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Can Digital Communication, mHealth Boost Patient Satisfaction?

A new study shows that providers should turn to mHealth devices and digital communication tools to boost patient satisfaction levels.

Although there is a high rate of patient satisfaction with primary care providers, there is still room for improvement with regard to digital communication and patient engagement technologies, one survey shows.

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The survey, conducted via Harris Poll and sponsored by Salesforce, shows that 91 percent of patients are satisfied with their primary care providers. In fact, of the 50 percent of patients who have changed PCPs over the past ten years, over half of them did so simply because either they or their provider moved.

Despite that solid base of patient satisfaction, the survey shows a need for enhanced patient and provider communication.

These relationships have room to go digital. Very few patients use digital technologies, such as patient portals, email, or text message, to communicate with their providers.

Most patients use the telephone or in-person interactions for their medical needs, with three quarters of patients using those methods to schedule appointments, 36 percent to view current health data, 42 percent to get lab results, and 46 percent to get prescription refills.

In contrast, less than  a third of patients are using patient portals to look at current health data and only 23 percent  use the portal to get lab results.

Despite slower adoption, patients report that they would be willing to use more digital health and communication tools. Sixty-two percent of respondents say they would be open to digital treatment options as an alternative to in-office visits, and 60 percent say they would choose a primary care provider who offers home care treatment.

These patient preferences mostly stem from a desire for more convenience, with 74 percent of respondents saying they would like digital treatment options because they are more accessible, and 52 percent saying they are easier to fit into a tightly packed schedule.

Respondents also showed an interest in mHealth app use, with 59 percent reporting preference for a primary care provider who offers a patient app, and 38 percent preferring PCPs who use patient-generated health data from apps to manage health outcomes.

Three quarters of patients want their providers to have access to their wearable or mHealth app data, with a majority wanting their providers to have an up-to-date view of their health and to be able to identify trends in their health that could indicate an issue.

Despite patient interest in wearable devices, only a small fraction actually use them. Twenty-seven percent of patients report owning any wearable device, and 89 percent say they only use it about once per month. Only 55 percent of respondents say they use their wearable daily.

The survey shows that patients could be swayed to adopt a wearable technology. Fifty percent of respondents said they would adopt a wearable in exchange for access to all of the data collected by the device, and 53 percent said they would adopt one in exchange for a health insurance rate improvement.

Understanding patient preferences for communication and digital health is an important step forward in patient-centered care, Salesforce executives state. According to Salesforce’s Healthcare and Life Sciences general manager Joshua Newman, MD, understanding how digital technology can boost patient-provider communication is an important step in succeeding in the ever-changing healthcare landscape.

"Patients today are choosing their providers, in part, based on how well they use technology to communicate with them and manage their health," Newman said in a press release. "Care providers who build deeper patient relationships through care-from-anywhere options, the use of wearables and better communications post-discharge, will be in a strong position to be successful today -- and into the future."

Going forward, healthcare professionals will need to keep a pulse on patient needs to fully understand how they want to interact with their providers. As technology continues to permeate all aspects of life, healthcare professionals will need to adapt to new digital means to keep pace with their patients.

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