Five ways self-service trends are changing hospital stays

The nearly ubiquitous presence of smartphones in the U.S. has dramatically altered the way people interact with companies and even entire industries. Consumers are conditioned to an anytime, anywhere, anyway mentality when it comes to shopping, travel, even fitness.

The Shift to Self-Serve

Gone are the days of business hours and paper mail-based communications. Company to consumer interactions are now 24/7 and digital-first. But far from just a consumer concession, this shift has empowered businesses and enhanced the bottom line.

Airlines provide one of the clearest and most extreme examples of this trend. Today, the check-in experience is nearly completely self-driven with passengers only interacting with an agent for exceptions, such as flight changes. That shift is mirrored in retail, media, and nearly every other industry.

Healthcare as Holdout

Healthcare has been one of the few stubborn holdouts but is finally coming around to this self-serve mindset. Driven by consumer expectations and shifting regulation prioritizing patient experience, innovative health systems are rapidly moving to digital-first, patient-centric experience defined by self-service.

As a result, the hospital experience of the future is in for some dramatic changes. Here are five ways, these efforts will reshape a patient’s hospital stay in the future.

1. Home Check-in

Like with airline travel, fast food ordering or some grocery shopping, hospitals are embracing the idea of self check-in. This means that the next time you visit the doctor for a regular appointment or an elective procedure, you will likely check-in ahead of time from home on your phone using an app or website. It eliminates one of the most universal and obvious pain points of a doctor visit – the waiting room.

Adventist Health System has been testing this concept for months and is moving to a full rollout over the coming months. Patients are able to sign all disclosures and consent forms on their phone then send a text when they arrive at the facility so that they can start a doctor’s visit with a minimal wait. In testing, the time to complete the check-in was cut in half and patients were much happier with the experience of filling out information at home versus in a crowded waiting room.

2. Telehealth

Of course, the easiest way to avoid the waiting room is never having to visit the doctor’s office. Providers from large health systems to individual practitioners are taking advantage of advances in mobile video access and technology to offer telehealth options. Like investment professionals and lawyers, doctors and nurse practitioners can now dispense advice, conduct routine visits or see and diagnose patients for minor ailments remotely.

Providers love the efficiency and cost savings provided by this medium as well as the ability to expand their physical reach, while patients love it for its convenience and access. Telehealth also forms the foundation for concierge medicine where doctors are available on retainer to patients electronically or by video upon request or for extended hours.

3. Digital Billing

Self-checkout through digital carts and services like Amazon or PayPal are a key driver of the self-service economy. Similarly, in healthcare the advent of new digital first billing systems make it possible for patients to get accurate estimates before visiting the doctor, better understand the charges they do incur, and then pay them at their convenience using a preferred payment method. It even allows for pre-payment discounts, self-directed payment plans and more.

Health providers like St Luke’s University Health Network, Memorial Hermann Health System, and Gundersen Health are all on the front end of transparency and affordability trends using these digital billing capabilities. Through their work with Simplee, they are part of a group of hospitals collecting a greater percentage of their billings while making patients happier through more clarity in billing and more flexible payment options.

4. Self-Diagnosis

The days of blood pressure cuff stations sound quaint when you consider new self-service health kiosks, home fitness trackers, and home testing kits. These tools allow patients to manage their health in ways never before possible.

Patients can visit an online portal or tap into a kiosk to access health records and share them with family members or treating physicians. They can even use their FitBit or Apple Watch to share exercise and diagnostic information with treating physicians remotely. And new mail order collection kits from companies like EverlyWell allow people to test themselves for diseases or even genetic predispositions from the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

5. Physician search

Perhaps one of the earliest and most fundamental shifts the Internet enabled on behalf of consumers was the ability to easily find and compare products or services before purchase. That experience has arrived in healthcare with more mature search, rating and review capabilities for doctors and health systems. It’s as simple as finding an Amazon product review or a Yelp restaurant recommendation.

This makes it easier for patients to understand which doctors or facilities might offer specific services or an overall better experience. It can also open the door to comparison shopping based on equipment, price or experience. Just as a 4-star rating for a ride-share driver signals things went “fine, but not great,” patient expectations about interactions in healthcare now require health systems to live up to a higher bar.

Tomer Shoval is CEO and a co-founder of Simplee. A veteran e-commerce leader, Tomer is a frequent speaker on the intersection of healthcare, technology and consumers. He founded Simplee as a way to help people better understand and manage their health care bills.

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