Frictionless healthcare: How a better user experience can turn your organization into a market leader

Fewer and fewer patients today accept a healthcare experience marked by inconvenience and frustration. As patient-centric care models become more popular and consumer access to provider information expands, hospitals and health systems must reboot the patient experience.

This content is sponsored by NTT DATA.

To create a convenient experience, providers must eliminate any unnecessary friction during patient interactions. This executive brief will examine changing patient needs, sources of friction in the patient experience, and how healthcare organizations can go about reforming the elements of experience that are in greatest need of improvement.

Emerging patient needs and trends

As high deductible health plans become more prevalent, patients assume a greater financial stake in their care and, in turn, are likely to seek more convenient healthcare options. Organizations have turned to various technology platforms to improve their interactions with patients, but technologies deployed in healthcare must enable the same seamless experiences consumers encounter in other industries. In a consumer-driven healthcare market, patients are drawn to healthcare providers that offer effective, convenient and transparently priced care.

This means that convenience and ease of use matter a whole lot in the current healthcare environment.

But, despite healthcare's efforts to offer easier, user-friendly processes and digital tools, many healthcare organizations still experience unnecessary friction during the most basic consumer interactions, such as scheduling medical appointments and shopping for a health plan.

The push to value-based care models and subsequent rise of consumerism in healthcare are not going away anytime soon. Thus, competition for patients in healthcare will only become fiercer, and the organizations that best meet patient demands will more effectively attract and retain patients. Organizations should understand their patients' wants, needs and frustrations to render a satisfactory experience — or else they could get left behind.

5 friction categories to know

NTT DATA's Customer Friction FactorSM — a quantitative methodology for evaluating friction within a customer experience — helps organizations conduct evaluations from the customer's perspective.

After completing the assessment, organizations can determine the exact point when a customer decided to disengage. The methodology scores each online patient touchpoint — higher scores indicate higher levels of friction. The ease of use for each interaction is measured across five categories:

1. Engagement: Measures how the company interacts with the customer, including all the different portal handoffs between organizations and people.

2. Process: Measures the number of customer-driven steps within a single process.

3. Technology: Measures how many keystrokes and pages are required to complete a single process, as well as how long it takes those pages to load. 

4. Knowledge: Measures the availability, accuracy and utilization of information the company offers consumers.

5. Ecosystem: Measures the organizational integration and knowledge sharing among third parties.

This assessment allows organizations to identify the root causes of friction and devise an actionable plan for improvement. The solution also allows for continuous monitoring and reporting on the success of improvement efforts. The following case studies provide insights into how NTT DATA's Customer Friction FactorSM can help organizations revise and improve online processes as well as identify other aspects of a patient's care journey ripe for improvement.

Case study 1: Evaluating health plans

NTT DATA used its Customer Friction FactorSM methodology to assess the shopping and enrollment process for 42 different Medicare Advantage health plans from major payers including Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, Aetna and UnitedHealth.

NTT DATA specifically assessed the health plans on four consumer touchpoints during the selection of a Medicare Advantage plan: (1) checking Medicare eligibility, (2) reviewing Medicare plan information, (3) shopping for Medicare plans and (4) enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan.

The assessment found a wide disparity in ease of use. NTT DATA classified plans as either 'leaders' or 'laggards.' The leading plans offered a simplified shopping process with fewer pages to navigate and decisions to make, as well as the use of common internet shopping tools like geolocation to automatically offer coverage comparison and the ability to access eligibility information in just two clicks.

Plans deemed laggards had twice as much friction as the leading plans. Nearly half of the laggard plans required potential customers to create an account in order to browse plans, and almost all of these plans (93 percent) did not provide any type of live chat, forcing customers to call to get answers to their questions.

Just 40 percent of the organizations NTT DATA analyzed had a process in place to measure the customer journey. Additionally, nearly half of the plans NTT DATA reviewed forced customers to visit, effectively giving up all control of the customer experience.

Case study 2: Evaluating the appointment process

Another process tainted with friction is the scheduling and canceling of appointments, according to a separate NTT DATA Customer Friction Factor assessment of 25 major health systems.

Similar to the assessment of health plan shopping, NTT DATA looked at distinct touchpoints with patients. In this case, the study assessed: (1) making an appointment and (2) cancelling an appointment.

Again, providers with customer interaction experiences that scored lowest for friction were deemed leaders, while their counterparts — those with interactions riddled with inconvenience — were deemed laggards.

The assessment determined 56 percent of all organizations offered online scheduling. Many of these organizations, however, used third-party applications, adding confusion by failing to own the process and reinforce brand identity. Additionally, most of the online scheduling processes had a pre-registration step that added extra time to the interaction, distracting from the user's end goal of scheduling an appointment.

Overall, leading organizations let consumers schedule an appointment directly online with a retail-like experience. They also sent a follow-up email to confirm the appointment and provided automated reminders, which can reduce no-shows.

Similarly, when cancelling appointments, leaders offered an online process that took two steps or less. Laggards required consumers to call, which often forces patients to sit on hold and wait for a scheduler.

3 goals for data-driven improvement

To remain competitive, healthcare organizations must improve their customer experiences and make them as seamless as those in the retail industry. It is imperative for organizations to design their processes with the customer perspective in mind. In other words, to create a positive consumer experience, organizations must look beyond the transactions themselves and address the organization's underlying culture.

With NTT DATA's Customer Friction FactorSM assessment, organizations can achieve three key goals:

1. Understand: Learn how customers are doing business with the organization and quantify the friction in those experiences.

2. Gain insights: Identify the exact causes of the friction in the customer experience, devise a plan and prioritize efforts to improve the customer experience.

3. Improve the experience: Implement the plan to reduce and eliminate the friction.

To ensure a superior customer experience, it's also important for organizations to continually evaluate their electronic tools and processes. NTT DATA's Customer Friction FactorSM meets this need as well.

Be a leader, not a laggard

As more organizations look to improve patient/member interactions, the divide between leaders and laggards will continue to grow. This means organizations with superior customer experiences will eventually emerge as market leaders.

Now more than ever, healthcare organizations must work to revamp their customer experience. To achieve this, it is imperative leaders leverage the right solutions to identify and eliminate friction from what should be the simplest aspects of the care experience: buying a health plan and scheduling an appointment. Eliminating the friction in these interactions can build the foundation for the convenient care experience patients deserve.

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