Long after the Affordable Care Act spurred a shift from fee-for-service to value-based, patient-centric care, many health care providers are still at a loss. What exactly does “patient-centric” care mean? What does it look like, and how should providers implement it in their practices and hospitals?
Enter: The kings of customer-centric service, interaction and engagement—retail brands.
By following examples set by successful retail brands, health care providers can devise new ways to better engage current patient populations and expand their reach to new demographics.
1. Realize that people do have other choices
The health care industry has frequently lagged behind other industries in terms of technology and customer service developments. Providers commonly assumed a patient would be willing to wait long hours or endure poor service because he had nowhere else to go.
In both retail and health care, this is no longer the case. Smartphone and personal computer buyers have countless options on the market today. Apple, for instance, has discovered how to amass an almost cult-like following of loyal customers by delivering groundbreaking product innovations and an immersive and engaging in-store experience. These customers eagerly await Apple’s newest releases or gladly roam their stores chatting with employees and testing devices.
Health care providers have not always done the same, despite the rise of retail health care options and telemedicine. Aurora Health Care created an online community of about 5,000 highly-engaged patients to uncover how it could become patients’ top choice. Insights drawn from that patient community have gone on to inspire new pilot products and service developments. Plus, the community has inspired a website redesign and improvements to internal operations and marketing strategies that put patients first.
2. Integrate technology to provide an easier, more seamless experience
Modern technology has enabled companies across industries to create more convenient and seamless customer experiences by prioritizing the multichannel or omnichannel user experience.
Disney, for example, simplifies the trip-planning process for vacationers by integrating its mobile-responsive website, the My Disney Experience mobile app, its in-park Fast Pass system and wearable MagicBand technology. These technologies together enable users to plan and execute various aspects of their Disney trip, from tickets and dining reservations to finding out wait times and skipping long ride lines.
Kaiser Permanente also recognized the growing importance of integrating its services with modern technology for a more convenient and seamless patient experience. To reduce patients’ need to drive to the doctor’s office, Kaiser adopted the fast-growing telemedicine model.
The result? Kaiser announced last October that the organization conducted more than half of its 110 million physician-patient interactions last year via smartphone, videoconferencing, kiosks and other technology tools. Kaiser flipped the traditional health care model by bringing the care directly to the patients.
3. Encourage engagement and positive behaviors with tech-enabled rewards programs
Combine the ubiquity of mobile devices and the power of gamification, and it’s no wonder consumers have fueled the explosion of mobile apps. Gamification as a monetization tool can encourage various user behaviors, such as making purchases, in exchange for extrinsic or intrinsic rewards. Retail brands have also successfully applied that same concept to healthier outcomes.
Fitbit sells wearable fitness and activity trackers, but the retail brand also offers a corresponding app that users can sync to their wearable device. The Fitbit app collects data from the tracker in real time based on the user’s daily activities and workouts. It then offers badges as rewards for completing tasks, attaining preset goals or reaching certain milestones. Both the badges and a competitive leaderboard act as extrinsic rewards, but users are also intrinsically rewarded by knowing they are maintaining a more active and healthier lifestyle.
Health insurers also recognize the power of mobile apps and rewards programs to encourage patients to adopt healthy behaviors. Patients’ healthier behaviors can help insurance companies save money by preventing expensive services.
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield’s Blue Rewards program rewards patients monetarily up to $300 for actions like selecting a primary care provider, subscribing to a wellness email or completing a health screening. Patients can feel rewarded by taking a more active role in their own health care and pursuing health-related knowledge and activities.
Humana’s Go365 program also rewards patients for taking the Go365 Health Assessment or engaging in healthy activities tracked across various apps and devices. Extrinsic rewards include gift cards or program-compatible fitness-related electronics. But these types of health-related actions can also prevent patients from needing to utilize their insurance as often—a potentially even more valuable intrinsic reward.
4. Collect and utilize data analytics to improve satisfaction
From web traffic to social media, retail brands regularly squeeze out every bit of customer data possible. However, brands must also analyze the data to gain insights into consumers’ needs and how to better market and develop products accordingly.
Amazon has been a retail leader in utilizing data analytics to improve the customer experience, particularly in personalization. Customer service experiences can be smoother because an Amazon representative has all the customer’s data at-hand. Or Amazon can offer helpful, tailored suggestions for other products and services customers actually want based on search and browsing histories.
The Cleveland Clinic exemplifies how health care providers can also benefit from patient data analytics. After receiving disappointing scores on its 2009 patient satisfaction index, the clinic brought on a team of experts to conduct a quantitative and qualitative study on patients’ expectations.
That analysis showed patients’ expectations centered around clear, consistent and respectful communication with happy hospital staff, which differed from what Cleveland Clinic had assumed. Armed with new patient insights, the clinic could more deliberately and efficiently address issues and drive improvement to boost patients’ experience and satisfaction.
Patient-centric care represents the way of the future for the health care industry
But until providers take cues from successful consumer-facing retail brands, they risk diminishing patients’ satisfaction and engagement and losing those patients to competitors. While patients and retail customers ultimately have different needs and expectations of the companies they choose to work with, remember: We’re all consumers looking for the highest quality product at the best available price.