By Chris Edwards, Chief Client and Patient Experience Officer, Conversa Health
Today’s leading organizations know that placing consumer experience at the front and center of what they do is essential to their success. Today, many industries employ tools such as predictive modeling and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to refine the consumer experience. Where has the healthcare industry been? If there is one industry that should be accelerating in a personalized, intimate, relevant experience, it’s healthcare!
Healthcare has lagged behind most industries in its ability to deliver continuous consumer-centered experiences—much of this has been episodic and one-way. But the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some of the consumer-centric trends that had previously been set in motion. “Harder-to-imagine ideas about the ways in which consumers will engage in their health in the future proved to be realistic by the changes forced on the system by the pandemic,” wrote David Betts, Shane Giuliani and Leslie Korenda in “Are Consumers Already Living the Future of Health?” (Deloitte Insights). “The public health crisis has called on the system to provide consumers access to care from home, and in some ways, encourage consumers to have more agency in making decisions about their health. We anticipate that as the crisis abates, consumers will continue to expect the conveniences and tools to which they have become accustomed during this time.”
In healthcare, a term that has been around for some time is being used again to talk about overcoming the structural and operational challenges healthcare faces in being consumer-centric. That term is systemness, which healthcare management consultant Alan M. Zuckerman, in “Systemness: The Next Frontier for Integrated Health Delivery” (Becker’s Hospital Review), said was being “increasingly used to describe the desired future state of complex healthcare delivery systems—delivering patient-focused, seamless and high-quality care across the many parts of the system to maximize value for consumers.” Zuckerman described multiple steps in this journey toward “the highest level of integrated delivery.” A relentless focus on the consumer experience will make this systemness a reality.
What Consumers Are Demanding
Just think about your own experience with the healthcare system. Does it deliver the high touch, insights, and “human value exchange” that you get when you interact with other industries like retail, travel or finance?
The authors of the Deloitte article revealed the findings of consumer surveys conducted both right before and during the pandemic. Their findings included: While consumers have been understandably unnerved by this crisis, they are asserting more control of their own health than ever before and becoming more willing to share their information. They also are more likely to tell their doctors they disagree with them, use online and other tools to get information on health issues and costs, monitor their own conditions, and participate in virtual visits.
Trust in a clinician was seen as the key to “an ideal healthcare experience,” the first survey found. Consumers want someone who listens to them, communicates clearly and doesn’t rush them. Along with trust, they want to feel human connectedness, relatability, empathy, and reliability. These principles are closely related. To completely trust you, today’s consumers seem to be saying, “I have to feel that we have a connection, some common ground, and that you understand me, relate to my situation, and actually care about me. Only then do I feel that I can fully rely on you to help me make decisions that could have a major impact on my well-being.”
In other words: If you really care, show me that you know me.
That’s increasingly important as we search for this next “new normal.” In the words of the Deloitte authors, “During this time of great uncertainty for consumers, healthcare organizations should recommit themselves to understanding consumers and creating a multifaceted strategy that speaks to where consumers are right now.”
So, how well do you know me, your consumer? Am I repeatedly asked to provide the same information that should already be in your system where it can be easily accessed? Is your organization distanced and disconnected by silos that prevent the sharing of this information—and the valuable (and potentially lifesaving) insights that might be generated by such sharing? How about other providers and payers who are outside your organization but involved in my care: Do they have access to my information, and are they sharing their data with you? Do you provide me with access to intelligent patient engagement tools and other conveniences that make my healthcare experience as seamless and hassle-free as possible?
Here are three things that I, as a healthcare consumer in the age of COVID-19 and beyond, demand and expect:
- Anywhere care. Gone are the days when I should be expected to physically carry my healthcare records around with me, and even worry if my electronic record will easily get from one doctor’s office to the next. I also want easy access to educational resources and insights so I can make informed decisions about my own health. And because office visits can sometimes be a major inconvenience amid my busy schedule, if you can remotely diagnose my problem or answer my questions, then that is the way to go.
- Connected care. As the past year has demonstrated, we have so many ways of being connected without being in the same room. We can be connected through our devices, through the sharing of data, and through activities such as telemedicine video visits. Combining technology with knowledge and compassion allows us to transcend physical and geographical limitations.
- Conversational care. If you know me, then my care should be personalized and conversational—even as the industry grapples with nurse and doctor shortages. The virtual health assistant is a vital solution because it allows care to be delivered at the right time, with the right message to the right person. Automated Virtual Care technologies allow better allocation of care team resources and, when used appropriately, can engage in automated conversation based on accurate, up-to-date, shared information, enhancing the physician-patient relationship and, thus, the consumer experience.
We’re still seeing the fulfillment of many of the trends identified by author and futurist John Naisbitt in his groundbreaking 1982 bestseller, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. Nearly 40 years after the book’s publication, we are still working to perfect the balance of high tech/high touch that he pinpointed: “We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of human nature.”
Perhaps there’s no more important area for this concept to be fully embraced than in healthcare. We have the technology, but we still have work to do to fully integrate it with the human side of the equation. As Conversa Health CEO Murray Brozinsky suggested during a webinar last December, letting automation handle routine, standard tasks will free up providers to “practice at the top of their license”—employing the type of high-touch, person-to-person care that is needed in certain cases.
How to Get Going
Many healthcare organizations have been making progress with consumer experience design and thinking. It clearly is both an art and a science, and there is plenty that we in healthcare can learn from our peers in other fields. Here are a few thoughts as you embark on your own healthcare consumer experience initiatives:
- Expand your thinking. As healthcare innovators delve deeper into the consumer experience mindset, they are starting to use terms like retention and loyalty—terms that have been integral to the business lexicon for decades but not so much in healthcare. But as consumers continue to seize more control of their own health, they are realizing that they have options. Loyalty is not a right; it must be earned by nurturing lifelong relationships based on trust and sharing. Dive deep into what drives this relationship that creates a meaningful exchange of value: If I’m going to share my personal information with you, you’ll have to share your insights and processes with me in the service of transparency.
- Cross-functionality is key. Silos will slow you down. Create a cross-functional team committed to providing the best consumer experience possible. Along every step of the consumer/patient journey—from scheduling and admissions to clinical care and follow-up to billing and consumer service—my experience must be seamless.
- Start … just start. As I’ve said, the technology is there, and the data is there. Organizations are already mapping out consumer journeys, collecting and analyzing data along the way. Think about the data that your organization is already capturing, then begin focusing on key use cases that can drive quick value. Customer experience organizations have a unique opportunity through the use of data-driven, behavioral science and predictive analytics to tie their consumer experience strategies to tangible business value.
Not only is the time now—but if you really care about your customers, show them you know them!
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