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Physician Entrepreneur: Time to Embrace Patient Email Access

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated laptop with doctor's arm sticking out of the screen holding stethoscopeBefore you roll your eyes skyward and dismiss the idea of patient email access, there are a couple new ideas that innovative doctors should consider objectively. Please humor me for about two minutes reading time while we touch on new compensation/reimbursement, enhancing patient satisfaction and improving compliance and clinical outcomes.

First, both doctors and patients are well acquainted with digital communications. Internet access, email communications, smartphones and mobile devices are now mainstream in society.

OK… mainstream isn’t 100 percent, but as a group, physicians are already heavy users in the digital world, and a growing slice of consumers (including patients) are also. The trouble is that with rare exception, doctors and patients don’t communicate with each other by email.

Now consider this: As many as nine out of 10 adults (93 percent) want email communications with their doctor, and would likely choose a doctor that offers email communications, according to Catalyst Healthcare Research (CHR).

This is a largely untapped marketing opportunity. I’d like to think that entrepreneurial doctors will embrace this concept as an innovative way to differentiate their medical practice from the tone-deaf rest of the pack, and attract new patients in the process.

But, as some would argue, “time is money,” and it seems the American consumer understands that capitalist notion. As it turns out, many patients would also be willing to pay for using this doctor-patient communications channel.

The nationwide CHR What’s Reasonable study looked at patient expectations, focusing on American consumer attitudes when it comes to online versus traditional communication with their healthcare providers. Significantly, of the 93 percent who want doctor email, “one in four said they would still choose that doctor even if there was a $25 fee per episode.”

“It’s not surprising that consumers want digital access to things like test results and making a doctor’s appointment,” reports CHR. “The Internet is quick and convenient and it’s in the best interest of health systems, hospitals, and physician practices to embrace online options for their patients’ healthcare needs. As healthcare changes, it’s crucial that providers stay relevant.”

Improving outcomes…

Another recent survey—this one by Manhattan Research—reports, “Forty percent of physicians say they believe the use of digital technologies to communicate with patients can improve outcomes, and the same percentage say they have increased their use of digital tools in patient care during the past year.”

“The digital technologies include everything from the use of patient portals and emailing and texting with patients to the prescribing of mobile health apps for self-tracking and remote patient monitoring,” reports Medscape Medical News.

Pay-for-value and first-to-market…

“The fee-for-service payment system has been a stumbling block to a wider use of digital technology, noted Reid Blackwelder, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), in an interview with Medscape Medical News. ‘As we move toward a pay-for-value process, that allows us to be paid for the care that we were already providing, and we're likely to do more of that [nonvisit care].’ "

The business side of a provider practice has always been sensitive to (and willing to test) innovative approaches to care delivery that improve the quality of service, increase revenue and reduce operating costs. And being first-to-market is a distinct branding and competitive advantage.

Increasingly entrepreneurial physicians are aware of the marketing and business advantages as they leverage digital technology. Healthcare success has best practice experience in these areas, if you want to chat about what’s next.

Many providers are beginning to embrace patient email access, online appointment scheduling, lab and data access and things beyond the digital not-too-distant horizon. For the physician entrepreneur, the evolution of healthcare delivery is also being shaped by Electronic Medical Records (EMR) adoption, telemedicine/telehealth, wearable devices and health apps.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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