Forty-one percent of Americans say they lost confidence in their doctors during the pandemic, and 17% say they are considering switching doctors based on their current providers' Covid-19 response, according to a new poll from SymphonyRM.
How Covid-19 has changed consumer behavior and preferences
Among those patients who said they lost confidence in their doctors amid the pandemic, a majority (53%) said it was because their provider rarely or never communicated with them about Covid-19. Meanwhile, 29% of respondents said it was because of their providers' slow adoption of virtual care, and 24% said it was because their providers did not take sufficient advantage of digital communication tools.
Conversely, the survey found that among the 59% of respondents who said their confidence in their providers increased amid the pandemic, 61% credited that boost to their providers' rapid switch to virtual care; 58% credited the frequency of their providers' Covid-19 communications; and 47% credited their providers' use of digital communication tools, such as text and email.
The survey also found that the pandemic's shift to virtual patient experiences increased patients' expectations regarding provider communication. According to the survey, half of surveyed patients said they had higher expectations for their providers now than before the pandemic, and most cite these expectations in digital appointment scheduling (58%), proactive communication (57%), and virtual appointments (54%). For instance, 63% of respondents who are thinking of switching to a new physician said they would consider the provider's use of digital communication tools.
Similarly, 48% of survey respondents said they would like their provider to communicate health care information more proactively in general—a need that many respondents indicated wasn't met so far during the pandemic. For instance, according to the survey, only 49% of respondents said they received general information about Covid-19 from their doctor, and of those, just 55% said they received several updates about Covid-19 or the vaccines. And only 35% of all respondents received any communication about the Covid-19 vaccines at all, the survey found.
As a point of comparison, the survey found that respondents believed retail brands reach out more frequently and effectively with consumer engagement messages than do health care providers. For example, 40% of respondents said Amazon met their "gold standard" in terms of communication, and another 28% said the same about Netflix. But 66% of surveyed adults said they would rather receive relevant health care information from their doctors than proactive information about an upcoming offer from their favorite retail brand.
"[A]lthough many health systems and doctors rose to the challenge of connecting patients with the information they needed about their health and the virus," Michael Linnert, CEO of SymphonyRM, said, the survey indicates that "many Americans were left behind and did not receive the same level of communication and engagement."
He added, "Doctors and health systems can learn strategies from consumer-facing brands for engaging consumers and driving action. Providers just starting out on their patient engagement journey, or even those that are further along, can look at brands like Amazon to identify tactics to which today's health care consumers will respond." (Vaidya, MedCity News, 8/17)
The Covid-19 epidemic has put intense new stress on doctors, and in turn, on doctor-patient relationships—even as it's made those relationships more critical to patient health. The results of this survey tell me that patients lose confidence with their provider as their doctors have struggled to adapt to our new reality—whether that means proactively addressing patient concerns about Covid-19, connecting patients to the right next step, or communicating with consumers using the same digital tools we have all grown accustomed to as we've social distanced.
While these specific examples may be more pronounced because of the Covid-19 crisis, the results of this survey speak to a broader trend we at Advisory Board have been tracking for many years. Consumers want much more out their care experience and providers must be willing to address the entire health care journey. Considering this demand, we did a deep dive and narrowed in on the five must-have characteristics of the consumer-focused physician:
To read our in-depth briefing on the research and details behind each of these characteristics, be sure to download the report here.
I want to be clear—while trust in providers has waned, these survey results do not mean that the doctor-patient relationship is doomed. In many ways, these results reinforce a very old-world view of how doctors and patients interact. Patients are almost yearning for a time when doctors knew a patient's history (and their family's history) by heart. One where they would spend extra time with patients, make proactive recommendations about their holistic needs or their deepest concerns, and be available for home visits or a quick chat. Of course, this is impossible for any individual physician to provide—unless you are in a made-for-TV romantic comedy about a small-town doc. But I would argue that health systems and medical groups have a responsibility to give clinicians the platform they need to deliver on rising consumer expectations, rebuild the trust that's been lost, and ultimately earn consumer loyalty.
The survey data found that today's patients have higher expectations of their provider than before the pandemic. It is up to health systems and medical groups to meet that moment. The key is for the organization to provide the platform that will allow clinicians to offer truly consumer-oriented care that addresses their holistic needs, proactively connects them to next steps, boosts accessibility for existing and new patients, and acts as a single-source of truth by delivering proactive and customized messages to their patients.
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