Why healthcare providers need to put the patient first

The U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the Affordable Care Act (ACA) didn't just strengthen health insurance for 16 million Americans; it also promotes two trends that have been gaining increasing momentum in healthcare: the consumerism and value-based care that extends care outside the walls of a clinic or hospital.

For too long, patients have walked into doctors' offices marching to the beat of the healthcare industry. They fill out lengthy forms. They wait to be seen for unreasonable amounts of time. None of this jives with the way consumers interact with businesses in other industries. For example, people seamlessly book a hotel room online, hail a cab from their app, and shop from their phones. By contrast, access to healthcare is nowhere near this convenient.

Furthermore, actual care didn't begin until a patient felt ill and it generally ended when a patient left a hospital or doctors office. This ignores the fact that the real determinants of health happen during the 99 percent of time that people are away from doctors. The industry ignored prevention and usually failed to support chronic illness and recovery. And it had neither the tools nor the motivation to try in earnest.

The Supreme Court's decision in King v. Burwell adds to the momentum of change in both of these areas. Instead of 6.4 million Americans potentially losing their insurance, they will remain in the healthcare system. And because many of them are buying health insurance directly and not only via their employers, they are growing more aware of health care costs and becoming consumers.

Also, rather than continuing to wrestle with the uncertainty about provisions that mandate higher quality, outcomes, and transparency, provider organizations have greater confidence than ever that these changes are here to stay, and indeed are getting stronger. Recent announcements about bundled payments, chronic care management reimbursement, and suggestions that end of life counseling may one day be covered, send strong signals that value-based policies are here to stay.

This combination of consumerism and value based reimbursement is leading many healthcare organizations to think differently about how they care for patients. Hospital executives are beginning to speak of patients as "customers" and "consumers." In doing so, they admit that they not only have to do a better job with the patient experience, but also address health in a more proactive and complete way to assure outcomes, not merely cash in on treatments for sick people.

Smart healthcare organizations know that while many of these patients have already seen a doctor, it does not mean they'll stay put. Indeed, today's consumer is far less brand loyal than at any time in history because they know that with a few taps on their smartphones, tablets or other connected devices, they can find a better deal, more comprehensive services, or more timely customer support. In fact, recent Accenture research found that 53 percent of U.S. consumers switched health providers due to poor service, yet 80 percent of these switches could have been avoided. Bad bedside manner hurts the bottom line.

Consumers today expect providers to use the same consumer-friendly digital technology they use every day – mobile, social and cloud. For many patients, especially millennials born between the early 1980s and 2000s, it makes sense to change providers if they're not getting the kind of service when and where they want it. Salesforce Research found that these digital natives overwhelmingly want mobile devices, mobile apps, wearables and telehealth to be a part of their healthcare experiences.

Forrester Research calls this new reality the "age of the customer." Competing in today's digital economy means businesses need to focus on winning, serving and retaining customers. In short, they need to become customer obsessed. And we all know this is a concept that has eluded the healthcare industry for too long. Healthcare providers (and insurers) need to begin thinking with the imagination of some of our favorite brands – drone technologies to provide instant delivery, for example – and less like entrenched cable operators, scheduling a four-hour window for an install.

Getting there won't be easy for many healthcare organizations. Here are a few recommendations for providers who recognize the need to get on that path and are committed to trying:

1. Start small.
Consumerization in healthcare will significantly shift how providers deliver care. Healthcare organizations need to brace for long term change, not a quick fix. Start by performing an audit to see how your healthcare practice engages with patients throughout their engagement journeys. What is your organization doing to create stronger relationships between patients and providers? How often do patients hear from doctors throughout the year? How often do they communicate after the patient has left the hospital or place of care? What kind of information do you provide to ensure patients recover fully, improve their health and receive preventative care? How often does the practice show its appreciation to patients for their business? How often does information technology develop new services to make patients' lives easier? Take a systematic approach to assess the level of care being provided to patients. Target one or two areas for improvement based upon need, as well as available financial and human resources, and then act upon them.

2. Build a complete view of your customer.
Have you ever called a help line and given all of your information, only to be transferred to someone else with no context of the previous conversation? You then need to repeat yourself because the right hand isn't speaking to the left. How about filling out the same information on different forms multiple times? Those are annoying scenarios, right? Unfortunately, that kind of thing happens all too often with healthcare. And most patients know it doesn't have to be that way. As you think about modernizing your organization, strive to be as customer-centric as possible, consider technology solutions that provide a panoramic view of what's happening with patients. This not only includes making sure that every doctor and nurse has full access to patient medical records, but also ensuring they are integrated in a way that is accessible by insurers, authorized administrators and patients themselves – safely and securely – anywhere and from any connected device.

3. Embrace mobile technology.
Make mobile technology one of your areas of improvement. Health providers need more interaction with their patients. In fact, a recent Salesforce report said healthcare providers will face pressure in the near term from millennials who expressed a strong interest in using new technologies to collaborate with their primary care physicians. According to the report, 60 percent of millennials support the use of telehealth options to eliminate in-person health visits, and 71 percent would like to have their providers use an application to book appointments, share health data and manage preventive care. Becoming a customer-centric organization means creating more visibility and touchpoints, especially through mobile technology. If you're not doing that, you could lose patients to healthcare offices that do.

4. See patients as unique individuals.
Any marketing executive will tell you that individualized marketing is a requirement in the digital world. In fact, 92 percent of executives polled in a recent Teradata study said individualized, 1:1 marketing is a top priority for them. This isn't about personalization, where a message is delivered for a broad market segment or customer persona. Rather, 1:1 marketing means healthcare providers generating unique touchpoints with each individual. For example, a patient who takes insulin could get a customized email informing her of an upcoming diabetes clinic discussing new supplemental treatments. This type of customer communication already exist across all other industries. It needs to happen more broadly in healthcare too.

5. Be grateful for feedback.
Social platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Yelp, not only allow patients to provide feedback, but also enable providers to improve their services and processes. Social media listening capabilities gives providers invaluable information-including ratings for facilities, opinions of doctors and satisfaction with patient service. Hospitals and clinics can route complaints to the appropriate channels, aggregate similar complaints to identify issues, and interact with patients on the social media network of their choice. The healthcare industry needs to harness the power of social media and use this intelligence to its advantage. For example, if a doctor's office were to notice some people posting unflattering things about their waiting room experiences, administrators could take corrective action, such as training employees on how to greet patients or offering patients water or something to read while they wait.

Technology developments in the consumer world are changing how people behave and what they expect from companies--and this will spread to other industries. The consumerization of healthcare is under way, boosted by the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act. Providers must have a prescription for care – as consumers – in a way they deserve.

Joshua Newman, M.D., M.S.H.S.is Chief Medical Officer, GM of Healthcare and Life Sciences at Salesforce. Dr. Newman has a 15-year history in Health IT, having designed, built, and managed web applications that have been used to digitalize medical residency administration, billing, and clinical care, to promote collaboration between physicians, and to ease the adoption of electronic medical records systems.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars