by Scott Zimmerman

February 2013 – Nothing can replace quality, personal interactions with your doctor. But technology can make delivering this personal attention, virtually 24/7, as easy as writing a prescription. Physicians are now utilizing engagement communications (education, support and encouragement delivered via technology) to help patients better manage their health. Web-based educational campaigns as well as text message and e-mail reminders for key health habits such as refilling prescriptions, monitoring glucose, checking blood pressure, and scheduling annual exams all fall under the umbrella of engagement communications. This marriage of personal care and high-tech delivery will increase in prevalence in the coming years, as it’s one of the most effective and efficient methods for extending already-strapped healthcare resources to impact large numbers of patients.

Earning Trust through Patient Engagement

A national survey of providers and patients was conducted to get some insight into technology’s potential to help transform patient engagement and health outcomes. Doctors indicated that during clinical or hospital visits, some patients experience social anxiety when discussing their lifestyle choices. A patient may be hesitant to reveal private information out of fear of what their physician may think. Unfortunately, this lack of disclosure can lead to incorrect diagnoses and prescriptions, making the patient’s initial face-to-face visit dangerously counterproductive.

The digital age is providing the tools for the necessary solutions to this challenge. When patients were asked how they felt about office visits in a virtual setting, an astounding 85 percent responded that communications such as email, text messages and voicemails are as helpful, if not even more helpful, than in-person or phone conversations with their healthcare provider.

A recent study found over one-third (34 percent) of U.S. consumers said they would be more honest when talking about their medical needs through an automated call, email or text message than in person with a healthcare provider. Others revealed they would talk more frankly about nutritional habits (28 percent), their fitness regimen (27 percent) or personal vices (18 percent) through digital communication rather than in-person visits.

The study also illustrated that as patients become more involved in their care, feelings of security increase. It found that three in ten U.S. consumers feel that receiving text messages, voicemails or emails that provide patient care between visits would increase feelings of trust in their provider. Of the 66 percent of patients who have received a voicemail, text or email from a healthcare provider, many report a variety of positive outcomes. Fifty-one percent reported feeling more valued as a patient, 35 percent said digital communication improved their opinion of their provider, and 34 percent reported feeling more certain about visiting that healthcare provider again.

Preference Awareness

A critical piece of this puzzle is engaging patients via technology in ways that resonate with them personally. This involves personalized messages as well as paying attention to the patient’s preferences for how they are contacted. Patients can help personalize their own experience by arriving at their appointments knowing how they would like to receive communication (text, email or phone) and in which topics they are most interested (updates, education or alerts). Before they talk with their doctors about participating in between-visit care, patients might consider the following questions:

  • Do I want to receive information via phone call, text, email, or regular mail?
  • How often would I like to receive information?
  • What time of day works best?
  • What kind of information would I like to receive? Appointment reminders? Medication reminders? Disease education? Feedback? Payment reminders?

Once a doctor collects answers to these questions, he or she can make better choices about how to engage and treat patients.

The study revealed that, given the choice between a phone call, voicemail, email and text message, patients would most like to be contacted via email. This is favored method of communication when receiving feedback following initial face-to-face visits with their doctors (59 percent), notices for seasonal health offers such as scheduling flu shots (55 percent), and payment reminders (56 percent).

Creating a Healthy World

Patients want to be involved in their care, but they want and need the tools to stay educated, encouraged and motivated to follow through for their own health. Text messages, phone calls and emails providing this type of support and involvement are exactly what patients want and expect from their doctors.

Increasing these communication efforts will not be easy. Improving the collective health of Americans is driven by forward-thinking healthcare practitioners who understand their involvement is critical to ensuring a healthy future for our world. Many physicians understand that engaging the hearts and minds of patients between office visits is what will help to inspire them to embrace treatment plans. These doctors know personalized and ongoing patient engagement can activate positive lifestyle changes that will help people lead healthy lives.


About the Author

Scott Zimmerman is a regularly published thought leader on engaging patients via ongoing communication between office visits. He is the President of TeleVox Software, Inc., an Engagement Communications company that provides automated voice, email, SMS and web solutions that activate positive patient behaviors by delivering technology with a human touch. Since 1992, TeleVox built communications that break through and activate people to live healthier lives, an approach embraced by 140,000 healthcare providers nationwide. TeleVox’s technology is utilized by physician and dental practices, group health networks, hospitals, managed care organizations, and pharmaceutical companies alike.

Scott spearheads TeleVox’s Healthy World initiative, a program that leverages ethnographic research to uncover, understand and interpret both patient and provider points of view with the end goal of creating a healthier world. As part of Healthy World, TeleVox and Zimmerman deliver research reports that provide healthcare professionals with timely insight for helping patients make healthy changes in their lives, follow treatment plans, and take accountability for improving their personal health.

With twenty years of proven performance in the healthcare industry, Scott Zimmerman possesses domain knowledge in the surgical, interventional, imaging and pharmaceutical arenas. Prior to joining TeleVox, Scott served for nine years at GE Healthcare in a variety of cross-functional and global leadership roles. He is a regularly published authority on utilizing technology to engage and activate patients. He has been quoted in major media such as Fast Company, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. His opinion pieces appear regularly in national healthcare and customer care publications, including Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare Review, Managed Healthcare Executive, ANSWERStat Magazine, Physician’s Practice Magazine, American Medical News, Progressive Orthodontist, Dentistry IQ, 1:1 Magazine and CRM Magazine.


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