Patients want texts and emails, in sickness and in health

By Mike Miliard
03:53 PM

A new survey finds that patients' expectations for healthcare providers have evolved. A majority expect their doctors to communicate with them proactively - even when they're well - via texts, emails and proactive smartphone alerts.

Sponsored by Seattle-based communications firm Varolii, the survey polled 1,001 adults across the U.S.

Its findings may come as a surprise to some busy physicians. Nearly 80 percent of respondents say it's their doctor's job to keep them healthy - not just to treat them when they're sick. And they wish there was more communication when they're feeling OK: 70 percent of respondents say their doc has never checked on them when they weren’t sick in order to help them stay healthy.

"Today, 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, healthcare market manager for Varolii. "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."
According to the survey, 50 percent of respondents said they believed texts, emails or smartphone apps with tips, reminders and encouragement could have helped them avoid a past health problem.

But this eagerness for more interaction notwithstanding, healthcare providers are lacking, they say. Just 25 percent of those polled said they felt their healthcare provider was accessible to them when they have questions or concerns. And 68 percent said their doctor has never sent them a text message or email regarding upcoming appointment reminders, discharge information or electronic health resources.
"Our survey found that 25 percent of people forget to take their medications on a regular basis," said Clipson. "This is a huge problem for the healthcare industry, costing an estimated $300 billion annually. Healthcare providers have an opportunity to positively impact health and reduce costs with something as simple as a text message."
In the age of the smartphone, the survey found physicians have some work to do. Just one in five healthcare providers are currently sending emails to patients. Just seven percent regularly send text messages, while only four percent make use of smartphone apps.
“We are in the era of the informed, digital consumer," said David McCann, CEO at Varolii. "Healthcare providers need to leverage personalized, multi-channel communications if they want to engage with their patients in a meaningful and effective way."