Many patients leave the doctor's office with unanswered questions: survey

How often do patients leave a physician’s office and realize they’ve forgotten to ask questions that they had intended to ask before the visit or even questions that had cropped up during?

About two-thirds, or 66%, according to a new survey by Wolters Kluwer Health. And of that group, 19% come up with new questions for providers after the visit, the survey found.

Providers who offer educational information enhance visits for patients, with 68% of patients saying that they are more likely to return to a provider who offers these materials, according to the survey. While 37% of patients said they’re not currently offered free educational content from providers, 94% said that they’d tap into such material if given the chance.

CITE Research conducted the online survey for Wolters Kluwer last November. The data come from 1,034 adults 18 and older who’d seen a physician within the last year.

“More patients, especially Millennials and Gen Z, now use digital healthcare like telehealth,” a Wolters Kluwer press release said. “Ongoing engagement with providers and the sharing of vigorously vetted patient education content is crucial to ensure all patients can access the best possible care, including outside of traditional face-to-face visits.

Because nearly half (46%) of patients say that receiving educational material would reduce the number of follow-up questions, the survey says this might save time for providers.

Physicians and other providers had a lot on their plates before COVID-19, and the pandemic only made that worse. Over 300,000 healthcare providers left their jobs, partly because of burnout.

Time is money, and answering patient questions after a visit takes time. The Cleveland Clinic last November began billing patients $50 for certain messages that they’d send to their providers through the MyChart patient portal. As Fierce Healthcare reported, Cleveland Clinic levied the charges when its providers have to take more than five minutes to respond to a patient’s question. Patients would not be charged for notes that can be submitted to them quickly, such as messages about scheduling an appointment or questions about prescriptions.

John Hargraves, director of data strategy for the Health Care Cost Institute, an independent claims data research organization, told Fierce Healthcare at the time that billing for physicians’ time in answering patient questions via a portal isn’t a new practice.

“One of the newer things is the transparency in which they’re talking about pricing,” Hargraves said. “If we were looking at years ago, billing for a new service or a change in billing behavior just happened behind the scenes—you didn’t have a press release by a hospital system.”

Jason Burum, vice president and general manager of the healthcare provider segment for clinical effectiveness at Wolters Kluwer, said in the press release that “evidence shows that treatment adherence and outcomes are improved when patients are active participants in their own care, but ready access to evidence-based patient education content between visits is a critical gap in healthcare today.”