The healthcare landscape is changing, and healthcare consumerism represents one of the most significant forces behind that change. According to the Annual Healthcare CEO Survey conducted by The Advisory Board Company, 47 percent of the respondents said that meeting rising consumer expectations for service is a top priority and 31 percent indicated that developing consumer-focused pricing strategies is also a main concern.
Lisa Bielamowicz, M.D., The Advisory Board Company’s chief medical officer and executive director, notes, “Health systems are facing a push toward consumerization, fueled by more patient financial accountability, as well as the push to population heath and managing the total cost of care.” As a result, she continues, “Health systems are seeking strategies that bring together these potentially conflicting market forces.” The question is, “How?”
Start Thinking More Like a Retailer
For most healthcare providers, the pressure to meet and even exceed consumer expectations demands a major shift in how they operate. It’s no longer about telling patients what they need; it’s about recognizing what consumers want. That’s something that other industries do well. Beloved brands — in retail, hospitality, travel and entertainment — consistently deliver experiences that delight consumers.
Amazon, Ritz-Carlton, Southwest Airlines, Disney — these brands set the bar high. Yet, as Oliver Kharraz, MD, president and founder of ZocDoc, contends in a webinar hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review, “It's not right [for healthcare organizations] to benchmark themselves against other healthcare companies. They need to benchmark themselves against other industries.”
You might think it’s an unfair comparison; let’s face it, when it comes to the experience factor, a trip to the emergency room will never compare favorably with one to the Magic Kingdom. But by paying attention to healthcare consumers’ expectations, hospitals and other healthcare providers can certainly improve patient experiences and strengthen their own brands.
Consumer Expectations Drive Change in the Healthcare Industry
We’ve talked about healthcare consumer expectations before—from on-demand service to better m-health apps. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can stay alert to what consumers want and effectively deliver on those expectations.
1. On-Demand Service.
The “I want it now” culture has never been stronger. Why else would Amazon develop a service that deploys drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less? Americans love the immediacy of smartphones and Netflix—and they hate waiting, especially when they’re sick. Says Dr. Kharraz, “It’s not a secret that we live in an on-demand, get-it-now kind of world.” Yet, healthcare providers routinely fall short on delivering timely service. In fact, according to research, patients spend more than 1,300 hours a year waiting for appointments. It doesn’t have to be that way. ZocDoc takes advantage of healthcare consumers’ desire for immediacy by facilitating faster, online scheduling.
How do you monitor for immediacy? Just look at the data. ZocDoc site and app usage data show that many patients are ready and willing to take advantage of last-minute cancellations and no-shows in order to get into the doctor sooner. And other data support this finding too. For instance, a study conducted in 2014 found that longer wait times negatively impact patient satisfaction as well as confidence in the care provider and perceived quality of care — not exactly sentiments that strengthen brands and engender consumer loyalty. Services such as online appointment scheduling represents a win-win situation for healthcare providers. Not only does it help deliver on consumer expectations for immediacy and convenience, but it helps reduce the 10-20 percent of lost revenue due to cancellations.
One-size-fits-all won’t cut it with today’s empowered consumers. For years, the brands they know and trust have leveraged customer data to deliver more relevant messages that speak to their individual needs. Just as Amazon uses search and purchasing behavior data to understand — and recommend — products, healthcare providers need to tap into healthcare consumer insights to customize communications in ways that encourage patient engagement.
How do you gain those insights when you don’t have years of data tracking consumer behaviors? Dr. Kharraz suggests starting with “evidence-based messaging.” By using direct messaging or email and testing message personalization, healthcare providers gain insights into what works based on patient responses. To tap into the desire for personalization further, healthcare providers can leverage psychographic segmentation which enables you to see healthcare consumers in a different way.
Rather than identifying groups of consumers based on shared demographics — or even shared diagnoses — psychographic segmentation looks at their preferences, behaviors and attitudes related to health and wellness in order to better understand what motivates them. The c2b approach to psychographic segmentation classifies healthcare consumers with 91.1 percent accuracy into five distinct categories: Balance Seekers, Willful Endurers, Priority Jugglers, Self Achievers and Direction Takers. Each psychographic segment has its own motivations and approach to health and wellness, as well as unique communication preferences and messaging they find persuasive.
Armed with this knowledge, healthcare providers can determine not only what they need to communicate, but where they need to be to connect with individuals. For example, Balance Seekers often look beyond physicians and other healthcare professionals for advice on healthy living. To engage these healthcare consumers, healthcare providers need to look beyond their four walls or their own website to other venues that Balance Seekers trust.
3. Cost Transparency.
In the days when employers paid the lion’s share of insurance premiums, patients didn’t pay much attention to cost. Patients went to the doctor, waited for the insurance explanation of benefits to come in and paid the difference. But those days are largely gone now. Healthcare consumers increasingly share a larger part of the healthcare cost burden. More employers are moving to high-deductible health plans, and healthcare consumers who don’t have the benefit of workplace insurance are shopping for their own coverage on the federal or state health insurance exchanges. The Advisory Board Company notes that out-of-pocket costs have nearly doubled in the past six years, and healthcare consumers have become weary from billing “surprises.” Nearly 33 percent of Americans reported having a larger-than-expected bill from a healthcare provider in the last two years. One respondent said, “We just wish that a doctor’s office would give us a reliable statement at the time of service; we would rather be told to bring $1,000 or know up front that we can’t afford this procedure. End of story.”
Of course, price transparency can be a double-edged sword in healthcare because it can lead to patients delaying care. The cure? If you’re monitoring for the signs of price sensitivity — or you suspect that the cost of a procedure is at the root of a patient’s resistance to it — cost calculators can help. United Healthcare offers its members a healthcare cost estimator that estimates the cost of a treatment and shows the bottom-line financial impact based on an individual’s co-pay, deductible and out-of-pocket maximum. Other sites go even further, estimating the cost of preventive treatment now versus the long-term cost of ignoring warning signs that result in chronic conditions.
Among the psychographic segments described earlier, Priority Jugglers and Self Achievers are the least price sensitive, willing to pay the most for care. Conversely, Willful Endurers are most likely to skip paying medical bills. Interestingly, while Self Achievers (the most proactive and wellness oriented) and Willful Endurers (the most reactive and least engaged in their health) are polar opposites in their approach to health and wellness, these two segments are the most likely to sue a physician, hospital or insurance company if they believe they did not get the level of service expected.
4. Connected Experiences.
Healthcare consumers know that hospitals and other healthcare providers gather a lot of data, and they’re willing to provide even more data if it leads to better health and improved healthcare experiences. For instance, wearable devices like the FitBit or Apple Watch offer insights into activity levels and sleep quality that can prove valuable to healthcare providers. For instance, a case study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine outlines how doctors used data saved to a patient’s smartphone from his FitBit to pinpoint the onset time of his atrial fibrillation when he came to the ER following a seizure.
Healthcare providers can take advantage of the willingness to share by implementing remote monitoring systems that push real-time data to patient records, offering insights that not only satisfy healthcare consumers’ desire for more connected experiences but also allow for more personalized communications that coach patients more effectively.
In addition to using the tactics above to stay alert and responsive to the healthcare consumer expectations, healthcare providers need to recognize that a lot of healthcare conversations are taking place on social platforms and health-related forums. Leveraging a social listening tool can help healthcare providers better understand healthcare consumers, especially when taken into consideration with other sources of patient feedback such as the c2b Consumer Diagnostic data, as well as HCAHPS data and point-of-care surveys. Are you prepared to deliver on healthcare consumer expectations?