E-Patient Update: All I Want For 2017

Posted on January 6, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the past year, I’ve done a lot of kvetching about the ways in which I think my e-relationships with doctors and hospitals have fallen short. I don’t regret doing so, but I think it’s just as important to focus on the future. So without further ado, here’s a list of ways in which providers could improve their digital interactions with me and my fellow patients during the coming year:

  • Have consistent policies and operations: Over time, I’ve found that many providers don’t seem to keep track of what they say about e-services such as portals and telemedicine visits. Others do little to let you know whether, say, doctors respond to email and how long it may take for them to do so. All of this creates patient confusion. This year, please be consistent in what you do and how you do it.
  • Create channels for patient feedback: As you may recall, I recently trashed a practice that didn’t respond to patient complaints about a broken appointment-making function on its site, and noted that all could have been avoided if patient objections had gotten routed to practice administrators sooner. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen anymore. This year, make sure your patients don’t face this kind of frustration; create formal channels for patient technical feedback and have a process for escalating their concerns quickly.
  • Give us more access: While patients do have access to some data from their medical records, most of the time we still have to jump through onerous hoops if we need a complete record. Given that it’s all digital these days, this is very hard for us to understand, so fix this process. (And by the way, don’t pile on $2.50 per page charges when you produce a digitally-produced patient record; not only is it insulting and predatory, if that fee doesn’t reflect the costs of sharing the record it may be illegal in many states.)
  • Give us more control: Particularly when, like me, you have more than one chronic condition to manage, it gets very tiring to deal with the policies of multiple institutions when you want the big picture. We want more control of our records!  We’ll be much happier (and possibly healthier) if we have ways to compile complete record sets of our own.
  • Take us seriously: The following is not just an e-patient concern, but it still applies. Too often, when I raised a concern (“Why do you say I don’t have an appointment when I made one online?”) I’ve gotten a blank stare or defensive posturing. This year, providers, please take our digital problems as seriously as other any problems we face in interacting with you. We do!

As I look at this list, I think it’s interesting that I have no temptation to suggest one technology or another (though as your faithful scribe I’ve seen many intriguing options). The truth is, I’d submit, that most providers should get their social and operational ducks in a row before they roll out sophisticated patient engagement platforms or roll out major telehealth initiatives. Just make sure everything works, and everybody cares, and you’ll be off to a better start.