How Did Healthcare Make Digital Missteps During COVID — And What Do Organizations Need to Do Now?

The healthcare industry has been talking about the importance of digital transformation for years. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the industry was faced with an uncomfortable truth: Up until then it was all talk, and no walk.

Carrie Liken

By Carrie Liken

Oct 13, 2020

6 min

The healthcare industry has been talking about the importance of digital transformation for years. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the industry was faced with an uncomfortable truth: Up until then it was all talk, and no walk. As Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator, put it: This pandemic "has exposed a lot of inefficiencies." Well, that's putting it mildly.

The lack of data interoperability among EMRs. The data silos within organizations. The marketing challenges with lacking provider and facility location accuracy. The list could go on and on.

But as every industry has experienced in the pandemic, your digital presence is sometimes your only presence. With offices, stores and every other physical space either shut down permanently or working at a heavily reduced capacity, industries that are more experiential by nature have had to quickly pivot to an all (or, at least, mostly) digital existence in order to survive. And for healthcare providers, this means quickly embracing digital trends that were already on the rise, like telemedicine, to ensure patients could get the same quality of care (and in some cases, better care).

So if you're a leader in the healthcare space and you want to ensure your organization is weathering the storm, start by asking yourself these five questions:

1. Are data and marketing in sync? During the last few months, marketers realized very quickly that they needed to be able to communicate changes in provider and facility schedules, health recommendations, and more to the public at the drop of a hat. With this shift, siloed organizations ended up leaving patients frustrated and lost.

However, in organizations in which the CIOs and CMOs have good relationships and communicate often, we saw the implementation of new data strategies that allow technologies to talk to one another, creating a seamless way of managing provider information and data at all times. When data and marketing are in sync, it's easier to get patients the information they need. One organization told Yext, "We operated together over the last few months like a symphony, and it was something we've never witnessed before at our organization." When it comes to your tech and marketing teams, you need to get the right players together — and make sure everyone is playing to the same tune.

2. Do you have any idea where your data lives? As Seema Verma noted, the lack of data interoperability within health systems caught everyone off guard. EPIC is a notorious "walled garden" when it comes to data sharing with other platforms. But so are other technologies.

If we enter into another wave of this pandemic, your data will need to move more freely between one system to another. Without open APIs and an understanding of data flow, your organization will (again) be lagging behind. Organizations will tell you that they are "like Visa — accepted everywhere." But, in reality, many organizations keep data behind a guarded wall and by doing so, contribute to keeping healthcare in the stone ages.

Stop the madness. Push your teams and your vendors to ensure your data and your technologies talk to one another.

3. Are you using search to help your CRM? Do you know who is a patient? Who was a patient? With whom you need to nurture or maintain a relationship?

During the first few months of the pandemic, many organizations had zero command over their patient population because they didn't have a CRM that would allow them to get in touch with patients. This meant that they had to rely on social media as a "strategic" approach to providing information to patients, consumers and the general public about hospital updates.

But using social media to provide informational updates to your patient and consumer population is not a sustainable, winning strategy. Why? Because not everyone actively uses social media, and that also assumes that customers won't have specific questions they need answers to. So, it's important to leverage communication tactics (hopefully via a CRM) for former and current patients, and then commit to developing an exceptional search experience both on and off your website to ensure you can deliver them the important information they need in the moment they are seeking it.

4. Do you have full command over your data online? During the pandemic, swift changes to locations and changes in location purpose (for example, urgent cares becoming RICs) revealed just how little control they had over location and provider data. The solution? A centralized platform so important changes can scale quickly.

  1. Many organizations realized how difficult it was to do this. In fact, an academic medical center in the Mid-Atlantic region made 30,000 changes to locations and providers over the course of the first month of the pandemic. Making so many changes via an Excel spreadsheet or in a CMS is almost impossible to keep updated in real-time. When a provider and a location is your number one priority (and also your number one product), it's important to know your inventory and have command over it.

5. Have you provided the easiest way for patients and to find information about COVID on your website? Let's face it, the pandemic is in control. But knowledge is power when trying to manage your life around something as menacing and unpredictable as a global pandemic. So, when people turn to healthcare providers for answers to their basic questions, you're putting lives in danger if you can't answer them.

On the bright side, a Jarrard Inc. Coronavirus Consumer Survey from April 2020 found that trust levels of healthcare organizations were the highest they have ever been. But, customer trust can erode quickly when basic needs aren't meant. Plus, with so much misinformation about COVID on social media and in search results, healthcare providers are considered the beacon of truth. However — and sadly — most organizations fall flat in providing easily available answers to patients on their website, forcing them to work hard to find basic-but-critical information. As mentioned before, in a global pandemic the digital experience is really the only reliable experience, so healthcare organizations should fast track investing in enhanced search technologies to ensure their patients have quick, easy access to accurate answers.

This pandemic continues to disrupt, and the healthcare industry is certainly impacted profoundly. But it's also important to not take your foot off the digital gas pedal once the world begins to recover. Consumers are more accustomed than ever before to living their entire lives — including managing their own health — through digital means. In fact, their expectations for healthcare are quickly starting to match their expectations for their Google or Amazon experience. But unlike these digital monopolies, if your organization doesn't adapt to this digital revolution, your patients will go elsewhere — regardless of how loyal they once were.

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