Ancil Lea: Connecting With Your Patients In The Digital Age

by Ancil Lea (ancil@ancillea.com) 26 views 

Editor’s note: Ancil Lea, author of this guest commentary, has worked with more than 1,500 physicians, clinics, out-patient surgery centers, and hospitals to help with everything from medical software to healthcare marketing for nearly 30 years. He is the former coordinator for the Arkansas Office of Health Information Technology.

We moved my mom and step-dad back to Arkansas from Amarillo, Texas, a couple of years ago so they would be closer to my brother, sister, and me (not to mention grandchildren) since they are in their late 70s and early 80s.

Healthcare was at the top of the list of reasons to make this move. Once they were settled in, they began looking for primary care providers and specialists. I got a call from my mom soon after, asking, “Son, I was looking online at your cardiologist, and he only has three stars, but Dr. Jones has four stars. What do you know about Dr. Jones?” I laughed, and we talked through her options.

What happened in this instance with my mom is happening every day to healthcare providers all over Arkansas and the nation. She had used her smartphone to look up information on providers and research her next medical decision. Keep in mind she is in her 70s.

Medical providers, clinics, and hospitals are being researched and scrutinized every day, and they don’t even know it. Prospective patients are evaluating providers based on comments left on “Healthgrades” as well as the provider’s website, Facebook, Twitter, and any social media accounts where they can find out more to help them make informed decisions about their care.

I sat down with a local physician last week over a Krispy Kreme donut and coffee (my kind of guy). He said something that fascinated me. He remarked that many ‘Millennials’ don’t have a primary care physician. Instead, they are going to urgent care clinics as they need care. He added that patients are looking for a ‘social connection or community’—like what they get from Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.

This only continues to confirm what I’ve already suspected. And unfortunately, most clinics do a terrible job of managing this critical piece of communication.

There are two issues here. First, what does your online presence say about you? How are you portrayed? What are the messages you are sending that reflect who you are, what services you offer, and what kind of care you give?

Second, once you get these valued customers/patients, how do you keep them? The answer of course is to provide the best quality care for their needs, but patients now want access, too. Interestingly enough, the advent of patient portals with “meaningful use” have not been the success providers of communication that was hoped for in the link to the patient. Most patients won’t engage through the portal. Why? It’s not convenient. But what is?

With the weight of ICD-10, Meaningful Use, PCMH, PQRS, etc., it is enough to overwhelm any medical provider and staff. But if you stay focused on your patients and look for the best ways to communicate with them, you’ll be moving in the right direction. Besides offering great care, staying connected with your patients is the best way to keep them as patients.

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