By Arel Lidow, co-founder and president, Cedar.
At a recent doctor’s appointment, I found myself in an uncomfortable situation, one that will probably seem familiar to you.
Before my appointment, I filled out a bunch of paperwork online—but when I arrived, there were still more forms to complete. Although the check-in process is typically annoying at best, this extra hassle during a pandemic made things even worse.
The care I received was great. But the administrative experience—which included using a communal pen and clipboard, and standing in the waiting room to keep my distance from others—was clunky and stressful. On the way home, I found myself searching online for a new (and more modern) provider.
It’s been said that your best experience anywhere inevitably becomes your baseline expectation everywhere. Didn’t Amazon change how you shop online forever? Likewise, healthcare has had to adapt and deliver consumer-friendly experiences that mimic those in patients’ daily lives.
The need for transformation in digital health has only been accelerated by COVID-19, with people seeking virtual care to avoid exposure, or even delaying care and cancelling appointments—which can increase morbidity rates for chronic and acute health conditions.
If consumers can order grocery deliveries with the touch of a button, why can’t it be as simple and convenient for patients to engage with healthcare providers at a time and place that’s most convenient for them? Why can’t we deliver a patient-centric experience by meeting them where they are?
Leading retail companies have set the bar so high that exceptional end-to-end digital experiences are now just table stakes. Patients are consumers, after all, and consumers increasingly expect an end-to-end journey that’s cohesive, seamless, and safe. They deserve a connected experience that better meets their needs. So, how can providers exceed patient expectations in the new normal and beyond?
According to Cedar’s second-annual Healthcare Consumer Experience Study, conducted by Forrester Consulting, the future of healthcare must be transparent, touchless, and personalized. It’s that simple. Sixty-eight percent of study respondents emphasized the importance of having a customized experience with their healthcare provider—how they communicate, pay, and so on—not unlike how Chipotle remembers that you like extra guacamole with your burrito bowl when you order through its app.
In fact, nearly half the respondents wished that the digital healthcare experience was smoother and more intuitive, similar to experiences with Amazon, Netflix, or Uber. Companies offering best-in-class digital experiences have become the yardstick against which all other companies are measured—and healthcare is no exception.
Imagine if connecting with your provider was as easy as queuing up your next binge-watching session: an app could navigate you through scheduling an appointment, completing check-in forms, and pre-paying your copay, all within minutes. Imagine having an outstanding patient experience before you even walk into a doctor’s office.
Expectations vs. Reality (and Why It Matters)
Unfortunately, many providers have yet to rise to the challenge. Thirty-one percent of consumers think their healthcare providers have not done enough to improve their patient billing and payment processes. What’s more, a majority (68 percent) believe it’s critical for providers to enable more engagement customization options for communication, bill pay, scheduling, and more. Simply put, providers are not meeting consumer expectations.
And with more consumer information at their fingertips, the proportion of healthcare customers increasingly “shopping around” for providers has never been higher. They’re leveraging as much information as they can from other consumers and peers. The social network effect in healthcare is pervasive: more than half of consumers have consulted online reviews to choose a healthcare provider, and nearly all say that reviews are influential when choosing a provider.
The pressure is on for providers to deliver exceptional experiences, even beyond the walls of their office. They’re being evaluated by prospective patients who seek a world-class digital experience, and nothing less than that. This is especially true against the backdrop of COVID-19; since the onset of the pandemic, 40% more patients have switched providers after having a poor digital experience.
Even if patients receive outstanding care, a negative administrative experience can overshadow a positive care experience. It’s essential for the bottom line to keep current patients happy. That way they’ll come back the next time they need care, and then rave about their experiences to others.
Prioritizing the Digital Patient Journey
As digital tools become increasingly important to patients, using those tools to improve the patient journey will become a key differentiator. Frankly, exceeding patient expectations around the digital experience is no longer optional for competitive providers.
To truly delight patients throughout their healthcare experience, here are three key actions to take:
>Consider the entire end-to-end journey. That means delivering tools that add value to the entire digital experience. From scheduling, preparing for, and checking in for appointments, to follow-up and paying medical bills, each of these moments between provider and patient leaves a lasting impression.
>Provide options, speed, and convenience. That means a robust patient portal featuring a full range of capabilities, and made user-friendly for both mobile device and desktop use. Patients want a healthcare experience that can be managed on-the-go, and one that mimics their online retail experiences: fast, friendly and personalized.
>Offer flexibility for payments. That means understanding the logistical, emotional and financial constraints that patients face, especially during the pandemic, and treating them with empathy. Patients need and appreciate the ability to pay medical bills on their own terms (e.g., through custom payment plans and prompt-pay discounts). By empowering patients to resolve bills with flexible payment options, providers can cultivate patient loyalty, satisfaction, and trust.
Let’s face it—even after the pandemic is over, patients won’t be willing to waste their time in a crowded waiting room, filling out forms on a clipboard (with that dreaded communal pen). So who will emerge as the Amazon or Netflix of healthcare? That remains to be seen. One thing is clear: achieving that position means mastering the end-to-end digital healthcare experience, simplifying the ways that patients and providers connect, and pairing the right health tech tools with the right strategy.