The Empowered Patient is Now The Consumer... You Hear That, Healthcare?
In This Article
"I want it now!"
When Veruca Salt uttered those words in Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971, she was not referring to access to care.
If you needed care back then, you'd have to call your doctor's office on a rotary phone, be placed on hold and given a very narrow appointment window to see your doctor, arrange to take time off work, find your way to your appointment, sit in an overcrowded waiting room while refilling out the same forms from your last visit, leave your doctor with unanswered questions, stand in line to make a follow-up appointment, drive to the pharmacy, then receive an unexpected bill no one could decipher a month later.
For the most part, this was how we've historically interacted with healthcare: a disrupted and fragmented journey with many detours, delays, barriers and frustrations.
Consumer-centric expectations in healthcare
Yet modern patients are more empowered as purchasers, custodians and advocates of their own health and wellness. They've essentially become consumers within the healthcare ecosystem. In the spirit of Ms. Salt, they want care with easy access, affordable and transparent transactions, and quality outcomes wherever they are…. And they want it now!
Today, the patient care journey begins when someone starts a Google search about symptoms they may be experiencing, comparing clinicians or healthcare systems on Healthgrades or Yelp. They want to engage with a physician who has "four stars or better" and can digitally meet them at the front door. Sixty-three percent of consumers choose one provider over another because of a solid online presence. Additionally, thirty-six percent of healthcare consumers show no healthcare brand preference or loyalty. And this trend is growing as more Gen Xers and millennials make their way through the healthcare labyrinth.
Healthcare systems must pivot to technologies that provide a frictionless hospitality experience around access, convenience, cost transparency, quality and education to meet this new level of consumer-centric expectation. They will need to lay down the infrastructure that gathers data not only from disparate internal sources, but the shared secure data coming from the patient's remote monitoring devices/wearables and the social determinates of health (SDoH) they face. By overlaying balanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models, patients will be embraced by a proactive cognitive human-like interaction that transforms their care experience into something that resembles what they are already used to today -- an Amazon-like predictive retail consumer-centric journey. This is supported by the fact that sixty percent of healthcare consumers expect their digital healthcare experience to mirror retail.
Healthcare systems are finding non-traditional entrants like Amazon Care, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, HIMS, Teledoc, and Forward evolving and transforming the care delivery narrative. They extend technologies that exceed consumer expectations, delivering unimagined patient experiences. This adds more pressure on healthcare systems to step up their digital care game, especially since brand loyalty is not as important as it used to be. No longer are consumers/patients willing to be lost in phone tree limbo, receive surprise bills from the hospital, surgeon, anesthesiologist and diagnostics, be confused about their care plan, navigate independent telehealth services, sift through nonspecific patient education, go without personalized care maintenance reminders, or continue to deal with other fractured experiences.
Patients today want a single unified entry point of consumer engagement, a digital healthcare marketplace open 24/7. They are seeking out that omnichannel experience that brings together convenient dynamic scheduling, digital check-in, wayfinding, clinical data clarity, their preferred well-health apps, care team engagement, unified virtual care experiences, accurate cost transparency before care is rendered, AI-driven symptom checkers that automatically connect them with the right level of care and other essential touch points, all in a single application.
Use case: St. Jude's digital transformation
For example, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital wanted to bring a hospitality-focused, consumer-centric experience to the families of the children they care for. Their patients travel from all over the U.S. and beyond. They wanted to remove the frictions associated with traveling with a child with cancer or another complicated disease: arranging flights, accommodations and meals; getting from their front door to their initial greeting visit in Memphis; being aware of their child's care schedule; being able to connect to their child no matter where they are in their clinical journey; understanding their child's unique care plan; and minimizing the anxiety they are no doubt experiencing.
Before St. Jude engaged WWT, the hospital and the families they cared for accomplished most of these tasks through manual, paper-based, analog processes that presented many challenges. St. Jude decided to partner with WWT to bring their vision of a modern care experience to the hands of the families and children they care for as well as their staff.
WWT engaged with the clinical teams, administrators, IT staff, patients and families of St. Jude to understand the minor details of these complex healthcare journeys. Using a human-centered design approach, we helped develop a highly tailored solution that transformed their antiquated system into a user-friendly, omnichannel digital command center that could be controlled from the patient caretaker's smartphone or tablet -- the "Our St. Jude" mobile app. As a result, all those friction points mentioned above were eliminated, allowing families to have a clear 360-degree digital view of their child's care journey through a two-time Webby Award-winning application.
These are the types of interactions consumers have been accustomed to in finance, retail, travel, hospitality, entertainment and other sectors for some time now. Unfortunately, healthcare is still playing catch up. The excellent news is that industry-leading healthcare systems and insurance organizations are acutely aware of this, moving swiftly to pay down their technical debt and improve the core IT infrastructure that supports strategic initiatives like on-demand, consumer-centric care delivery experiences.
You could say this approach represents the golden ticket for patients and health systems alike.