Survey: Patients want different digital tools from their MDs than they're getting

By Jonah Comstock
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TechnologyAdvicePatients are increasingly looking at what digital services physicians provide when choosing a doctor, and they're finding themselves disappointed in what they see, according to a new survey from TechnologyAdvice. The research group found that while 62.6 percent of physicians offered some kind of digital services, two of the top three most requested services -- online appointment scheduling and online bill pay -- were each offered by less than 20 percent of physicians.

TechnologyAdvice surveyed 406 adults in an online survey. They found that 60.8 percent percent of patients rated the availability of digital services as "important" or "somewhat important" to their choice of provider.

The survey respondents were asked about online test results or diagnoses, secure messaging outside of office hours, online appointment scheduling, online bill pay, a smartphone app for scheduling, or health resources and educational materials. Overall, 64.8 percent of patients wanted their physician to offer one or more of the six digital services, and 62.6 percent said their physician did offer these services. But the disconnect came in the particular services that were requested vs those that were available. 

The top three requested services were online test results (requested by 32.8 percent), online appointment scheduling (29.3 percent) and online bill pay (25.1 percent). Of those, only online test results was widely offered -- 27.8 percent of patients said their doctors offered it, while only 17.7 percent of patients reported that their physician offered online bill pay and 19.7 percent reported being able to schedule appointments online.

TechnologyAdvice adds that this could be a result of doctors not offering the services, or they might offer them but fail to make their patients aware of the tools available. Other requested tools broke down along demographic lines.

"Smartphone apps for appointment scheduling, while the second least requested feature overall, ranked highly among younger and middle-aged respondents," the study says. "Smartphone apps were the most requested feature among 18-24 year olds (48.4 percent said they wished their physician offered one), and were the second most requested feature among 25-34 and 35-44 year olds. Only 3.8 percent of respondents 65 and older, however, said they would like their physician to offer a smartphone app."

The report points out that one of the least requested services, educational materials or additional health resources, was also one of the most provided, which suggests doctors are not in touch with their patients' digital needs.

In general, patients wanted their doctor to follow up with them after an appointment:  68.6 percent of respondents said it was “somewhat important” or “very important” for a physician to follow up with them after an appointment, about something other than payment. However, only 30 percent reported getting that kind of attention from their provider.