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Consumer-centric Digital Experience in Healthcare

Healthcare Consumer - patient experience

“Consumer-centric experience” has become a buzzword in healthcare circles. Working with healthcare organizations across the country, I hear from leadership over and over again: I want to create the Amazon experience!

They feel the threat of Amazon and other retail giants moving into their space, and they want to fight back. The problem: While there’s much healthcare can learn from retail, there’s also a lot in retail that doesn’t work in healthcare. Health systems are stuck with cost structures that are in many ways out of their hands. They have much bigger privacy concerns. They deal with life-or-death situations. They’re highly regulated. And so much more.

So what can healthcare learn from retail about building a “consumer-centric experience”? And how can marketing build toward it?

The key to building a consumer-centric experience in healthcare is to consider these three principles:

  • Ease
  • Stickiness
  • Pervasiveness

Consumer-centric principle #1: Ease

The concept behind “ease” is that the user is seamlessly and efficiently transported from touchpoint to touchpoint. It’s a frictionless journey, and it saves time.

Health systems that build ease address the fact that healthcare is immensely confusing. Patients don’t know who they need to see, how often, how to schedule, how to get there, what follow-ups are needed, and so on.

Health systems can build ease by:

  • Providing text and email messaging throughout the patient journey to help guide patients and eliminate confusion.
  • Proactively helping patients schedule needed appointments and follow-ups.
  • Knowing when patients miss an appointment and helping them quickly reschedule.
  • And so much more.

Imagine this frictionless journey:

  • Gina hurts her ankle and doesn’t know what to do.
  • On the website, Gina finds a symptom checker that advises Urgent Care, shares the nearest location and provides online scheduling. After scheduling, Gina gets an email confirmation with directions.
  • Gina doesn’t have a primary care provider, but after Urgent Care, she gets an email on the benefits of primary care with CTAs to find a doctor. She ignores the first one, but responds to later emails and schedules online. Her confirmation email has a calendar link. She later gets text reminders with directions. Primary care messaging stops.
  • Gina is an avid runner and has a family history of breast cancer. Her primary care provider adds her to the sports medicine and early mammogram lists in the EMR, which connects to the CRM and CMS.
  • Gina starts receiving mammogram reminders at age 35 and gets bi-monthly emails on those topics. When she visits the website, she’ll find call-outs focused on these topics.
  • Gina gets a painful knee injury. She wonders if she needs to see a physical therapist, but remembers those emails. The CTA was for sports medicine. She books an appointment online.
  • Gina visits sports medicine. Diagnosis is osteoarthritis. They have a conversation about knee replacement and Gina is added to a joint replacement list. Gina receives nurture emails, first around management, then progressing toward a focus on surgery. CTA: When pain is too much, our surgeons can help. 
  • Primary care and sports medicine doctors have prompts at each appointment to check in on pain and remind Gina of knee replacement options. They ask her if she finds the emails helpful. They talk about the content.
  • Two years later, Gina mentions she’s ready to talk to a surgeon. Her primary care doctor puts in the order, and Gina is called the next day to schedule. After joint replacement, the clinical coordinator helps Gina choose and schedule a physical therapist within network. The seamless journey continues.

That is the essence of ease. Gina never wonders what next step to take. She’s informed, but she isn’t barraged with pushy notifications.

Building ease in a health system requires things like:

  • Personas and journey maps
  • CRM-CMS-EMR integration
  • Web personalization
  • Multivariate testing
  • Reputation management

It’s the Google experience.

Consumer-centric principle #2: Stickiness

The idea behind “stickiness” is that the user enjoys the brand experience so much, they feel a sense of belonging and loyalty. In healthcare, patients often feel loyalty toward specific doctors, nurses or other staff. But it’s rare that they feel a true affinity to the health system. Why is that? Because healthcare today is emotionally draining!

Patients struggle to understand:

  • What doctor do I need to see?
  • What forms do I need to fill out?
  • How do I get to where I need to go?
  • What are all of these medications for?
  • And so on…

Building “stickiness” into the digital experience

Health systems that create “stickiness” do things like build gamification into programs and maximize social media tools. They infuse an appropriate level of entertainment value into the healthcare process and make the patient feel more connected.

These systems use portals or content hubs that allow the user to interact with the brand, or provide forms that are just a bit more enjoyable than usual. Because they want to build a truly engaging experience.

They also provide personalization. When a user arrives at their site or their app, the health system knows who they are and understands their preferences. Consider loyalty programs or your favorite video game. Or even Fitbit, which knows who you are and shares with your personally-built community. These are the essence of stickiness.

Building stickiness in a health system requires things like:

  • Personas
  • Personalization
  • Strong design
  • CRM

It’s the social media or TurboTax experience.

Consumer-centric principle #3: Pervasiveness

With “pervasiveness,” the user can access information anywhere, anytime, from any device. It’s information on the go!

For healthcare consumers, pervasiveness means:

  • Providing information in whatever format works best for the user at any given moment.
  • Facilitating access to information by ensuring all content and appointments are understood across devices.
  • Using AI to transform the patient experience. AI can help build an understanding of user intent in conversations with Alexa and chatbots.
  • Building connectivity beyond laptops and smartphones.
  • Being able to leave feedback in any channel, and the organization will respond.

Building a healthcare consumer-centric experience for the future

Much about pervasiveness is future-forward. As new devices emerge, health systems need to consider how patient preferences for receiving information will change – such as patients who may want to get their information from voice assistants instead of their desktop devices.

When you tie pervasiveness with stickiness, you get health systems and health plans that connect with consumers through engagement platforms, collecting data from wearables and offering rewards or premium discounts for progress. Or providers who track a patient’s activity from hospital to home to help guide them to recovery.

With the growth of “pervasiveness” in healthcare, digital trust becomes increasingly important. As data security risks increase, so do opportunities to earn consumer trust.

Building pervasiveness in a health system requires things like:

  • Content structured for different devices
  • Strong data hygiene and security
  • CRM for appointment reminders and notifications
  • Voice assistant skills
  • AI to build understanding of intent over time

It’s the news, weather, and music experience.

Which parts of the consumer-centric experience are you building in your health system?

Are you or other leaders in your health system looking to build the “Amazon experience”? If so, consider which aspects of that experience are truly applicable to healthcare. And look to build the key consumer-centric components – ease, stickiness and pervasiveness – into your digital systems.

  • Which ones do you feel you are closest to having in place?
  • And where do you have the most room to grow?

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Linda Watts

Linda is a healthcare digital strategy leader with 20 years of progressive experience in guiding diverse health system teams to develop and execute digital experiences and infrastructures. She is passionate about improving healthcare consumer experience, while also ensuring business ROI, to help health systems expand on their broader missions to improve their communities' health and well-being.

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