HfS Network

Whatever the fate of the ACA, Consumerism in Healthcare is here to stay

March 16, 2017 | Barbra McGannMelissa O'Brien

While we wait for the new Obamacare “replacement” bill to sink or swim, we can’t help but ponder the implications of whatever outcome on the healthcare industry and the services ecosystem that supports it (especially since we get asked!). Amid all this uncertainty, one thing that is sure not to change is the consumerism that has taken a strong hold within the healthcare industry, which would be the case with or without the ACA. As consumers, we are wondering, if I can order merchandise from many different suppliers on amazon and pay in one place, why can’t I see all my clinical data and lab images and send them from one doctor or clinic to another? If I can send the record of my dog’s shots to a boarding kennel electronically, why not send my children’s immunization record to schools and summer camps just as easily? Yes, we know about interoperability and security issues. However, we have come to expect the same access and convenience in our healthcare experiences as we do in all the other aspects of our lives. 

Healthcare providers and payers are challenged to meet these increasing expectations—and are investing accordingly in digital enablement. HfS’ recent state of business operations survey indicated that 42% of healthcare companies are planning a significant investment in analytics to better understand what are the issues for whom, what are the opportunities to interact and impact members and patients and administrative support; and 36% are investing in social/mobile/interactive enablement to redefine, “modernize,” or create the customer experience. Despite all this planning and rhetoric, dealing with the healthcare system often feels like the dark ages rather than a modern customer experience. Our recent research found several examples of service providers and buyers working together that are hopeful of experiences to come:

  • Creating the digital customer experience by connecting front and back office: Due to ACA regulations, healthcare payers have needed to adjust to dealing with consumers (versus employers’ HR departments.) Many have set up retail storefronts including mobile centers where people can come in for enrollment (majority), questions and paying bills.  Teleperformance uses a proprietary software, TLSContact, to manage the process and workflow of the customer retail journey.  Representatives are able to access the initial app that the customer started online, and the workflow software helps identify the bottlenecks and how to better staff these centers.  For example, they can look at and analyze the processes to find out why there are long wait times—enabling clients to improve the process and better staff to meet demand.  
  • Developing customer journeys that look “outside the hospital walls” and building solutions that support the journey: Approaching healthcare in a consumer-centric economy drives healthcare organizations to look at how to initiate and keep the customer relationship over an extended period of time, not a point in time. Emergency rooms are designed to address a “point in time,” but we know that a health incident starts before a person arrives at the ER. VCU Health neurologist Dr. Sherita Chapman Smith is championing an effort to use telemedicine as a way to do assessments on stroke patients while they are in the ambulance, on their way to the hospital. (link).  In pilot simulations underway, the hospital is using trained actors to simulate stroke symptoms to test out the platform during ambulance rides to the hospital. “Patients” are picked up in an ambulance and connected via teleconference to the neurologist in the hospital, who conducts a remote assessment; and when they get to the hospital, they are quickly advanced to the next stage of treatment. The approach creates faster interactions between the points of care and speeds the time to treatment.
  • Using digital technology to make the users life easier and more real-time interactive with support systems: A healthcare organization that has partnered with NTT DATA Services described a consulting-led project which was aimed at the total redesign of the patient’s journey in various medical use cases (i.e. bariatric surgery, knee or hip replacement) in order to personalize that patient’s journey whenever he/she logs into the mobile app or accesses the website.  This means drawing together an understanding of that patient’s journey from start to finish, and knowing what stages they are in throughout their course of treatment, and what their needs might be. This hospital relied on the provider’s experience mapping expertise.  

It’s clear that healthcare isn’t getting less complicated any time soon. Whatever the fate of the ACA, the current political tone is foreshadowing more complexity and anxiety. Whether people are going to be uninsured or underinsured as critics of the current bill claim, or need to switch plans or providers, we can be sure that activity in the healthcare systems will increase. We can also be sure that that emotion will be at an all-time high, with the anxiety and fear that comes with people uncertain about what the changes mean for their lives and their loved ones: all the more reason that healthcare organizations need to be more nimble, intuitive and empathetic to that customer experience. Unfortunately, examples like the ones we highlighted above are the exception rather than the norm.

Bottom line: It’s time to think of and treat patients and members as customers you want to attract and retain, whether you are a health care provider or payer or a third party service provider partnering with a healthcare organization. Now we need to roll up our sleeves and partner in the effort to create a healthcare experience that puts the customer at its center.

 

 

Posted in: Healthcare

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