“New technologies allowing patients to communicate with healthcare professionals (HCPs) are being marketed to healthcare facilities as efficient and effective forms of communication,” explains Kim E. Alexander, PhD. “Whether patients would prefer to use these technologies in place of more traditional approaches to communication in healthcare has remained unclear. Not understanding patient preferences could create resistance to the use of these technologies, resulting in delayed attempts to seek care or decreased patient satisfaction with service.”

For a paper published in BMC Health Services Research, Dr. Alexander and colleagues aimed to examine patient preference for using technology to communicate with HCPs about symptoms experienced following discharge from the hospital. In the first study of its kind, primary data were collected from patients admitted to a large metropolitan hospital during 3 consecutive months in 2018. Participants (n = 525) were asked about their daily use of technology, including computers, email, phones, text messaging, mobile applications, social media, online discussion forums, and videoconferencing. They were then asked about their use of technology in managing their health and their preferences when communicating with HCPs about post-discharge symptoms.

Patients Want Options for Communicating With HCPs

The study team found that about 60% of patients would prefer to return to the hospital if they experienced symptoms of concern. However, if patients experienced symptoms that were not of concern, more than 60% would prefer to communicate with HCPs via telephone or the use of technology. Patient condition upon admittance, income, and age were significantly associated with communication preferences.

“A key takeaway from this study was that patients want different options for communicating with HCPs,” she says. “This might seem obvious, but when we consider it in light of how healthcare is currently provided and how many facilities still schedule routine face-to-ace follow-up appointments after hospital treatment, this suggests that the majority of patients in our study would not prefer the historical approach to after-treatment care.”

How patients responded when asked to rate their preference for communication depending upon whether they had symptoms of concern was also a key finding, according to Dr. Alexander. “If symptoms were not of concern, most patients preferred a phone call,” she says. “This highlights the importance of pre-discharge education in ensuring that patients know what symptoms they should be concerned about so that they may seek the appropriate level of care. This also reinforces the importance of post-discharge follow-up phone calls in assisting patients in evaluation of their symptoms and taking appropriate next steps (Table).”

Collaboration With Patients

The study findings also indicate a lower preference among patients for using technology compared with face-to-face or a phone call communication with HCPs. “Adopting new technologies without first seeking input from patients may impact their experience and how they ultimately rate your service,” says Dr. Alxander. She notes that patient preferences might change after being given an opportunity to use certain technologies to communicate with their HCP. “Our study showed high rates of technology use by patients, in both everyday activities and for managing their health,” she says. “Health services looking to introduce new technologies to assist patients with symptom management should collaborate with patients to ensure such investments are warranted and adopted. More research involving patients is needed to understand what should be included in technologies to support their communication with HCPs.”