3 patient expectations healthcare organizations need to meet to stay relevant

Healthcare in the U.S. is at risk of becoming akin to the strongest bridge in Honduras — a bridge that stood after a 1998 hurricane wiped out 150 other bridges across the country.

This famed bridge, the Choluteca Bridge, withstood 75 inches of rain in four days, but it is now better known as "The Bridge to Nowhere." While the bridge withstood the storm, it rendered the infrastructure irrelevant by relocating the river that once flowed beneath it. Honduras' strongest bridge now spans dry ground.

Choluteca Bridge

In the U.S. healthcare system, "The river of patient expectation is moving away from the bridge at completely unparalleled speeds," Oliver Kharraz, MD, president and founder of ZocDoc, said in a webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review. Simply put: The infrastructure is not revamping fast enough to meet these new expectations.

Patient expectations are propelled by the force of technology, Dr. Kharraz said, which has permeated patients' lives. And like it or not, this increasingly digital world is now also shaping patient expectations when it comes to their care.

"It's not right [for healthcare organizations] to benchmark themselves against other healthcare companies," Dr. Kharraz said. "They need to benchmark themselves against other industries."

If healthcare organizations don't keep up with the river of patient expectations, they could be rendered irrelevant as a "Bridge to Nowhere". The following three expectations should be met or exceeded by healthcare organizations to stay current with patient needs, according to Dr. Kharraz.

1. Immediacy
Consumers spend a whopping 1,196 hours per year on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They spend 868 hours per year on iPhone apps, 547 hours streaming Netflix and 365 hours online shopping, Dr. Kharraz said.

Comparatively, patients spend 52 hours per year searching for health information, just 1.2 hours in the waiting room and 0.8 in the exam room. Yet they spend 1,332 hours waiting to get in to see a provider, he said.

Healthcare organizations are now confronted with patient expectations for immediacy. People are accustomed to this from other services like Facebook, Twitter and Netflix. They expect instantaneously personalized and secure transactions — online and in person.

"It's not a secret that we live in an on-demand, get-it-now kind of world," Dr. Kharraz said. "We have lived in this world for quite awhile now."

So, those 1,332 hours patients spend each year waiting to get in to a physician's office — the hours between scheduling an appointment and the actual appointment — are likely not spent by choice. According to Dr. Kharraz, data from ZocDoc's site indicates a supply of patients eager to fill the 10 to 20 percent of last-minute cancellations or no-show appointments.

He said the typical appointment booked on ZocDoc's site happens within 24 hours and the vast majority of appointments are completed within three days. Comparatively, the average wait to see a primary care physician is 18.5 days, according to data Dr. Kharraz cited from Merritt Hawkins. This varies by city. In Dallas, the average wait time is just five days, while across the country in Boston wait times top 66 days.

Less than 10 percent of appointments booked on ZocDoc's site are 19 days in the future, according to Dr. Kharraz. "Most patients don't want the average experience," he said.

2. Choice
"This goes against our deepest intuitions," Dr. Kharraz said, "But the patient doesn't want to be owned."

However, Dr. Kharraz posits that this instinct to own is unnecessary. "Loyalty is a built-in phenomenon in healthcare," he said. Data from ZocDoc shows three in four patients rebooking within the same specialty choose to return to the same physician as before, he said.

What patients really want is access to a marketplace where they can choose their own preferences. When patients choose what they want, they are more likely to continue to use the service.

This is paralleled in the travel industry. When American Airlines works to fill seats on a plane, just 5 percent are booked over the phone, according to Dr. Kharraz, while about 35 percent are booked over the airline's website. The majority of the bookings actually come through other online channels for booking flights, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Kayak. These sites offer convenience and selection, which frees up American Airlines to do what they do best — schedule flights and safely fly planes.

Physician offices that are able to offer patients more choice, such as weekend and evening appointment times, are more likely to retain patients for regular, weekday appointments, Dr. Kharraz said. This is because patients are more likely to make an initial appointment with a physician if they know they have the flexibility to see them on the weekend when necessary.

"We can give choice and still establish a long-term relationship with patients," Dr. Kharraz said.

3. Personalization
"[Personalization] may seem the least obvious because it works best when it goes unnoticed," Dr. Kharraz said.

Providing personalized messaging for patients is one of the best ways to motivate behaviors. Dr. Kharraz gives the example of Amazon. The online retailer uses a data science team to determine what product their consumers are most likely to want.

Similar motivation is possible in what Dr. Kharraz called "evidence-based messaging". If healthcare organizations send patients highly tailored direct messages or emails, they can understand if patients act on the messages in response.

If organizations are able to match the right message to the right person based on demographic factors, personality or health needs, for instance, it can be an extremely powerful and effective preventive tool, especially as more healthcare organizations are financially at risk for the health of their patient populations.

Navigating the River of Patients Expectations
"The most important thing to keep in mind is while we are actually focused on so many distracting things, nothing is moving faster than this river," Dr. Kharraz said. Other industries are successfully adjusting to this move. For example, "travelers can see the entire market and book an itinerary with confidence," Dr. Kharraz noted.

Healthcare organizations must do more than simply react to the shifting waters. Rather, they should take advantage of the changes in consumer behavior to navigate the river in a nimble raft, rather than a solid, stationary bridge.

To learn more, view the webinar on YouTube here. View archived webinars here. For more information or any questions, please contact Ashley Mumm, ashley.mumm@zocdoc.com.

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