Technology has radically shifted how we approach and solve problems, and this is something I witnessed continually watching my kids grow up. Younger generations are hard-wired to research online—they don’t know any other way—and they rely on this data for everything, whether they’re looking up NFL stats while drafting their fantasy football teams or buying a car. Peer reviews play an integral role in their decision-making process.
This is a trend that is starting to impact healthcare. A few short years ago, quality metrics were really only known to the payer and the healthcare organization with very little buy-in or impact on physicians. That is changing. As the industry moves toward a value-based reimbursement model, metrics are becoming increasingly refined, and more directly connected to the different specialty groups or individual physicians who are providing that care. We, as patients, now have access to information we never had before, and this information can shape our decisions. Today more than ever, reputations of both healthcare organizations and their care teams are front and center.
As healthcare consumers increasingly become responsible for shouldering care costs, they will look to personal recommendations and online patient reviews to educate themselves on physicians, specialists, hospitals, and care outcomes. And, this will drastically change the business of healthcare. The best cardiologist will quickly look like the fifth worst specialist by failing to properly document in the EMR. Something that was not even covered in medical school could be the nail in the coffin for the business of healthcare or professional reputations. Why? Physicians will not refer their patients to a specialist with bad outcomes, patients will not trust that doctor, healthcare organizations will not hire her, and payers will not reimburse her.
Healthcare is no longer just about the physician, it’s about the entire operation—from scheduling and parking availability to ease of prescription refills and surgical recovery times—and it’s about the patient. As one CIO I recently spoke with noted: “Our quality improvement efforts are really driven around the whole care team. The quality of care that I’m delivering, and that my practice is being measured on, is probably determined more by the other people in my office than by me.”
The business of the patient care experience
This shift in how people shop for healthcare and greater transparency of information means providers need to understand who their patients are and what they are looking for when it comes to their care experience. This year, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation, and this will have a profound impact on healthcare. As part of its ongoing research on the changing practice of the Art of Medicine, Nuance conducted a 3,000 person global survey exploring the evolution of patient behaviors and preferences.
We found that more than half of young Millennials search for health information online before seeing their doctors, which means they are walking into their appointments as educated healthcare consumers. It also means they are checking up on their doctors and healthcare facilities, reading reviews about the courtesy of staff members, the cleanliness of facility, and rankings for bedside manners.
The findings also reveal that, as digital natives, Millennials rely heavily on personal recommendations from friends and family when looking for a physician, and they share their negative feedback with their social networks. This differs considerably from the behavior of patients 65 and older, the majority of whom, when unsatisfied with their care, share their feedback directly with their providers.
This trend indicates a behavioral shift: as more patients rely on online data to assess their physicians and providers, the healthcare industry needs create ways to ensure the integrity of this data. Review sites that simply function as forums for patients to air grievances will not be seen as credible to physicians or organizations looking to improve their care experiences. Instead, online healthcare review sites will need to blend clinical outcomes with patient-reported outcomes. This information can be used to improve the healthcare experience for patients, but it will only work if the data has integrity. Forward-thinking healthcare organizations, such as Swedish Health Services, have made it a priority to consider how their brand and patient experience relates to publicly reported metrics, and uses their survey feedback to improve their care experience as well as their online reputation.
The digital area is changing the healthcare marketplace. As patients play an increasing role in determining how, when, and where they receive care, organizations that don’t stay closely connected to them won’t be able to survive. And it all comes down to understanding patient populations; those physicians and providers who do will remain competitive and best manage their patients’ evolving healthcare needs.