Don’t Leave Your Patients in the Hands of Dr. Google

During a panel discussion at the U.S. News & World Report Healthcare of Tomorrow conference in November 2019, Alexandra Morehouse of Banner Health reported that 85 percent of healthcare visits now start online – that’s 4 out of every 5 visits. 

We in the healthcare industry used to believe that the only time our patients sought health information online was when they’d forgotten our phone number, or they needed to use our online appointment booking tool, or maybe they were just curious about non-life-threatening symptoms. The fact that 1 of every 20 Google searches is health-related—equating to more than 3,000 searches per second!—flies in the face of that belief.  

With excruciatingly long wait times for in-person primary care services and PCP loyalty falling, it’s no wonder patients turn to the internet for health information. As younger generations start to consume more and more healthcare, they will demand an online-first experience.

To be clear, Googling symptoms isn’t inherently bad. A Pew Research study found that almost half of people who searched their symptoms online ultimately made an appointment with a physician, and at least some of the information they found online was accurate and helpful during their appointment.

On the other hand, the number of times patients have searched their symptoms and determined they had cancer or another life-threatening condition is so high, it has led to a condition known as “cyberchondria.” The anxiety associated with a worst-case scenario (mis)diagnosis is often worse than the actual ailment. 

I think we can agree that Google is a fine place to start a search about health issues, but once a patient has done a bit of symptom sleuthing and determined they need medical care from a professional, getting that care must be as easy and convenient as simply typing “abdominal pain” into the search bar.

This is where your care pathway access points come in to play.

A care pathway is every step a patient must make to receive care. Sometimes it happens in one step online via asynchronous telehealth, other times it takes multiple modalities and even multiple providers. 

If your goal is to engage with patients who start their healthcare journey online—which we now have to admit is most of them—you must offer digital tools along with in-person care. Those tools can include online scheduling and prescription refill requests, asynchronous virtual health care that helps deliver treatment or triage patients to the right modality of care, video telehealth options, or interactive maps that direct them to your closest urgent care center. 

Today’s empowered patients are increasingly taking care into their own hands, which means the information they find online informs their next steps. If the steps of your offerings along the care pathway aren’t clear, easy to navigate, or can directly lead to care and treatment, your patients may end their healthcare search at the first Google result. As noted above, that can lead to anxiety, misdiagnosis, and delaying or avoiding care altogether out of fear - cyberchondria is real. That means each of your care modalities must be fully integrated with the others so that information gathered in every visit informs the next one or, in some cases, the escalation to higher-touch modalities.

To learn more about the importance of care pathways and how healthcare systems can employ them to retain current patients and attract new ones, read Bright.md’s latest white paper: Virtual Front Door or Brick Wall: Care Pathways in Healthcare.

Don’t leave patients in the precarious hands of Dr. Google. Offer them easy, online entry points to care from your providers.

 

julia.jpgJulia Millard, VP of Partner Success, Bright.md

With a passion for improving the care experience for patients and providers alike, Julia Millard has helped healthcare systems implement innovative tools and game-changing systems. At Bright.md, Julia combines her expertise in change management, operational excellence, marketing and communications, system workflows, and stakeholder engagement to drive widespread adoption of virtual care programs at healthcare systems across North America.

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