Patient Empowerment Part II: The Rise of Patient Choice

 

June 16, 2015

 

In April’s first installment of the Patient Empowerment series, we discussed how increased patient responsibility and widespread use of technology has led to the creation of the new patient-consumer. Part II of this series asks the question: So what?

 

The rise of patient empowerment has given way to a startling amount of autonomy when it comes to healthcare information and decisions; the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 83% of Americans look online to research health and medical information as well as physician providers.

The patient-consumer’s ability and tendency to research both medical information and providers has dramatically altered the traditional pattern of physician referral. Although physician referrals previously accounted for over 51% of patients’ providers source, this number has fallen to about 30% in recent years. Instead, patients choosing a provider on their own has risen from 24% to 60%, with 80% of high margin procedures such as orthopedic surgery sourcing back to patient choice, rather than physician referral.

The following are two primary ways this change in referral pattern has impacted radiologists and the imaging centers and hospitals they serve:

 

Hospital Marketing Spend

As a result of this interrupted referral pattern, hospitals have had to become proactive in both attracting and engaging patient-consumers. According to an article by National Public Radio, hospitals’ spend on marketing and communications doubled between 2000 and 2009. A 2012 study by UBM Medica cites that a bulk of the hospitals’ digital marketing budget is used to improve the hospital’s and its physicians’ rankings on digital search engines.
And this is not surprising, considering, as HP Social Media Solutions’ whitepaper “Social Media in Healthcare” states, “whole sites—RateMDs.com, Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, and others—are dedicated to patient reviews of physicians and hospitals.”

This is crucial as hospitals are becoming increasingly focused on gaining market share and increasing their value. Providing high quality readings and offering subspecialty access such as interventional radiology have become some of the most significant ways radiologists can serve their hospitals and imaging centers. Maintaining a progressive online presence through communication of expanded service offerings and positive patient experience is now a primary way health systems and associated radiologists attract patients and provide added value to their community. A negative presence has the ability to seriously affect a radiologist’s encounter numbers and thus productivity, decreasing his or her value in the eyes of the hospital and/or imaging center.

 

Doctor-Patient Relationships

Widespread use of technology to not only research imaging centers and hospitals but also to check symptoms and seek medical advice has fundamentally changed the way patients interact with their radiologists. In its report titled “Doctor Innovation,” The Economist states: “Many initially saw the spread of medical information on the Internet as a nuisance or even a risk, although most have since come to see it as a way of enriching doctor-patient conversations.” Patient-consumers are no longer receivers of information from physicians, but rather collectors of information from friends, family, websites and social media channels. This therefore grants them a larger, more proactive role in their healthcare decisions.

An article featured in the NY Times last year, “Radiologists Reducing the Pain of Uncertainty,” touches on how this development impacts radiology: “…Patients are more and more insistent on knowing how and why doctors make decisions about their care. And more and more medical centers and doctors’ offices are allowing patients to log on and see their medical records, which can include reports on scans.” The article continues to explain initiatives taken by both the Radiological Society of North America and the American College of Radiology to demonstrate “how some radiologists have successfully managed to communicate with patients and by letting radiologists know this is something patients want.”

With the patient-consumer becoming increasingly accustomed to direct access to medical information and records online, radiologists are finding a greater need to adapt to this trend, developing positive relationships with patients built on trust and open communication.

 

In the third and final installment of the Patient Empowerment series next month, we will outline what steps radiology groups and imaging centers can take to proactively engage these patient-consumers and capitalize upon this new industry trend.