Does Healthcare Need a Lesson from Retail?

Why does a health care facility need to have a consumer engagement strategy?

Recently I watched an On-Demand Webinar which makes the case that the healthcare industry needs to think more like the retail industry.  Enabling Digital Engagement: Best Practices for Creating Digital Consumer Engagement in a Changing Health Industry was presented by Microsoft and HIMSS and brings out some information that is sure to shake an industry that is already feeling pretty punch-drunk at the moment.

Amy Widicus from Tahoe Partners and Elevis Delgadillo of Banner Health teamed up on this webinar to walk health care facilities through best practices and things to consider when they are considering their consumer engagement strategies. Now hold on a second, some of you may be saying.  Why does a health care facility need to have a consumer engagement strategy?  It’s not like we have to go out and compete for patients.  They come to us, and outside of regularly scheduled appointments there is no need to engagement.  Right?  Wrong

As the presenters point out, this way of thinking is not only wrong, it’s dead wrong.  There are numerous reasons why facilities should be engaging more with patients.  Some of them are purely for the benefit of the facility: for example holding a neighborhood flu shot campaign can help cut down the numbers of patients who utilize your facility during the busy flu season.  However, more of it has to do with changing consumers and larger shifts within healthcare.  A 2014 study by Price Cooper’s Healthcare Division cited by the presenters points out that fully 50% of people are willing to abandon traditional healthcare structures in favor of cheaper or more convenient alternatives.  Think about that…50% of your patients are willing to say goodbye to you forever if they can get the care that they want through a smart phone app, telemedicine program or retail medical programs like Little Clinics.  Can you afford to lose 50% of your patients?  My guess is that you can’t.

So what do these patients want?  It would only be slightly exaggerating to say that they want it all.  They want:

  • Personalized service (meaning I don’t want to have to delete e-mails from my provider with information on senior health programs when I’m in my 30’s)
  • Integrated experiences (this is one area where wearables come in…integrate your smart phone app to my FitBit so you can see how active I am being)
  • Education (and this is NOT the eight mile long page of data that comes in the box with a new prescription or a sample)
  • More enjoyment out of interactions with your facility

Basically, this 50% of patients want their interactions with you, their healthcare provider, to be comparable to interactions they have with retail and other service-based sectors.  Is your facility ready to compete with Amazon or Facebook?  Because that is what these customers are beginning to expect.

Understandably, this is a daunting task in any industry, but especially within healthcare.  Healthcare facilities are not used to being treated and evaluated that way, as this recent NPR piece on Yelp’s recent inclusion of medical facilities demonstrates.  Let’s be honest here…some facilities don’t want to face this at all.  They’d rather stick their heads in the sand and answer every proposal with “Healthcare is different!  It can’t be done this way!” before stalking to their office and closing the door to shut out the unwelcome intrusion of reality.  But again…the bottom line question is that if you can afford to lose 50% of your patients to a clinic down the street, feel free to ignore all of this.  But if not, it’s time to put on your adult shoes and start thinking about consumer engagement.

The webinar had several sage pieces of advice for facilities who are thinking about creating or improving consumer engagement tools.  Some of my favorites included:

  • Usability testing of the technology should be a part of your organization’s culture.  It’s not something that’s done once and then filed away.  Remember that consumers are always changing, and as their needs and desires change your engagement strategies and tech need to adapt.  Usability testing is key to this.
  • Don’t go immediately for the WOW! factor in an attempt to differentiate yourself from the competition.  Not only is it expensive, the presenters pointed to survey data that indicates that more bells and whistles has no impact on customer loyalty or satisfaction…and in fact it can decrease satisfaction if it makes the technology too complex to use.  See the point about usability above.  Sometimes all it takes to differentiate yourself is to provide the exact same service as the clinic down the street, but do it in a way that’s easier for the consumer.
  • Avoid SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome)  I don’t mind telling you that this is now one of my favorite phrases.  You’ve seen this before.  You bring in a vendor for a presentation on their abilities, and they show you all of the bells and whistles, all of the amazing, bleeding edge stuff their tech can do.  It’s awe-inspiring…and you immediately want it.  You sign on the dotted line and pay huge amounts of money, only to discover that the tech they demonstrated can’t do what they showed you because it either doesn’t play nicely with your existing technology infrastructure or you have it but you don’t have anything to use it for.  You need to keep your goals in mind.  Even if the technology they show you looks like something that came out of Industrial Light and Magic, if it doesn’t help you meet you goals you just wasted a ton of money and created a huge headache for your staff who have to support it.

Click the link to watch this great webinar, and get the rest of the tips and best practices you’ll need to start building your consumer engagement strategy!

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