Patients as savvy consumers – demand for personalized care drives today’s digital healthcare services market

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Healthcare is the business of medical relationships. However, until recently, the healthcare ecosystem has deemphasized the relationship portion of this equation. Now, healthcare innovators are trailblazing new models that empower patients to be the custodian of their own care.

Welcome to the early innings of a paradigm shift in healthcare.

Welcome to customer-oriented healthcare

Today’s patients have become much better-informed customers of healthcare services, bringing increasingly higher expectations for personalized care offered via an ever-widening range of high-touch, value-added healthcare services that extend beyond the occasional office visit. This shift is based on the growing consumer belief that more, better, and often prevention-focused information – combined with frequent, personalized engagement & frictionless means to access services – will help drive better health outcomes for them and their families.

  • They demand to know more about the healthcare services provided to them, including the full range of treatment and medication choices available. A strong, communications-focused relationship with their healthcare providers has become a critical factor in their decision-making process.
  • They seek personal healthcare tips, medication reminders, appointment updates and personalized attention to their individual needs. Today’s healthcare customer is more engaged in managing their own and their family’s health responsibilities.
  • They realize more than ever that prevention is key to better health outcomes. Offering these increasingly engaged consumers more than traditional, office visit-based medical services extends and strengthens the brand equity of those providers delivering this value.

From differentiator to table stakes

An increasing number of healthcare providers are beginning to recognize the critical value of improving the customer experience they offer their patients and have taken steps to implement patient portals and other digital communications features to their online presence – but they are the exception rather than the rule. And the consumer experience offered by these early adopters – more often than not – falls well short of meeting the demands of today’s healthcare customer.

Bottom line? When it comes to the high-touch, robust consumer experience today’s healthcare customers are used to receiving from providers of other fundamental products and services, most healthcare providers simply don’t make the grade. Scheduling a medical visit should be as easy as grabbing a seat in the movie theater. Today, a great patient experience is a key differentiator – a competitive advantage – but it will soon become table stakes for any healthcare provider.

As offering this digital component to healthcare services shifts from a “like to have” to a “gotta have,” providers will need to reposition themselves by creating a comprehensive, patient-focused customer journey in order to navigate this digital healthcare transformation successfully.

The value of asynchronous and preventative care

Modern healthcare combines scheduled office visits with frequent touchpoints, insights and valuable content that can be accessed asynchronously – i.e., according to each patient’s own timetable – empowering them to integrate this added value into their day-to-day health decisions. Tools like chat messaging, wellness programs, personalized videos, personal care plans and wearable device integration can provide real-time support and augment live office visits.

Let’s be clear – digital technology will never replace live, in-person care, but it can significantly augment and expand the relationship between provider and patient. Modern healthcare focuses on goals and outcomes, and bridging the gap between office visits became even more critical with the Covid-19 pandemic. Patients turned to providers to help them remain vigilant and proactive along their healthcare journey, creating opportunities for a stronger, closer relationship with their healthcare providers.

What it will take

The move to a personalized, digital-enabled healthcare experience is not as simple as it may appear at first glance. Transitioning from a siloed, hospital- or office-based model using traditional healthcare practices and legacy, billing code-oriented electronic health records (EHRs) is no easy feat.

Healthcare providers cannot simply tack on a few customer-focused features to cumbersome billing software packages that are not designed to accommodate this level of customer interaction. Rethinking the entire patient-as-consumer experience to create something that’s pure, clean, modern and friendly is a fundamental requirement for building and maintaining their brand.

A roadmap for success

For today’s healthcare provider, this customer experience needs to begin at intake – ideally before the patient ever walks into their first office visit. Establishing a comprehensive picture of the patient’s existing healthcare habits, concerns, existing medical conditions, family history of disease, etc., must be captured in detail during the intake process in order to create a holistic, dynamic and integrated healthcare plan.

Intake forms, questionnaires, outcomes desired and milestones to getting there can set expectations and build a strong foundation for ongoing dialogue and engagement. Tools that help patients track their progress such as push notifications, well-vetted content from experts and other value-added services delivered on a regular basis are all core components of a robust, ongoing customer experience and provider relationship.

Trust is key

In the end, it all comes down to trust – trust in the actual care being provided, trust in the information being delivered to them and trust that the digital relationship offered by providers at the onset will continue. Perhaps most of all, patients need to trust that the personal data being accumulated by their healthcare providers remains private, protected and used only to serve their individual medical needs.

One only needs to look at the Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade to see how critical data privacy has become in all patient-provider relationships – not only those involving reproductive health. Conversations between patient and provider – including digital exchanges – raise the potential for concern across the board. All healthcare services providers have been brought into this data privacy debate, with significant consequences for those not fully prepared.

The bar has been raised considerably for digital healthcare services on many fronts. Savvy leaders will do well to address them in a comprehensive, proven and consumer experience-focused manner.

The sooner the better.

Photo: Mykyta Dolmatov, Getty Images