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How Can Online Patient Communication Improve Your Medical Practice?

Online patient communication comes with its share of benefits and challenges. Read more for a closer look at engaging patients online.

The telehealth surge in the wake of COVID-19 is only the latest development in the ongoing digital revolution in healthcare. Another key piece of that revolution — and one that has also become more important than ever — is online patient communication.

If you want your practice to become part of this new wave of healthcare provision, learn how digital communication tools can improve patient and practice outcomes. Here’s where to start.

Know Your Goals

Physicians and healthcare organizations can use digital communication platforms to benefit their patients in various ways, and a smart first step is articulating your goals.

Awareness and Education

Digital communication can be used to raise awareness and educate the general population. With new medications, technologies and treatments emerging almost daily, you can help keep your patients up to date. It’s also a tool to combat misinformation, such as that surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital communication can also keep people informed of breakthroughs, advisories and other important pandemic information as the medical community learns more about the virus.

Practice Growth

While many physicians may feel unequipped or too busy to create websites for their practices or build their online brands, patients are likely to turn to Google, online reviews or social communities to find a new doctor. With an online presence, you have a better shot at attracting new patients and building your practice.

Patient Engagement

With a web presence, you can also engage and retain your existing patients, particularly if you have tools that allow them to pay their bills, make appointments or access a patient portal. These portals allow your patients to view important information like lab results, current prescription lists and future appointments. This can increase both engagement and adherence, improving overall patient outcomes and satisfaction with your practice.

Know the Platforms

Some healthcare professionals may be reluctant to try online patient communication because they’re intimidated by the plethora of options available to them. Narrow down your options based on your goals.

If you want to grow your business and patient base, for example, look into how to place targeted digital ads for your practice on search engines when patients conduct local searches.

On the other hand, if your purpose is to create or develop your profile for the public, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are valuable. You can use these platforms to communicate with patients in real time. Because your patients are already choosing to spend their time there, social media sites are also a great way to spread evidence-based information and research.

As a foundation for your online patient communication efforts, your own website is key. With a website, not only can you share information with your existing patient base, but you can also control the online image you put out to the world, from your background and skills to your personality and values.

Know the Challenges

As with any new tool or way of doing business, however, online patient communication comes with challenges.

One of these is the struggle to “build your brand” and develop a strong digital presence. Whether you’re creating and maintaining a website or cultivating an online persona, expect to put some serious time and effort into both strategy and upkeep. These initiatives also cost money, so you’ll need to budget for projects like building a website or placing digital ads. There may be stress, too: When you put yourself out there on social media, for example, you open yourself up to criticism and tricky interactions.

Communicating with patients through online portals can also potentially damage the clinician-patient relationship, notes PatientEngagementHIT. While patient portals are popular, access to clinicians’ notes and raw lab results can leave patients confused, worried or even offended — for example by commentary on weight, noncompliance with medication regimens or unhealthy activities like smoking.

Any new technology brings potential drawbacks. But setting a clear goal ahead of time can help you choose the right platform for your clinic. Online patient communication tools are the wave of the future, and when they’re used correctly, they can greatly benefit your practice.

Brian Wu, MD, PhD

Brian Wu, MD, PhD

Dr. Brian Wu is an MD/PhD graduate from Keck school of medicine USC and is a current psychiatry resident. He has been freelance writing for over 7 years and has worked with brands such as LA Times, Healthline, Medical News Today, and more. He loves taking medical and health information and making it compelling and interesting for the lay reader.

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