Our previous post discussed some of the market forces that brought healthcare to the consumer-centric focus it is transitioning to. Today’s post will look at the impacts and takeaways the COVID-19 pandemic had on the consumer experience and lessons we can learn from other industries that have gone through this digital disruption already.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to go digital almost overnight, and some healthcare organizations were able to pivot well, while others struggled with the transition. Today, many digital solutions aren’t sufficiently coordinated with revenue cycle business processes, and this can result in a patient financial experience full of friction and pain points.

In spite of a somewhat hastily prepared digital experience, 75% of patients who used a digital tool to engage with their healthcare organization said they would do it again even after the pandemic. This illustrates that patients are ready and eager to use more digital tools to engage, connect with, and pay for healthcare services.1

Even though we’re still delivering phenomenal care, even though our outcomes are fantastic, the financial experience around that care can be frustrating to patients, and they are ready to try something better.

While healthcare was focused on the insurer back in the 1980s, other industries were focusing on the consumer. For example, banking and financial services previously went through a period of deregulation, so by the 80s they started offering new services and expanded from brick-and-mortar locations by opening ATMs. Then, in the 90s, they added online functionality, and they incorporated mobile apps as soon as it was a possibility. They were very early adopters into customer-facing solutions, and today they have phenomenal, customer-centric solutions. A person can go online to a bank’s website, download an app and engage through their phone, or go in person; and regardless of the channel, all the data and information is in sync in real-time. These digital engagement opportunities make sense and make it easy for consumers to access and transport their finances in what used to be a far more complicated process.

When it comes to healthcare, because of the relatively late adoption of digital engagement channels, a high amount of friction can occur for patients whether they’re trying to access a patient portal, pay bills online, or electronically communicate with their provider. This friction is especially obvious to patients who enjoy seamless digital experiences with other industries.

The importance of figuring out a better patient digital experience is magnified when considering that a local hospital’s competition isn’t just the other big hospital down the street. These days, it’s beginning to be more and more of the massive, nation-wide organizations like Walmart, CVS, Amazon, and others. These national brands have one thing in common, and it’s not just that they are moving into healthcare delivery. They all have incredibly engaging, user-friendly, and easy-to-use digital ecosystems that, if applied to their burgeoning healthcare offerings, will provide them a significant competitive advantage.

This discrepancy signals one among a multitude of pressures facing the healthcare industry. The pressures of government compliance, competitive marketplace, new legislation, patient experience, workforce shortages, and more check all the boxes of an industry primed for disruption. These forces match up with every other industry that has been foundationally disrupted ahead of healthcare. And when healthcare comes through the other side of this disruptive process, it will be the organizations that successfully leverage technology to improve the model of patient engagement.

As an industry, healthcare is beginning to compete predominantly on patient experience. To understand what this means, it can be helpful to explore the customer experiences in other industries. For example, today someone could go to a Best Buy store to buy a television, and talk with one of their their well-trained associates who will explain all the details, the ins and outs, what makes this or that television different than the others. This would be a personally tailored experience to help guide them through that shopping process.

Or, someone can go to Amazon and buy a TV online, sight unseen. The TV will show up at their house in a day or two, the exact same one they could have bought at Best Buy for likely the same price. The primary difference between these two examples is the customer experience, and neither of those experiences is better than the other. It just depends on the customer. And the customer can decide what experience they would rather have. Scenarios like this are happening today in healthcare, and are just on aspect of the patient experience battleground.

Healthcare is obviously not as simple as buying a TV, and there are challenges and dangers of prioritizing the patient experience over everything else (look to the opioid epidemic and CMS’ ‘pain is a fifth vital sign’ serves as a stark reminder of how damaging misaligned incentives can be). For the most part, a patient can get high-quality care at a comparable price from many different healthcare providers. The main differentiator is the patient’s experience of the entirety of their care. Studies show that across all industries, 81 percent of businesses don’t compete primarily on price, quality, or even location. Instead, they compete on customer experience.2

Whether healthcare is ready for it or not, a consumer-driven disruption is happening. For healthcare providers to remain relevant in the market, they have to be able to compete on experience. That doesn’t necessitate that all healthcare moves to telehealth or an app. But it does mean that healthcare providers must be able to articulate their customer experience strategically and why it will draw patients to seek care from them.

Our third and final post in the series will discuss the patient experience trends and engagement opportunities for 2023 and beyond.

  1. Medallia
  2. Gartner

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