Gone are the days when you’d show up for an appointment and wait maybe 15 minutes before seeing your doctor. Today, specialists are in such high demand and practices face such enormous profitability challenges that long waits are routine. It’s bad enough that you’re sick and need to see a doctor. But to be stuck in the waiting room seems terribly unfair. What this means from a health and wellness perspective is that there’s increasing opportunity to help educate patients and their caregivers about their disease before they even begin the dialogue with their physician.
Turning the waiting room into a learning room
Time spent in waiting rooms can become time well spent learning about a condition and/or treatment—and this means more opportunities for a branded experience to tell a story that comes to life. Many companies are stalled here, using an outdated, prototypical way of communicating with patients in hopes of educating and facilitating their dialogue once they meet with their doctor. This needs to change. There are opportunities to educate by speaking to patients more colloquially and using media that will engage them. The waiting room is the perfect point of contact to bridge the gap between “doctor-speak” and everyday language, and help patients have a more meaningful conversation once they finally do make it through the door.
Education in the waiting room has been thought of before, but the more traditional tools are going out of vogue. Paper brochures in “Take One” holders may not be allowed in many practices. Wall posters are also less relevant. Magazine cover wraps are used on occasion for their media reach, but they have a short-term impact and must compete with the piles of other periodicals in an office. Televisions playing video loops have lower penetration, and some physicians don’t want the disturbance.
Waiting room tools for education
Innovative technologies are bringing newer waiting room resources. These include Phreesia (www.phreesia.com), a registration tablet that can also ask survey questions to prime the patient for a physician discussion. Another mixed media option catching on is “video in print,” where patient-education videos are embedded in a sturdy brochure, educating about potential treatments.
Furthermore, in this age of two-dimensional QR codes, print ads and literature can be supplemented with a Web site link that patients can visit via their mobile phones for more information and resources. They can bring this directly into the doctor’s office, if they wish. The waiting room can also promote apps that patients can engage with to learn more about their disease.
Waiting rooms that measure
How does a healthcare marketer know if these educational resources are having an impact? First, it’s important to carefully specify the goals that one is trying to achieve. These might be:
- improving patient knowledge of conditions and treatment options
- facilitating the doctor-patient dialogue during that precious visit time
- earlier diagnosis of conditions
- impact on treatment decisions
Knowledge and awareness issues can be measured with survey instruments of physician practices, probing on patient awareness and patient-initiated discussions. Methods like Verilogue (www.verilogue.com) are a research tool that gathers insights on the quality of patient-physician discussions.
Diagnostic or treatment impact can be evaluated with pilots and controlled experiments, such as matched geographic markets or targeted offices. A marketer can roll out new therapy-specific educational sources for several months in selected locations, and then measure the impact on referral rates of PCPs to specialists, or even Rx impact with anonymous patient-level data. However, it’s a good idea to do a pro forma in advance to see if the sample size is significant enough.
Wait and see
Patients and their caregivers have learned to accept long waits in waiting rooms because they have no other choice. They get perhaps 20 minutes with their doctors to discuss important—sometimes life-and-death—issues. The time they spend in the waiting room can actually help them navigate this challenge and feel less vulnerable. And a more informed patient and caregiver will increase the chances of arriving at a healthy outcome.
Elizabeth Elfenbein is a partner at The Cement Bloc, where she applies her insights and creativity to building and evolving the full-service consumer health and wellness group. She has more than 20 years of experience directing and producing award-winning communications.
Ira Haimowitz is Executive Vice-President, Analytics, Operations, and Media at The Cement Bloc with 15+ years of experience in leading analytic consulting teams for pharmaceuticals, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, retail, and financial services. Both USA and International experience.