Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, virtual medicine was growing in the United States. Telemedicine was expected to grow at more than 15% annually through 2025. Approximately 22% of physicians had used telehealth to see patients, and over 50% expressed willingness to adopt it in the next few years. Patients also pushed for improved access to virtual care, with two-thirds of consumers interested in telehealth and 20% willing to switch primary care providers (PCPs) if another provider nearby offered telehealth visits. Nevertheless, health systems grappled with the rapid rate of change in the digital space and struggled to prioritize virtual care.
COVID-19 changed all of that. Almost overnight, healthcare organizations were forced to adapt — quickly — in order to keep revenue streams flowing and deliver patient care. Today, just over a year later, providing and receiving care virtually is an expectation among both physicians and healthcare consumers alike. But the experience is often cumbersome, with patients of different backgrounds adjusting to different processes and technological requirements. With virtual care growing at an unprecedented rate, patients now perceive organizations that accommodate them through virtual care as being higher-quality and more sophisticated than other systems.
So what’s different now — one year after the pandemic started? As virtual care continues its rapid expansion, health systems need to prioritize the consumer experience in order to set their brands apart as leaders. It’s not OK to set it and forget it. Creating an easy, sticky and pervasive experience is the bare minimum in today’s healthcare market. If you don’t do it, another organization will, and healthcare consumers are not afraid to switch providers for convenience.
Follow these six strategic recommendations to create a strong, high-performing virtual health strategy for your organization.
1. Create personas to identify your target audiences for virtual care
Even if you invested in personas and journey mapping before the pandemic, you likely need to adjust those strategy aids for a post-pandemic world. COVID-19 has changed how people look at healthcare, and those views aren’t going to shift back to the way they were previously. Your consumers have different priorities, concerns and goals. Your personas need to adjust as well.
Consider your various audiences — from millennials and “sandwich moms,” who care for both their immediate families and parents, to Medicare-aged consumers. Depending on their levels of sophistication with technology and the acuity of their health conditions, their journeys and individual needs are very different. Develop personas to build empathy and understanding of who they are as healthcare consumers. Dig into their pain points, behaviors and goals. Consider what devices they use and when as well as their level of comfort with technology
2. Use journey maps to understand personas’ paths to virtual care
Next, map each persona’s individual journey. Healthcare organizations use journey maps to define the stages, touchpoints and messaging opportunities in a consumer’s healthcare process.
The journey starts the moment a consumer first considers treatment, is tracked to the point of booking a virtual appointment and continues all the way through treatment and post-treatment. The journey map should describe the motivations, pain points and questions of the consumer at each touchpoint. It also should present messaging opportunities to impact the consumer’s experience at each of those moments.
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Map out the personas’ technology journey as well. How can your content serve patients better? Consider the messaging opportunities for people who need more hand-holding throughout the journey and identify the resources that will enable an easy and positive experience. Highlight opportunities to promote virtual care more prominently throughout your website. Make appointment scheduling easy and accessible through the physicians’ online profile. The more integrated the virtual care offerings are throughout your website, the more meaningful they will be for healthcare consumers.
3. Become a secret shopper. Try your virtual care process yourself
To fully understand user expectations and pain points when it comes to virtual care, get into the mindset of your consumers and test out the process. Try to book a virtual visit online, and complete as many of the steps as possible. You will learn a lot about where things work well and where there are gaps in the experience. Work with your clinical and administrative teams to document the steps you’re not able to test on your own, like the actual appointment and post-encounter follow-up. Consider the emotions of your various audiences at each stage and what messaging they may need to see to progress through the journey.
Healthcare consumers choose virtual care for the convenience it offers, and they expect that convenience to extend throughout the full virtual care experience, including scheduling, check-in, paperwork (intake form or other forms), payments, and appointment reminders. Keep this in mind as you review the process. What is highly convenient about your virtual care experience, and what needs improvement to smooth the process for your users?
By visually mapping the journey, you will ensure you don’t miss key pain points or messaging opportunities. You will start to see how each step leads to the next. It should flow easily, but if it doesn’t, you’ve identified a gap that needs to be addressed.
4. Iterate and improve your virtual care experience
After you map the journey for the personas you want to target, detail the experience flow, and begin the process of improving the experience for healthcare consumers. Take each friction point and address it. Does the user need more instructional content, do they need encouragement, or is the operational process clunky? Develop messaging that is tailored to each of your audience segments:
- Existing patients care most about quality of care and will want to know that virtual care can deliver the same quality of diagnosis and basic care as an in-person visit.
- New patients care most about convenience, wait times, and cost and will want to know that signing up is simple and cost-effective.
- People with chronic conditions care most about reducing the daily struggle of managing their condition. They will want to hear empathy in your messaging and to know that you are providing new tools to ease their burdens.
- Consider care advocates or adult children or partners who are supporting patients through the process.
Define virtual care offerings and when to use each. Create virtual care landing pages with instructional messaging. Create triage charts and/or pages for when to use virtual care versus primary care, urgent care, or other care options. Identify opportunities for featuring virtual care on your website. Partner with clinical and operational teams to build processes and communications to improve the virtual care experience.
5. Review and readjust your virtual care services regularly
You don’t have the luxury of resting on your laurels when it comes to virtual care. Other healthcare organizations, including those brand-new to the industry, are working to tailor virtual healthcare experiences to users’ expectations. What worked for your patients a month ago may not be right a year from now.
Constant monitoring of your virtual care experience is key. Track what’s working and what isn’t. Work with your service lines to determine if it makes sense for them to join your virtual care lineup. Determine whether your personas and journey maps are hitting the mark for your key performance indicators, and make adjustments if needed.
6. Apply what you’ve learned across your virtual health portfolio
All of these steps are important to the core virtual visit experience, but they also are crucial as you think about virtual health as an ever-broadening continuum of experiences and technology options. Today’s consumers increasingly expect innovative healthcare solutions as a matter of course. A substantial element of that expectation is that you have already thought through new experiences and made it possible for users to engage and experiment with ways to manage their own care, as well as how and what data they share and with whom.
Don’t just look at your current virtual health systems and consider them complete. Constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the user experience and what your users can do virtually. Consider whether you can open virtual health to new and different service lines. Think about how your virtual health systems integrate with other systems, such as your electronic health records (EHRs), and plan for how to make that integration process both seamless and beneficial to your users.
Virtual care is ‘the new normal’
In a post-pandemic landscape, healthcare consumers will expect virtual care to be part of providers’ regular offerings. As we all adjust to this new normal, organizations that make the virtual care patient experience as frictionless as possible will have a key advantage. When you determine what consumers in your area want from virtual care and align your offerings to meet those needs, you’ll have a key advantage over your competitors.
Our Digital Healthcare Strategy team has vast experience in helping healthcare organizations create effective virtual health strategies and refine those strategies for the benefit of their consumers. Contact us today for more information.