While booking a medical appointment for our dog recently at a large veterinary practice, I held out for a time with a doctor who’d seen the dog before, reasoning that the vet knew her background and my dog might recognize the doctor. The two had, I guessed, a relationship.
Patients tend to think about their relationships with medical professionals at this time of year, whether that looks like Medicare Advantage members checking to see if the care providers are still part of a plan, workers signing up for employer-sponsored insurance or people looking for coverage through the marketplace.
Trust is integral to healthcare, and having some sort of bond with the medical professionals you see most frequently helps that process.
But with so much changing in healthcare, I wonder what those relationships will start to look like, whether they are diminishing and really, how much different the entire experience will be as technology takes over more processes. Add to that the fact that primary care physicians—the doctors most patients had that bond with—are declining in number, leaving many communities without access to basic care, much less a relationship with a local doctor.
I’ve talked about the issue of patient relationships with CEOs of several large industry players recently, and it seems they’re thinking about it too. A patient not knowing who they’re dealing with only raises their anxiety, and no amount of marketing to breed loyalty to a system will fix that by itself, one executive told me.
And then there’s the rapidly changing technology. Some CEOs see a time when artificial intelligence will handle not only the administrative tasks but the diagnostic work, and then build a care plan. At that point, a human would step in. That would be the opposite of what goes on now, and seems like more of a relationship with the technician than the doctor.
At a time when there seems to be, at least from what executives say, a general realization that healthcare is becoming more consumer-centric, some of the industry’s trends seem to run counter to the need to maintain patient relationships. There aren’t easy answers to meld it all together, but I’d suggest the industry involve the community early on to find the best path forward.