Every now and then we come up against the argument that “you cannot use email for contacting patients about feedback”.

We tend to hear this immediately following a story of an elderly relative who once refused to look at a smart phone – though it is still a valid point.

As a result of this, I often see providers reverting to a paper-first approach to collecting patient feedback. Paper that needs to be printed and put out in reception or posted to patients in the mail. Paper that patients have to physically hand back to those involved in their care or find a post office box for the reply-paid envelope. Paper that has to be compiled into spreadsheets or databases – not in real-time – all before staff can even see the feedback.

Because patients just don’t use email. Right?

Times have changed.

The internet, as you and I know it, was born in 1989. The first website went up in 1990. Consumer email was available soon after and the exponential rise of smart phone adoption isn’t slowing down. Every day the world becomes more digitally connected.

Just the other week I was challenged by that objection – “Email? Our patients don’t use email – especially the elderly!”. So this time I did a little digging into our own experience and analysed the email response rates of patients in the national New Zealand Primary Care Patient Experience programme.

Age Invited by Email Completed by Email Email Response Rate
15 – 24 39,756 3,768 9%
25 – 44 104,562 14,701 14%
45-64 122,003 27,385 22%
65 – 74 60,665 20,338 34%
75 – 84 30,001 10,021 33%
85+ 6,680 1,679 25%

The data speaks for itself.

Now of course you could argue that what works in New Zealand isn’t necessarily going to work in your country. And you could be right. But just look at the countless studies on our digital behaviour. Look at the internet usage research for your country and look at the growth in smart phone connectivity.

Tell me what you find. I would challenge that there isn’t a developed country today that shouldn’t be using email in some part to collect patient feedback.

Ultimately if your patient feedback programme is meant to be truly transformational, you must first give every patient the opportunity to provide feedback. You have to make it easy for patients to respond, and you shouldn’t be waiting for feedback to arrive a couple of months later. Your staff should be empowered to see feedback in real-time from their own patients and be able to act on that feedback.

“Because health care is not truly great unless the patient thinks it is”. *

Straightforward stuff, if you ask me.

* A. Lorris Betz, MD, PhD – Senior Vice President, University Health Sciences & Interim Executive Dean, School of Medicine, University of Utah

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