A recently released Accenture report focused on the interest of Americans in accessing health information online, including online consults. 82% want access to personal medical information online, 72% want to manage appointments online and 76% want to communicate with their doctors online. No surprises there, as noted by an editor at Fierce Healthcare who also remarked on the fact that 85% “still want” face-to-face time with their doctor.
His comments are spot on but it raises a question: when are we going to start thinking about online as part of the normal in primary care? Not to point a finger at our Fierce Healthcare editor because everyone does it, but I look forward to the day when commentators stop remarking in the fact that people “still want” face-to-face time with their doctor.
Well, of course they do!
Consumers book air tickets online, use travel aggregator services and speak to travel agents. They use bank machines, pay bills on their smart phones and meet with loan or investment specialists. They choose - and expect to be able to choose – the means of engagement that suits the need, their mood or their location. They don’t think it’s odd to still go into a bank branch when they start using personal finance sites. They don’t expect take out only because they made their reservation on Open Table. These new channels are just seamless parts of their new normals, which differ for everyone.
The results of the Accenture survey are really only telling us that consumers also have expectations for a new normal in healthcare, one that lets them engage with care in multiple settings, at times that make sense for them. And they’re smart enough to know that their favorite restaurant is likely closed at 6:30 in the morning, just like they know that their doctor’s office is closed too. But if they want to make an appointment then – well, why not?
When we started Hello Health, people wanted to put us in the online care category. We love the potential of online and especially mobile in healthcare, but pushed back by saying we were in the primary care category, simply giving doctors and patients more compelling engagement tools, in addition to the best engagement tool of all, the meaningful in-person conversation.
But not for everything, and not the only way.
We know that physicians’ insurance-based compensation does not generally align with these new means of engagement, so it’s understandable that they’re reluctant to embrace all the tools available to them in their new EHRs. New business models are indeed needed.
The longer, however, we wait to accommodate the demand that Accenture reported, the more likely it is that the consumers’ new normal may not include the face-to-face time with physicians, which will be bad news for practices and for people’s health.
Steven Ferguson is the patient management officer at Hello Health, the revenue generating EHR platform for primary care practices supporting practice vitality through patient engagement and electronic medical revenue.