Hearing patients loud and clear: How grasping communication preferences builds trust & loyalty

Delivering a remarkable patient experience is a top priority for providers.

When it comes to engagement, however, patient preferences can be surprising. Understanding preferences is the foundation for driving the experiences each patient craves.

Every few years, RevSpring surveys approximately 1,000 U.S. patients to better understand how they are interacting with their healthcare providers, what they prefer and where opportunities exist for improvement. The participants represent a broad range of demographic characteristics and have participated in routine provider visits, specialty visits and hospitalizations. The scope of this year's survey covered the full patient experience.

To learn about the survey results and relevant insights for providers, Becker's Healthcare spoke with two experts from RevSpring: Kristen Jacobsen, vice president of marketing and product management, and Kyle Brandt, product marketing specialist. Here are some of their thoughts.

Communication plays a central role in patient trust and loyalty

The link between listening to patients and patient trust can't be ignored. Eighty-one percent of survey participants agreed they are more likely to trust a provider that communicates through the patient's preferred channels. 

"Paying attention to patient preferences is a no-brainer," Mr. Brandt said. "Equally important is making sure that patients know you are listening to and following through on their desires." 

In addition to understanding patient communication preferences, providers must communicate in personalized, consistent ways — as highlighted in the survey findings that 83 percent of patients expect or value personalization and 90 percent expect or value consistency. Ms. Jacobsen noted how these percentages are virtually unchanged from RevSpring's first patient survey.

Consistency in provider communications can be challenging as there are multiple silos of patient interactions, ranging from appointment reminders to marketing messages, billing notices and more. Yet, patients think about all provider communications as facets of one branded experience. 

Nearly all patients (90 percent) said they are likely to change providers if they have a poor communication experience before receiving care. The percentage of patients who would abandon a provider for a poor billing experience was only slightly lower. This puts pressure on healthcare organizations to ensure they are delivering a positive patient experience. 

In addition to these findings, Ms. Jacobsen highlighted important demographic information to consider about loyalty as it relates to age. She said the survey found younger patients are more apt to look for a new provider if they are disappointed with their experience — backed by the survey's finding that 66 percent have found a new provider in the last six months. 

Print communications aren't dead — especially for billing

There's no question that in healthcare a role still exists for print communications. RevSpring's survey asked participants about six categories of engagement, and print was the second most-preferred channel. In addition, 54 percent of patients surveyed said they preferred print mail for billing statements. "That percentage is lower than when we started the survey, but it's still pretty significant — especially as healthcare organizations and vendors look for more ways to engage with patients via non-print channels, such as email, text, chat or phone," Ms. Jacobsen said. 

Another big surprise was that 40 percent of the youngest patients prefer to receive their bills and statements in printed form. While they still may prefer emails or texts for appointment reminders or other provider interactions, they want a printed statement in the mail.

"What's surprising is the importance of print communications isn't changing faster," Ms. Jacobsen said. "Our default assumption is that the younger generation wants emails or texts, but that's simply not true when you look at the data." 

Three tips for improving the patient experience

Providers can do a few things to proactively address patient experience gaps. The RevSpring survey found that a major "low-hanging fruit" opportunity is digitizing the patient intake process. "Patients want more self-service and a more digital experience," Ms. Jacobsen said, emphasizing that half of survey respondents said they weren't given the option to complete forms digitally prior to care, but they prefer that method. "I think that's one area where there's a big gap between what patients expect and what they are being offered," she said. 

Beyond improved patient satisfaction, digitizing the intake process offers additional benefits. Online forms enable patients to complete paperwork anytime, anywhere, and digital forms drive greater accuracy and efficiency. Known information can be pre-populated for patients and office staff no longer have to transcribe data from paper forms into digital systems, which can be error prone. 

A second best practice is to listen to patients in different ways. The traditional way is to explicitly ask patients what they prefer. With AI and data analytics, however, it's possible to listen in new ways. "If you have an omnichannel communication strategy, look at patient behavior," Ms. Jacobsen said. "That will tell you a lot about the channels they prefer. You can let the data drive the patient experience, even if patients haven't explicitly told you what channel they prefer." 

A third opportunity area is improving self-service options for patients. Across all generations and demographic groups, survey participants want ease and convenience when interacting with healthcare organizations, similar to their experience with other businesses. "Two of the top three reasons that patients were dissatisfied with their [healthcare] experience had to do with self-service — either they couldn't find information or didn't have access to the self-service capabilities they felt they needed," Ms. Jacobsen said. 


A common theme in RevSpring's survey is the need and opportunity for healthcare organizations to build trust with patients through simple actions done efficiently. "Providers need to rethink their communication strategies," Mr. Brandt said. "How often are they reaching out to patients and what channels are they using for that outreach? They may find capabilities gaps and patient awareness gaps that need to be addressed." 

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