Posted: 04 Apr. 2019 6 min. read

Our parents might be ready for virtual visits, but some hospitals aren’t quite there

By Urvi Shah, senior manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

My mom is getting ready for her second knee replacement and is beginning to receive text messages from her care team. Not long after her first knee surgery a year ago, she discovered that her health system offered a patient portal, which she figured out how to navigate with her phone. While my parents are retired, they like to stay current on technology for their personal lives. In a blog last fall, my colleague Claudia Douglass said her mom goes out of her way to avoid technology. This contrast illustrates why health care organizations should look past someone’s age when considering how to effectively connect with them. If health plans, hospitals, physicians, and life sciences organizations understand the attitudes and behaviors of their customers, they can be better positioned to engage them and attract new ones. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions conducted a survey of 4,530 adults to gain a better understanding of how consumers navigate with the health care system. A segmentation analysis of this data categorized individuals into four groups:

  • Trailblazer (young, tech-savvy, high income, willing to share data)
  • Prospector (busy, open to technology, rely on recommendations from friends/family)
  • Bystander (older, low-income, tech resistant, poor health, complacent)
  • Homesteaders (cautious, older, values convenience, unlikely to share health data)

Segmenting health consumers based on their responses to behavioral questions—rather than looking solely at demographic data—allowed our researchers to create a deeper understanding of what motivates various types of consumers.

My mom seems to align pretty well with the Homesteader category, but not entirely. She definitely possesses some Trailblazer and Prospector traits, too. Unlike other Homesteaders, my mom is pretty comfortable with technology and would have no problem sharing personal health information with a physician or other organization.

Patient portals can give consumers control over their health

Most of us have grown accustomed to using apps for shopping, booking travel, and managing finances. We expect a similar experience when it comes to managing our health. Simplifying common activities—such as scheduling appointments, accessing personal health information, refilling prescriptions, and managing appointments—can enhance the patient experience.

About a month before my mom was scheduled to have her first knee replacement, the hospital mailed her a packet of information—including details about the health portal, and an option of receiving automated text messages from her care team. She is pretty proficient at texting, and was able to ask questions and text responses back to the care team. In the days leading up to surgery, she received messages to help her prepare. The week before the surgery, she received a text that told her to stop taking certain prescription drugs. Two days later, she received a reminder to start using a special antibacterial body wash. After the procedure, she received digital nudges to take her post-op antibiotics and to schedule physical therapy and videos of different exercises that could be helpful. Through the portal, she can also see her test results and keep track of upcoming appointments.

Several months after the surgery, my mom still hadn’t received a bill from the hospital. The billing office didn’t have any answers, and my parents began to worry about what they would owe. While exploring the portal, my mom stumbled upon an area that detailed costs, Medicare’s responsibility, and what she owed. Health systems should consider training their staff to tell patients about the portal during admission or at checkout. This could help reduce calls to the billing department and improve patient satisfaction. It also could lead to prompter payments.

As health care stakeholders develop apps, they should be cognizant that consumers now have access to thousands of apps. Stakeholders should look for opportunities to partner with each other to consolidate these solutions for a truly consumer-centric experience.

Virtual visits can boost patient satisfaction

Virtual visits are becoming more common and are increasingly being covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial health plans. But not all physicians and hospitals offer them. Our consumer survey found that more than half of people who had participated in a virtual visit thought the participating health professional was just as knowledgeable as someone they would see in person.1 About a third of them said they got the information they needed through the virtual visit.

My mom was a bit frustrated that her experience at the hospital has not kept pace with other consumer-centered industries…or with other hospitals in her area. Instead of conducting her follow-up visits virtually, she and my dad had to jump on the freeway, drive in traffic, and navigate a complex parking garage for short appointments with a variety of specialists. Most of these visits would have been just as effective if conducted via phone or video–saving them time and parking expenses. The health system they chose, however, touted some of the best outcomes in the area, and that was worth it for them. Almost a year has passed since her last surgery, so we are hoping virtual follow-up visits might be an option this time.

Three tips for connecting to a Homesteader

According to our analysis, Homesteaders make decisions based largely on convenience (e.g., location and hours/access). While they might not do much on their own to maintain wellness or prevent illness, they tend to be high users of primary care visits. Here are three tips health systems, hospitals, and care teams should consider when engaging with this segment:

  1. Offer convenient appointments or virtual visits. Health systems and physicians can make accessing health care more convenient for Homesteaders by offering off-hour appointments (for example, evening or early morning hours on certain days). They also should make virtual visits an option for certain types of appointments.
  2. Collaborate with patients on treatment options. Rather than telling consumers what to do, clinicians and other caregivers should engage them in shared decision-making on treatment options and strategies to improve healthy behaviors. Homesteaders can become overwhelmed by or confused about how to manage a chronic condition. Help patients stay connected to the care team by encouraging text messages, emails or phone calls.
  3. Help patients understand and engage with technology. The Homesteader often wants a human connection, but is not completely opposed to using technology. A nurse or clinician, for example, could take five minutes at the end of an appointment to help set up a virtual health visit instead of expecting the patient to do it on their own. The clinician can also help manage expectations if the patient is not experienced with virtual visits or has some reservations.

As technology becomes more integrated across all consumer segments, my mom, and other Homesteaders, are likely to grow more comfortable with the security that ensures their data is kept private.

Certain consumer segments tend to be less inclined to use virtual and digital tools at the outset. However, once they receive the proper coaching, and if the benefits are clearly communicated, they are often willing to give it a try. After my mom’s next surgery, she plans to ask about virtual visit options for her follow-up appointments.


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