Building a Care Bridge To Patients in an Era of Self Help

"If you build it, they will come" may be true in the field of baseball, but not necessarily in healthcare. Increasingly, if you build a hospital, people won't come — not until they're really sick. No surprise. These days, patients are taking a page from the banking playbook, opting for self-service over personal care. Instead of visiting the doctor, patients check out their symptoms on WebMD and take an over-the-counter remedy. In many cases, a physician is as useful to a patient with a sore throat as a banker is to a customer with a simple deposit.  When we need a little cash, we don't generally go into the bank. Instead, we opt for the convenience of an ATM. We only visit the actual bank when our condition is serious.

If we know that healthcare consumers, or rather, patients, won't typically call a physician until their condition is serious, how can we ensure that when they really need to call, they call us? The choice of healthcare providers is more competitive than ever before as consumers become empowered through the internet and growing concerns around the cost/care model.

The result is that today hospitals have less opportunity to interact with patients. So how can providers foster relationships with potential consumers to build connectivity, brand awareness and generate future engagement?

Reciprocal altruism may be the answer…give them something of value and they will stay connected.

Have you seen the TV ads during tax season for H&R Block? The company offers free simple tax return preparation — not just because they're nice people, but also because they know that when you give things away, you build brand loyalty. Customers with simple tax forms today may have complex ones tomorrow — and they won't soon forget H&R Block's giveaway. But there's more to the picture: when H&R Block performs this service, it is mining critical data about its customers — income, spending and savings habits, employment and key demographics that result in qualified leads for sales forces promoting the company's other services like retirement planning.

What if hospitals provided free annual physical exams? In addition to building loyalty and improving the odds that patients will choose to return if and when they become seriously ill, free physicals would provide a plethora of valuable, aggregated information about patients. Sure, you already have a sense of your patients' needs, depending on whether you're rural, urban or suburban. You know a few things about them. But imagine how much you could learn if more of them came in for free physicals — not to mention the latent diseases that might be diagnosed.  

Offering free education and information is not new, but perhaps delivering these services through modern technology and tailoring the offering to the adjacent demographic might help establish a sustainable connection. For instance, if you offer a free newsletter, mobile phone app or a website that answers health-related questions from a specific cohort of consumers in your community, you can target with branded preventive care information. If you're interested in sponsoring community events, you'll have a better handle on which ones to sponsor.

Financial services companies, insurers, even cable providers offer free seminars and tutorials to help their customers understand their range of products and services. In addition to educating consumers, these events build loyalty and promote new offerings that consumers might not have otherwise heard about. What's more, attendees at these gatherings provide vital information to the sponsors, helping the companies to better understand consumer demographics, demands and shifting tastes. So why shouldn't hospitals?

Leveraging technology
Once you know more about your prospective consumers, you can tailor a mobile healthcare app, a free service or an informational web site to raise their awareness of your brand and build loyalty in return for the ongoing distant caregiving you're putting forth. What are your prospective consumers in need of? Depending on the community, it could be prenatal care, diabetes education, cancer prevention, nutrition or workplace safety.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are many ways for providers to dive in, get to know their consumer base, proactively connect, build loyalty and create a bridge for future engagement.

If you build it right, now, they will come.

Ron Wince is the president and general manager of Peppers & Rogers Group, a division of TeleTech (NASDQ: TTEC), which is recognized as the world’s leading authority and acknowledged consultancy and thought leader on customer-based business strategies and engagement. He joined Peppers & Rogers in 2013 after the company he founded, Guidon Performance Solutions, a management consulting firm specializing in business performance improvement, was acquired by TeleTech to meet the emerging needs of businesses to cultivate a high performance customer-centric culture.
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