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Your healthcare audience: Patient, consumer or human?

patient or healthcare consumer

Healthcare marketers used to discuss the “patient experience” within their health system. More recently, however, the focus has shifted to “consumer experience,” and the reason is obvious: retail giants keep pushing deeper into the healthcare space, and they’re bringing retail practices and improved consumer experience with them.

Before a person becomes a patient, they are a consumer shopping around, as they do in other retail sectors, looking for the best healthcare option. But even before they are consumers, they are humans – individuals with unique motivations and challenges. They don’t just follow doctor’s orders, they act according to deeper internal impulses.

Patients are multi-dimensional: patient, consumer, and human all wrapped into one. But they’re human first.

The Difference Between Patient, Healthcare Consumer and Human

We will highlight this distinction through two example journeys: receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and experiencing a sprained ankle.

Human, Consumer, Patient Questions

Human first. Then consumer. Finally, a patient.

Patient-Centric Care

Every health system aspires to offer “patient-centered care” focused on improved quality and outcomes. When care is connected, patients do better, so this gets at the very mission of the health system.

Patient-centric care is largely clinician-driven: “How can clinical and operational services better serve patients?” And while It ultimately benefits the patient, the patient often doesn’t understand it or see it soon enough to impact decision-making.

Patient-centric care includes things like:

  • Multi-Disciplinary Clinics: Where newly diagnosed cancer patients can see all the specialists they’ll need in one appointment, rather than in five separate appointments
  • Patient Education Materials: Such as wound care instructions, chronic condition care, and management
  • Discharge Instructions: To help patients understand next steps to take
  • Family Caregiver Involvement: When loved ones are involved, patient outcomes are better

Consumer-Centric Experience

A consumer-centric experience helps patients understand and choose the right care. It’s about engaging patients throughout their healthcare journey (not just for episodic healthcare needs) and considers that patients make their decisions based less on quality measures and more on ease/convenience and emotional considerations such as, “Who feels like a truly trustworthy healthcare advisor?”

Consumer-centric experience includes things like:

  • Ease: Structure digital processes and content around the patient journey, which includes providing robust find-a-doctor data and taxonomy, clear paths to alternative care options like virtual visits and urgent care, online scheduling and intake forms, appointment reminders, and any functionality that helps patients easily take that next step.
  • Nurture: Develop a relationship with the patient beyond episodic visits, which includes building proactive outreach (“If I’m this age, this gender, and have these underlying conditions, tell me what’s most important to maintain health and wellness.”).
  • Transparency: Healthcare purchases are particularly convoluted; as patients continue to assume greater financial responsibility for their care, they increasingly expect cost transparency.
  • Customer Service: Offer feedback channels, respond to concerns, and resolve issues in the channel of their choice.
  • Value Propositions: Help consumers understand why one option is better than another and why they should choose you over the competition.

Human-Centered Empathy

Being “human first” means remembering the people who are your patients, acknowledging their emotions, and considering their larger motivations and challenges. Health goals, after all, are based on larger – human – motivations. People don’t want to be healthy for the sake of being healthy, or because the doctor said to – they want to be healthy so that they can be with family and friends, do the things they love, and enjoy life’s moments.

But you also must counter unique human challenges. Humans are creatures of habit, influenced by our social and physical surroundings and with different inborn biological tendencies.

Being human-first should show up everywhere in healthcare – in person-to-person interactions, in the tone you use, and the imagery you share.

Here are two concrete examples relevant to healthcare marketers:

  1. Adherence to Medical Protocols: Healing from a health issue or managing a chronic condition isn’t always about knowing the facts; it’s about overcoming challenges and creating new habits. It’s about finding motivation to take the difficult steps in making a change. Focusing on the facts won’t get through to the human. Instead, focus on the larger motivations that are the true reasons a person might want to create change.
  2. “Stickiness” – or Brand Loyalty: What do people love most about your health system? Is it the doctors, nurses, valets – the human connections? It’s certainly not the incessant forms, the sterile environment, and the deeply confusing processes. So, the question becomes this: how can you provide more of what is good, beautiful, and human in the healthcare experience and turn it into a larger brand connection? How can your health system apps bring personalization and connection to the healthcare experience?

Patient. Healthcare Consumer. Human.

You need to be conscious of these differences because ultimately healthcare is about humanity, making people feel better, recover from sickness, and enjoy wellness. Health systems must transition from tactical fixes and individual care encounters to a holistic patient and consumer experience that focuses on the human.

The different stages and touchpoints in a patient and consumer journey need to be better connected across all channels. This requires breaking down the silos that exist between clinical services and across hospital departments (clinical and non-clinical).

In other words:

  • Patient-centric care can’t belong to just clinicians.
  • Consumer-centric experience can’t belong to just web and marketing.
  • Everyone needs to understand that patients are human first.

What is the Role of Marketing and Digital Teams?

Here’s how marketing and digital teams can help their audiences navigate the patient-consumer-human experience:

  • Own the Voice of the Consumer: Keep the focus on the patient journey, break down the gaps between touchpoints, and address miscommunication during hand-offs. When there’s pushback on issues, bring it back to the healthcare journey.
  • Focus on the “Attract-Serve-Engage” Model: Digital properties like a website should attract patients, but they should also guide and engage the patient through and after treatment. Attract is mostly consumer-centric, serve is patient-centric, and engage is mostly human-centric, but they’re all interconnected.
  • Be Actionable: Digital functionality and content need to be increasingly actionable. Consumers aren’t just seeking information; they want to act. Make the next steps clear and easy.
  • Be Present: You are the patient’s, consumer’s, and human’s trusted advisor – be there for them.

Always Human-First

Healthcare marketers need to focus on the patient experience and healthcare consumer experience but must also remember, first and foremost, that we are all humans. Ultimately, being human-first means focusing on the healthcare journey and healthcare personas – the actual people who use your health system.

Want to Take the Next Step?

Ultimately, being human first means focusing on the healthcare journey and healthcare personas. Gain step-by-step guidance to increase patient satisfaction, loyalty, and retention with well-executed personas and journey maps through our interactive guide

GET THE GUIDE: Personas & Journey Maps: The Definitive How-To Guide for Healthcare Providers


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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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