Since human beings have started living together in a society, medical care has been an integral part of our lives. Medical care and services have been gradually organized over the last many centuries. However, during the last fifty years, we have been witnessing ever-increasing changes in the behaviour of patients while seeking medical advice. The two biggest factors responsible for these changes have been advancing communication channels and evolving modes of transportation.
Traditionally, patients used to reach out to the nearest healthcare services facility in order to get their medical condition addressed. Medical care was spread out and lack of communication channels meant very little awareness among the patients. Unless the medical condition was critical, nearest healthcare facility was able to meet the basic requirements. In case of critical conditions, patients were referred to the next nearest and better equipped medical facility.
In 1990’s, as the communication channels and awareness improved, ‘word of mouth’ became the norm amongst patients when they needed medical advice. ‘Word of mouth’ refers to sharing of information and experiences by people openly within the community, where members talk about quality of medical services as well as outcomes of medical treatment. ‘Word of mouth’ led to spread of information among the residents of a society, thereby creating more awareness and transferring decision making powers to patients while taking critical decisions about their own health.
‘Word of mouth’ rapidly became the norm for patients while evaluating the quality of treatment and quality of experience. Communication through telephones and mobile phones made it easy for patients to call up friends and relatives to enquire about the standards of a particular healthcare facility, and especially, while evaluating the skills of healthcare providers based on experiences. Travel was becoming easier with each passing year, which further contributed to the popularity and expansion of ‘word of mouth’ phenomenon.
Then came the internet. Ease of information access, driven by internet and most widely used search engine Google, again changed the patient behaviour in 2010’s. Increasingly, patients started going online to learn more about their medical condition as well as to search about the reputation of healthcare facility and experience of other patients in using those services.
Distance was no longer a constraint and patients were willing to travel in order to get the best possible treatment. Online research and background check gave patients satisfaction that they are headed at the right place and that chances of getting a positive outcome in their treatment are more.
Today, we are again seeing a major shift in patient behaviour while seeking medical advice. Smartphone penetration in India has made it every easy for patients to access information. Checking the details of medical facility, skills of doctors, convenient time slots and fees on the internet is more of a rule than exception these days as it helps to build faith even before seeking medical advice.
Travelling is easy and comparatively cheaper today, though the time spent in traffic has been permanently effecting patient behaviour in another direction. Patients are willing to travel hundreds of kilometres or spend hours in traffic, if they are sure about getting the best possible medical services and care. ‘Word of mouth’ phenomenon has evolved further on internet and people now share their experiences online so that the entire community of online users are benefited. To optimize their efforts and convenience under these circumstances, patients rigorously search and study available information online.
Healthcare providers have not been able to keep up the pace of sharing basic information about healthcare facilities in the digital world. Lack of accurate information causes dissatisfaction among patients and makes it difficult for them to develop trust while seeking information in today’s digital era.
With the new modes of information and experience sharing in the coming years, doctor-patient relationship would change like never before. ‘Convenience’ would be a major addition in the must-have list of patients during their process of seeking medical advice and treatment.
Lifestyle choices are liable to change with times. Communication channels and modes of transportation would continue to impact the delivery and quality of healthcare services. When we look ahead, instant accessibility, accurate information and convenience would not only drive decisions but also strengthen doctor-patient relationship in disease treatment and preventive healthcare.