It’s Time For Healthcare To Embrace a Consumer-First Focus. Here’s How.

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As Head of Industry for healthcare here at Yext, I've had the opportunity to speak with a number of healthcare organizations, tech companies, and retail organizations about their approach to delivering care in a consumer-friendly way. Over the past few years, some providers have indicated that they look to their competitors in-market to steal "share of wallet" — and that a selling point to patients is the fact that "all of their medical records are housed in one place."

(As if that's a real perceived benefit to the consumer.)

Other providers say they are looking at the Amazons and Wal-Marts and Googles of the world to determine what kind of impact those companies will have on health systems. They are focusing on "consumerism" as it relates to what technology companies might do to create havoc in the provider space.

Even a non-healthcare organization, CVS, told me, "I'm not looking at health systems… I'm looking at Amazon." It does make sense: as Amazon clearly said at ViVE recently, "we're not here to compete… We're here to partner with everyone and improve the overall consumer experience in healthcare."

The moral of the story is that there is presently a lot of "looking around" in healthcare — and not as much looking inward. But this is the heart of where providers and payers can make the biggest dent in tackling a consumerism strategy: by looking inside their own walls.

I'm a former cross-country runner, and because I was small and light, I often found myself at the front (or near the front) of the pack. About the competition behind me, my coach used to say: "you waste a lot of energy looking back behind you over your shoulder. Don't do that. Instead, take that energy and focus on the next best marker and run toward it. Focus on what you can control and how well you are doing in the race, and everything will play out as it is supposed to."

I think about this a lot in regards to consumerism in healthcare. A lot of organizations are focused on the wrong thing. They are either too outwardly focused on the competition (including the tech companies) or they aren't focused enough on the current state of consumer experience at their organization — whether it's a payer organization or a provider organization.

But why do we think that healthcare is any different than any other industry? A consumer is a consumer, right? And in non-healthcare organizations, consumer experience reigns supreme. And there are three key elements to a great consumer experience:

Identification: I first need to identify what I want and how easy it might be to get it.

Consideration: Can I use tools to understand how to get what I've identified? Can I look at what is available? Price? Compare products, people, services, and more so that I can consider my best options?

Convenience: How easily can I receive what I'm seeking? How convenient is it to purchase, schedule, book, etc.

It's easy to think about this outside of healthcare. But it should be just as easy to think about these factors within healthcare, as well. Patients have the same expectations of their care as they do in retail, travel, food services, and more. Think about a sample patient journey:

  • They receive a diagnosis or deal with symptoms
  • The consumer wants to identify viable options (Should I see a doctor? Should I go to urgent care? Do I need a specialist? Is this MRI more expensive than that other one?)
  • They can do the research about what he or she wants (especially before and after seeing a provider) including things like: price, location, availability of the doctor's time, etc.
  • Trying to easily schedule an appointment at a time and place that is convenient (online, via phone, via referral, etc.)

Payers and Providers alike are trying to tap into this "consumerism" mindset, but too many think that creating a committee and taking big leaps to make change would make the most sense to really focus on the consumer.

Instead, it would be better to consider two key areas:

1. Think about the consumer experiences that exist outside of healthcare and build a mirror to those experiences within healthcare. Create a list of what someone would do, if, for example, someone wanted to buy red shoes. What steps would he or she take to Identify, Consider and Conveniently purchase shoes? Next, think about the closest thing to a retail experience you have for your healthcare organization. How many steps does it take to do this? What is the consumer experience like? What are things that you liked about the red shoes search that you are missing in your healthcare experience? How can you make small, incremental changes to incorporate that into your healthcare experience?

2. Identify easy ways within your healthcare organization to make incremental improvements to the consumer experience (note: you don't have to overhaul the entire website to make an experience better). Set a target for improvements and measure against them.

The best way to focus on consumerism is not to be scared of what is coming, but to just mimic what has already been done in other industries. Organizations like Delta Airlines, Nordstrom and Capital One are top of my list for having excellent consumer experiences, and you can easily look at different journeys to consider ways that are parallel to healthcare, and make incremental changes to your own consumer experience at your healthcare organization.

How can you get there? Make a list of your own excellent experiences you've encountered outside of healthcare. Have your marketing and technology teams come together for an offsite to brainstorm excellent experiences and the consumer journey within those experiences. Then map what works, and align it with your current patient journey. See where you can make quick improvements. The point is to think about how you can make incremental changes.

Whether you are a payer or a provider, it's pretty much the same, because we know what consumer behavior is in healthcare, and we know what works outside of healthcare. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.

1. Know what people are looking for and where they are looking for it. Ensure your providers and any information someone is looking for online (on Google or on your site) is easily discoverable. Don't make the consumer hunt around for it.

2. Know where your data lives today and how you can access it. Open up APIs and data interoperability. If you are a provider, the product you sell is a provider's time and specialty. Begin to get that data right. If you are a payer, the product you sell is support (for existing members). Do you know the top questions your members are asking? Can a member easily find information about his or her plan on your site? Where does that data live today?

3. Know how people shop outside of healthcare — and mimic it. This means knowing how people search for care, what they are searching for, where they are searching for, and more recently, cost of care. Start thinking about pricing and price transparency. This means search and knowing how people are finding your providers and plan details.

4. Know how your consumers want to transact. Do they want to call you? Do they want to fill out an online form and receive a call-back? Do they want to more easily book online? Make it easy to schedule an appointment in the most convenient way possible. If 40% of the American public are Amazon prime members, that means a wide swath of the populace already has online digital expectations about how to purchase online. Make this a priority – and again, start small. You can start with appointment scheduling for urgent care or a particular specialty. But get it started.

5. Know how to "launch and iterate." You don't have to boil the ocean, so launch something small (e.g. a small search experience on your site gets an upgrade and provides better information to the consumer or member — reducing the number of times they have to call your call center).

Think about consumerism in healthcare as just… being consumer-focused. It's tired to hear healthcare organizations claim that "it's different" in our industry: Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart, CVS, and others are quickly showing us that they can enter the industry and start to make waves, and show the consumer a better way. It's time for healthcare organizations and payer organizations to adapt, and to do so quickly. And the first step is to treat the patient or member as a consumer – and get with the program to deliver what the consumer wants. In this case, the consumer is always right — and they're pulling healthcare kicking and screaming into acquiescence.

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