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Business & Profession Practice Management

Patient Engagement in the Digital Age

At a Glance

  • Younger patients rely on practices that use digital tools, so they can schedule appointments or access medical records online; older generations value human interactions
  • 24/7 instant access to information is important for practices that wish to attract a younger patient population
  • Promoting digital tools across social media platforms has become standard for successful, modern ophthalmic practices
  • Different generations tend to suffer from different eye issues, and have different expectations with regards to treatment options
  • Finding and applying novel methods of patient engagement is part of building a prosperous practice.

Most of the differences we see among the various generations of patients relate to engagement expectations. Many of our younger patients look for convenience and digital tools. They want everything to be online: from scheduling appointments, accessing medical records, requesting prescriptions or contact lens refills, acquiring appointment summaries and itemized medical bills. When such information is easy to access, they’re highly engaged with our staff and their eye health. Older generations, on the other hand, prefer to pick up the phone and speak with our staff. Patients of all ages do use our online appointment scheduling option, but our older patients tend to prefer live communication for other types of questions.

Sending automated patient feedback surveys after an appointment has been beneficial regardless of our patients’ ages. We’ve found that asking for – and acting upon – feedback from our patients on their experiences and expectations lets our patients know we’re listening to them, and that we genuinely care. It’s all about customer service.

Living a digital life

Millennials often prefer instantaneous access to information, so having a patient portal that’s available 24/7 is a big draw. Overall, this group wants the ability to reach out directly to their doctor to ask, for example, if a symptom they’re experiencing from a new medication is normal. Instead of having to wait until the next day for a phone call back, they can ask and receive a response directly through our patient portal.

With the electronic medical record (EMR) platform we use, from Modernizing Medicine, we also send automated appointment reminders via text to patients, and can even let them know if a last-minute spot has opened up. Thanks to this, our no-show rate is down, and we’re able to maximize our personnel’s time in the office. It has helped take unnecessary stressors off their plates.

Often, our millennial and tech savvy patients come to the office and have already “self-diagnosed” themselves.

For example, in the past, if a doctor was ill and needed to cancel the day’s appointments, it meant lots of early morning calls for our staff. It was challenging to contact all our patients in a timely manner and took valuable time away from other tasks and patients in the office. Now, this can be done automatically, so it not only frees up time for our office staff, but means patients are getting updates faster. It’s such a natural thing these days to shoot off a text to a friend, so why shouldn’t practices be able to the same?

Often, our millennial and tech savvy patients come to the office and have already “self-diagnosed” themselves. If they’re experiencing an ocular symptom, they’ve gone online, looked it up and have specific questions to ask when they come in. They have ideas about what it could be and want to have a conversation with the ophthalmologist. I think this level of patient engagement and interest in their own eye care is a really positive thing, as long as they don’t use Google as a replacement for professional care.

In terms of marketing to our patients, the biggest changes over the past few years have been the medium. We want to reach patients where they are, so we advertise on social media platforms. We also promote the digital tools our practice offers. We’ll invite patients to book an appointment online instead of calling the office.

Different ages, different problems

Ocular history and types of diseases are innately different when you compare generations – and so are the potential procedures. For instance, cataracts are most likely not affecting those under the age of 60.

Ultimately, the goal is for all patients to trust the decision making of their provider. How that trust develops can certainly differ between generations.

Millennials (having done some research) are more likely to know about and request specific procedures, such as LASIK. They tend to build trusted relationships with providers who are also well educated on advanced technology and demonstrate to the patient their working knowledge of those treatments and procedures. Millennials tend to be a little more price sensitive. They want to know the entire cost upfront, so we have experienced more billing questions. Cost can play a factor in their decision making for treatment.

The Baby Boomers and older generations tend to build trust on long-standing relationships with their providers. They look for those doctors that take additional time and care to chat with them, discuss all of the advantages and disadvantages of particular treatments, and answer all of their questions. Older generations are also much more likely to trust word of mouth from their friends, family, and co-workers. Ultimately, the goal is for all patients to trust the decision making of their provider. How that trust develops can certainly differ between generations.

Though generations of patients also differ in their expectations – we’re seeing an interest in digital and online tools and instant access across all demographics. When our patients see that we have cutting-edge technology in the office (for example, they can check in to their appointment using a tablet computer), I believe it makes patients feel more confident that our doctors are up on the latest in medical technology and treatments as well. As with any technology, there are early and late adopters to technological solutions to patient management – it’s just a matter of time.

Never stop learning

Dealing with a younger patient population certainly has its challenges, but I believe it helps keep us up-to-date with trends and breakthroughs in the industry. One of our core values as a company is to never stop learning and growing – great goals both personally and professionally. Providing the care that newer generations expect certainly keeps us on our toes! I also get a real sense that the younger generations are taking a greater interest in their health, which is extremely encouraging. It is much easier to relate and build trust with patients who are actively engaged in their treatment plans and well-being.

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About the Author
Jennifer Stambook

Jennifer Stambook is Corporate Controller, Empire Eye & Laser Center, USA.

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