5 Ways to Deliver a Retail Experience in Healthcare

Patients today are expecting a new level of engagement; here’s what you can do to meet their demands

Across the healthcare industry, changes in payment models, technology and patient preferences are requiring swift and disruptive action by provider, payer and life science organizations alike. Perhaps nowhere is this more profound than the need to capture the mindset of patients who are adopting consumer-like behavior.

With the vast increase in the number of high deductible plans in both the individual and group markets, greater out-of-pocket costs, a higher percentage of government-sponsored plans with an emphasis on value-based care, an aging and sicker population, and industry consolidation leading to intense local competition, the healthcare industry is struggling to keep up.

In times of disruption, new business models emerge, blurring the lines between payers and providers and as new entrants establish themselves in the market. Despite these changes, there is an opportunity to take lessons from those who have been there and have set the bar for where the healthcare industry is headed.

Ultimately, healthcare patients covet a retail experience. The following are five ways healthcare providers can deliver the retail experience they covet.

  1. Digitally connect customers and enable employees with technology.

Whether customers are discovering new brands on social media or browsing product reviews on their mobile devices, retailers know they need to “be where their customers are” for brand awareness and inspiration. Forrester reports that 32% of online customers trust user reviews from strangers more than branded advertisements and material.  Recognizing this trend, retailers must deliver relevant, valuable, and personalized experiences to build “brand stickiness” in the minds of customers.

Employees also must be enabled by technology to connect and deliver these experiences. Mobile POS systems, clienteling, and RFID for inventory and supply chain can help staff engage with customers.

These concepts also apply to healthcare, where connecting digitally means both understanding the patient journey inside and outside the clinic and providing tools for meaningful interactions.  Technology can enhance this journey at scale.  For example, where do patients discover and explore?  More than 80% of people search healthcare information online. Own your reviews. For example, health systems that publish patient satisfaction survey scores as a part of their provider profiles have greater visibility in Google searches (Vivian S Lee, 2014).

With payers buying medical clinics, health systems establishing health plans, and consumers managing more out-of-pocket expenses, the buy phase of the patient journey  looks significantly different.  Transparency into price and quality is critical to support an informed consumer, however making the point of sale more seamless for the patient and efficient for collections is business critical.  It’s important to remove barriers to payment, both in the clinic and online, by establishing an automated POS collection strategy and driving adoption of patient financial portals to reduce call center volumes and decrease bad debt.

Finally, ensure your digital engagement initiatives provide accessible data that is meaningful and actionable, both to the provider and the patient.  Critical in this process is data governance.

Make sure the correct stakeholders from the clinical, IT, marketing and operations teams are included, with oversight from compliance and informed by voice of the customer (VOC) insights, to establish consistent key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to measurable organizational objectives can make this an enterprise-wide strength.  In a world of value-based reimbursement where longitudinal patient engagement and member retention is increasingly fundamental, this strength will pay dividends.

  1. Personalize each customer experience with relevant content

With the rise of mobile devices, retailers were early entrants into the areas of personalization, especially with the role that mobile phones are starting to have as extensions of ourselves – holding our personal information, contacts, payment methods, social media connections, loyalty cards, and more. Retailers are now using technology to connect with customers before, during, and after a customer shops with them – either online or in-store.

Considering how mobile and connected health devices can personalize care drove $4.5 billion in investment in 2015.  Investments in healthcare personalization are broad, from analytics and data warehousing providers to wearable technology and health kiosks. According to a 2015 Gartner report, 300 executives identified strengths and weaknesses in healthcare transformation and it was determined “there is an unparalleled opportunity to deliver greater value to customers by assuming their personal perspective and using the technology of digital business to optimize engagement.”

Put away the digital engagement “hat” and consider how to personalize the patient’s experience in your clinic.  For example, Harken Health has created a decidedly non-institutional approach to their primary care clinics.  From health coaches guiding patients through their visit, attending exams and establishing a follow-up plan to comfortable waiting areas complete with Wi-Fi enabled work areas, Harken Health invites their members to stick around for a while, even attend a wellness class. Combined with digital tools, they are betting this level of personalization will both improve the health of their populations and drive loyalty during open enrollment.

  1. Understand brand engagement as it affects the customer expectations, operations, and technology

Leading retailers have adopted the customer-centric approach in order to understand their customers’ journeys and to keep them engaged with their brands. Healthcare organizations also need to understand patient pain points to align operations, partnerships and tools to make their journey seamless. Oscar understands brand engagement in healthcare and how to drive value at the points of interaction. From the purchase of plans to connecting members to providers, Oscar has removed complexity, branded the patient experience and provided value-added wellness tools to build member affinity.  They embrace digital tools that offer simple, elegant user interfaces that feel like a retail experience, and have attracted a younger population, with 65% of their members under the age of 45.

Operationally, they’ve pivoted to establish narrow network provider partnerships that support member experience integrations and manage their costs to remain competitively priced. Consider how your organization is collecting VOC insights and optimizing partnerships to build a more seamless brand experience for your patients.

  1. Maximize profitability of physical space through supply chain optimization and layout design.

Retailers are challenged with balancing the costs of real estate, labor management, store operations, inventory and more with the revenue physical locations generate. The same holds true in healthcare. There is an opportunity to combine lean design principles with evolving patient experience expectations to optimize the investment in physical space.  Yet consumer interactions have changed dramatically as has the utilization of physical space. Retail utilizes technology to optimize their supply chain and integrate the physical and digital marketplaces.

As a cost center, hospitals can use technology to coordinate clinical care management, support point of sale collections or enhance care navigation, such as patient education and scheduling, to reduce administrative overhead.  In a physical clinic, there will always be limitations of exam room space. However, a 2016 Gartner study estimates that On-Demand Virtual Care will become mainstream in the next 5 years.

Implemented effectively, telemedicine enhances the profitability of the physical space by freeing up the exam room for higher acuity patients, providing services to a patient population that may have avoided an office visit, allowing providers to work at the top of their license, and extending the value of the clinic beyond the physical walls, perhaps into new geographic markets.

To what degree can these investments maximize profitability? Kaiser Permanente is building 10 new clinics in Southern California. Based on space-conscious floor plans, redesigned work flows and investments in technology, they project to boost face-to-face visits per exam room between 20% and 40% and deliver overall square-footage cost savings of 10%.

  1. Embrace generational differences in customer experience design

Much attention has been given by retailers to the millennials and digital natives, especially in the areas of digital marketing and online shopping. Technology adoption is not limited to only the younger generations. Pew Research shows that 59% of adults 65 or older go online and 47% have high-speed internet connections.  Additionally, 77% of adults over 65 also have mobile phones. This shows that the aging population is also adopting internet and mobile technology.

Considering that major investments made today will be supporting more digitally connected, information-seeking patients in the next few years, some key takeaways are:

  1. Meeting Boomers’ need for content and information such as drug and treatment options, medications and tools to help with adherence
  2. Speaking to Boomers as both patients and caregivers
  3. Integrating traditional and digital marketing tactics to engage Boomers.

Regarding patient experience and evolving preferences for care, more than four in five respondents younger than 35 said they embraced care provided via virtual marketplaces.  All respondents under the age of 45 identify digital as their preferred means of engagement to manage their health, outranking traditional facility visits or phone calls.

For successful implementation, innovative healthcare organizations ensure sufficient resources are allocated to change management, EMR interoperability and workflow integration, and evaluate scope of services provided based on their own merits.

The path of many retail brands has been bumpy over the last 15 years, adapting to a significantly different consumer and marketplace. The companies that have succeeded understand opportunities for brand engagement with their customers and have invested in new processes and technologies to deliver personalized experiences and maximize the profitability of the physical space by optimizing their operations and integrating physical and virtual marketplaces. Healthcare is facing similar expectations from their patients and can utilize these retail lessons to deliver a better consumer experience.

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