across different channels, including smartphones and other mobile devices.
"I think it's becoming increasingly realistic," he says. "Leading-edge providers are increasing patient outreach and changing the model of care delivery."
"Healthcare organizations understand that positive proactive communication is a fundamental requirement for maximizing member participation while maintaining costs," added Jay Dunlap, general manager of Landacorp, a Chico, Calif.-based provider of healthcare collaboration programs, in the Varolii press release. "To accomplish both, providers and members need resources that facilitate information sharing in a manner that is straightforward and immediate. This survey shows a real desire by consumers for a more interactive exchange with their healthcare providers."
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