Patients increasingly use Internet to research, locate, receive, validate, and complain about doctor’s services. Although most health care providers (79%) had cautioned patients about the unreliability of health information on the Internet, 80% of adult Internet users have searched for health or medical information online. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Medical Broadcasting Company and Nielsen/NetRatings, two out of three Americans turn to the Internet before their doctor visits to research their condition and prepare questions. After their visits, these patients typically do more Internet research to validate what their doctor told them and find answers to questions they didn’t think to ask.
Multiple surveys show that practices with personal IT services have significant competitive advantage in terms of patient perception. For instance, 75% of U.S. adults would like to schedule their doctor visits via the Internet and receive e-mail reminders. But so few practices offer such services that only 4% of patients use Internet to schedule appointments. Moreover, while 67% of patients would like to receive their lab results via e-mail, only 2% currently do. Such large differences between expected and delivered levels of information access must transform into significant differences in service value perception. It behooves the doctors to adopt Internet technology to help patients search for health information online and use it for patient relationship management and practice development.
The first step in achieving this goal is to establish website presence. A typical physician’s website might have the following content components:
- Mission statement – patient-care philosophy
- A short history of the practice
- Office hours
- Contact information
- Phone numbers
- eMail addresses
- Location and driving directions
- Credentials and specialization information about each physician
- Hospital affiliations
- Links to patient education materials
- Patient forms
- Appointment scheduling
- eMail correspondence with physicians
- Lab results
- Electronic prescription refills
- Home monitoring device configuration
- Automated health alerts
- Personal health records
- A list of accepted insurance plans
- FAQ on Billing, e.g., explanation of statement
- Account balance
- Payment history
A savings-based ROI justification for office automation using a cost-driven metric compares operations costs before and after implementing a technical solution. For instance, the national average for staff in a primary-care practice is about five employees per physician. Anecdotal evidence about practices with patient-focused website with integrated EMR shows less than 2.5 employees per physician. Yet technology benefits to the practice have evolved from simple automation, to paperless office infrastructure, to patient attraction, to patient retention and loyalty management. Once the patients learn to expect a patient-focused website with integrated EMR along with interactive Patient Corner, they begin correlating physician’s expertise with the degree of office automation and Internet accessibility. It’s time to replace the cost-driven metric with a revenue-based metric, which measures billing revenue per physician and refocuses the management from savings to profits. Perhaps the greatest impact of technology is still ahead of us, in the area of patient relationship management and profitable practice development.
American Heart Association, “Survey Results: Online Education Program Is Effective Source Of Information For Heart Patients,” MediLexicon, May 12, 2007
Joseph A Diaz, et al, “BRIEF REPORT: What Types of Internet Guidance Do Patients Want from Their Physicians?,” J Gen Intern Med. 2005 August; 20(8): 683-685.
David Kesmodel, “As Angry Patients Vent Online, Doctors Sue to Silence Them,” The Wall Street Journal Online, September 14, 2005
Elaine Zablocki, “Communication: If You Build It …How a top-notch Web site can help expand and enhance your services,” Physicians Practice, May 2007