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Study: Consumers Looking for Digital Healthcare Experience

patients demand telemedicineThe results of a new study, “No More Waiting Room: The Future of the Healthcare Customer Experience,” from business and technology consultancy, West Monroe Partners, suggest that modern healthcare customers are gravitating toward digital channels like web portals and mobile apps in tremendous numbers.

Consumer Preference is Clear

The research that included more than 1,300 healthcare consumers, found that 86% who have access to online portals use them for some or all of their interactions with their healthcare provider. More than 90% use mobile apps when they are made available. More than 30% have used a mobile app to communicate with their provider in real time about a specific concern. Of those who have experienced real-time communication with a mobile app, 80% prefer this method to a traditional in-office encounter.

The research calls out a trend in consumer preferences, the shift away from traditional in-person encounters to a more digital and mobile paradigm. Unsurprisingly, the desire for a digital approach to care is stronger among younger, more tech-savvy patients. They desire an ongoing digitally interconnected relationship that goes far beyond the annual checkup.

Providers and Insurers Have Some Catching Up to Do

While consumers know exactly what they want, the researchers found that healthcare providers and insurers are not yet ready to meet these new and evolving customer needs. In fact, fully 85% of healthcare insurance executives are not confident that they have the right tools in place to meet the expectations of consumers. And most (54%) aren’t sure that they have the processes needed to evolve toward the experience that customers want.

“Healthcare providers realize the impact of digital communication channels and are beginning to adapt,” Will Hinde, senior director at West Monroe Partners and leader of the firm’s Healthcare practice, said in a statement. “We’re starting to see more providers incorporate the digital experience with their office visit, by shifting to more online scheduling of appointments, paperless office interactions, following up via email, portals, and mobile apps, and taking steps towards greater cost and quality transparency.”

The Line Between Healthcare and Retail Continues to Blur

Competition from in-store clinics and online only healthcare providers is one way that the line between healthcare and retail is starting to blur. Another is that patients are no longer basing their expectations of their healthcare provider on what they’ve experienced in other healthcare settings. Now they are judging providers against other consumer experiences, regardless of industry. Healthcare providers will need to increasingly look at wonderful retail experiences, like Amazon’s ability to know exactly what a customer is looking for, or Starbuck’s practice of welcoming customers by name. Consumer expectations will only continue to rise.

“I want it to be the Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak kind of experience and I want it right now,” said Michael Ruiz, the Chief Digital Officer of MedStar Health, said in his opening address at the mHealth and Telehealth World Congress. “How many of us are geared to do that? I would say healthcare systems today don’t have the mechanisms to do that. There is a lot of table stakes that we all have to do, whether it’s electronic health records, online scheduling, price transparency, there are a plethora of issues we have to work through. That doesn’t mean we can’t start to look at the experience where we can. Online registration for patients, online appointment, video teleconferences.”

What Steps Should Providers and Insurers Take?

For those organizations that aren’t certain about their abilities of their existing technology, getting to where customers want them to be is a big challenge.  “The healthcare industry is significantly behind the curve on technology innovation and collaboration efforts that improve the customer experience,” Hinde explained.

The study’s authors have some specific advice:

  • Future Proof the Communication Channel: Email and phone calls will not be sufficient to attract “digitally inclined customers.” Providers should look to online portals, mobile apps, messaging platforms, and even wearable healthcare devices, which are poised to become a $117 billion market by 2020 (according to MarketResearch).
  • Rethink What Customers Want:  Some providers and insurers are attempting to overcome privacy concerns with respect to the exchange of patient health information, like fitness data, with rewards programs. The study’s authors point out that what consumers want from these programs isn’t gift cards, it is better rates and service.
  • Prioritize Technology Growth: Providers should place a high emphasis on getting the right technology in place along with the people and processes needed to support it. They should look at all types of technology that improves the customer experience from telemedicine to predictive analytics.

While the gap between customer expectations and the ability of providers and insurers to provide a seamless digital experience is wide, the study should not be considered bad news. Instead, it can be considered a bit of a practical guide to achieving customer satisfaction. Customers are clear about what they want. The technology exists to develop deeper, more meaningful, and ultimately more effective relationships between patients and providers. Those who recognize this as an opportunity will leap far ahead of those who choose to ignore it.