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Future of Healthcare — Lessons From Retail

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By Arpit Jain

Chief Client Services Officer

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In an article Nerdery shared in 2019, we talked about how digital technology and consumer focus were transforming healthcare delivery. Within six months of publishing it, the pandemic hit, upending how providers would deliver essential services for an entire year. Pandemic-driven changes to the industry could forever alter how healthcare systems provide services. Think of the rise of retail health, telehealth and home healthcare, for instance.  

Indeed, COVID-19 has had a wide-ranging impact on how patients (consumers) now look at their healthcare options. Before the pandemic, most patients preferred seeking treatment from traditional brick-and-mortar physicians, but in a recent PBS NewsHour—Marist poll, 35% of recipients said they’re willing to use telemedicine services, reports Forbes

To better understand how changing consumer expectations and emerging digital technologies shape how leaders respond to the industry’s systemic changes, we share what healthcare providers can do to improve customer experiences and leverage digital technology from adjacent industries, like retail. Yes, retail sets the standard for customer-centric philosophy and execution.

How retail’s influence can improve healthcare

Healthcare is in the same boat as retail was during the 2000s when advancing technology, rising consumer expectations, and competitive disruptors forced most of the retail industry to be more consumer-centric or risk extinction. 

Consumers are increasingly rethinking how they access healthcare due to a broader variety of available choices. 

Last year, Becker’s Hospital Review reported “traditional retailers like Walmart, Walgreens and CVS have found an opportunity in healthcare: delivering expedited, integrated care through their walk-in and urgent care clinics.” The reason is clear: patients want easier access to care and want to spend less money. What’s more, customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers.

Patients want easier access to care and want to spend less money.

But many providers have been slow to improve patient experiences and leverage technology to make simple tasks more intuitive. The reality is, “Retail is learning healthcare faster than healthcare is learning retail,” observed Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center CIO Phyllis Teater.

During the pandemic, telehealth visits rose exponentially as patients sought safer care options. As a result, many physicians saw their telehealth visit volume increase by a factor of 50 to 175. To manage demand, providers hastily built a temporary bridge using digital tools and operational workarounds that aren’t robust enough to sustain this level of use permanently. 

Here are four key takeaways for healthcare systems:

Bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds of healthcare.
Retailers with an omnichannel view are always more successful. Healthcare systems need to ensure their consumers can experience a connected journey between both of these worlds. Think telehealth and virtual doctors. However, success will only be achieved when the patient (consumer) doesn’t experience a difference when moving between physical and digital interactions within their health systems.

Meet consumers where they are, on their terms.
Successful retailers strive to deliver superior customer experiences wherever their customers are. Likewise, consumers expect their health systems to know their preferences when interacting on different channels during various stages of their journey. As a consumer, if I’m interacting with my healthcare provider’s administrative systems, they should know everything about my journey to make the process simple when interacting with me.

Healthcare systems shouldn’t limit their patients’ experience to physicians (virtually or physically). 
Leaders should ensure the consumer journey outside of provider interactions (billing and scheduling as some examples) are designed and developed to provide patients with a superior frictionless experience. Building a digital front door is a good first step, but the journey — and experience — needs to be built across the entire consumer journey. To be sure, the healthcare system consumer journey goes far beyond spending just a few minutes with doctors and providers. It begins with a patient’s first digital interaction and continues even after care is completed. Through multiple initiatives, Nerdery partnered with a large healthcare system to rebuild key digital properties, create a specialty referral tool and more, which ensured patients and providers were buffered from the complexity of healthcare systems. Instead, patients were given an experience that anticipated and simplified their needs.

Artificial Intelligence and data insights are powerful tools.
You may consider AI or artificial intelligence to be a buzzword, but it’s getting to the point where consumers expect their health systems to learn their preferences and provide them not just reactive but proactive guidance, too. A study by KPMG revealed that 89% of healthcare executives improved efficiency and access to care by using AI to refine administrative processes. What’s more, providers are harnessing AI for real-time decision-making support and insights. For instance, Nerdery worked with a healthcare system to help its providers gain insights into patient recovery curves. We built a dashboard to do just this by leveraging machine learning and enterprise-level scalability with AWS. Now, with predictive analytics, providers can see deeper insights into their patient’s journey and are empowered to optimize care for their patients.

Provide flawless experiences throughout the patient journey

Healthcare systems can transform how they deliver services to demanding consumers by looking to retail leaders for insights and outside-the-box thinking. Research shows healthcare systems obsessed with providing flawless experiences throughout the patient journey will grow faster and be more profitable than competitors.

Research shows healthcare systems obsessed with providing flawless experiences throughout the patient journey will grow faster and be more profitable than competitors.

Begin by designing seamless experiences between in-person care and telehealthcare; make sure administrative systems “know” patient preferences, and leverage AI technology for provider support and close any communications and systems gaps.

Accelerate your journey to human-centric healthcare.