There Are No Simple Answers When You Try to Personalize Healthcare Communication

Earlier this month, Brian Norris (@Geek_Nurse), a registered nurse and informaticist who also has an MBA (when has this mix ever occurred?) asked the question on Twitter “Which would you rather receive post having labs drawn as a patient?” His options were: A call, email, text, or Leave Me Alone. While not scientific in anyway, the poll did have a good response and the results below were quite interesting:

The results of this poll highlighted that everyone has different preferences. In fact, if you look over the comments in reply to the poll, you’ll realize that many hated the poll because they would want different modalities based on the specific situation. Personalizing healthcare communication gets really complex really quickly.

The good news is there are healthcare companies that are working towards this kind of personalization. My friends at CareCognitics (I’m an advisor to the company) are doing detailed tracking of each patient’s communication preferences so they can customize which communication platform is used, but also what time is best to communicate and much more.

Another great example of this is the ways Stericycle Communication Solutions allows patients to communicate across a wide variety of platforms from text to humans. That’s right, they have actual humans who talk to you. Eventually, our systems might get good enough that a human discussion isn’t needed, but as the poll above shows, there’s still a desire for phone discussions with patients. Depends on the situation of course since many would argue that a phone call is the worst experience when a text could have accomplished the same thing. Many long-time readers will remember a post by Jim Higgins from Solutionreach that highlights the gap between the communication patients want and what practices offer. A call when a text is sufficient is a bad patient experience. A text when a call is needed is a bad patient experience.

Of course, we also see outside of healthcare where we can experience communication overload. When I do a payment on Paypal, I get an email notification, a Paypal app notification, and a notification from my bank. Another example that might be more familiar to you is an Amazon shipment. They send me an email and a text and an app notice. That’s a bit of overkill no?

Over communication is generally better, but not always. When I’m receiving a package from Amazon, then a few extra messages might just get me more excited for the package to arrive. Even the extra notifications from Paypal are good since I’m afraid of some sort of identity theft. However, if it’s a bad lab result, do I want to be reminded of it 3 times? Definitely not.

What does all of this mean? Healthcare communication is hard work and it’s almost impossible to get perfect. However, we can do better than we do today. The key is to provide the patient multiple avenues of communication. Until the systems start learning about patient’s preferences, ask the patient and let them adjust their preferences over time as they learn what works for them and what doesn’t. Learn from communication mistakes that happen, but make sure you keep the mistakes in perspective. One bad communication doesn’t mean you should necessarily stop the thousands of good communications.

Stericycle Communication Solutions and Solutionreach are both Healthcare Scene sponsors.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.