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While COVID-19 was tossing the healthcare world on its head--the democratization of medicine was rapidly evolving like never before. As a result, a clear truth has emerged from the rubble of the pandemic: patients have always been consumers, and now they understand it's possible to receive care in a way that prioritizes their needs--instead of relying on those with legacy mindsets who think it's perfectly acceptable to leave them sitting in waiting rooms.       

The push of out-of-the-box thinkers and customer service experts like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon into healthcare--combined with these newly-honed patient expectations--means that traditional players in this space can no longer afford to let "patient-centric" be a mere tagline. 

If that seems extreme, consider the customer-centric philosophies of one of the fastest growing competitors in the healthcare space: Amazon. In a Forbes article that highlighted the company's trailblazing success across various verticals, the author cites the company's "6 Customer Service Tenets" that have paved the way:  

  1. "Relentlessly advocate for customers."
  2. "Trust our customers and rely on associates to use good judgement."
  3. "Anticipate customer needs and treat their time and attention as sacred."
  4. "Deliver personalized, peculiar experiences that customers love."
  5. "Make it simple to detect and systematically escalate problems."
  6. "Eliminate customer effort through this sequential and systematic approach: defect elimination, self-service, automation, and support from an expert associate."

Perhaps even more telling is what's number one on Amazon's list of leadership principles:

"Customer Obsession: Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers."

While all of that may sound admirable for those outside the healthcare space, insiders may view that as easier said than done. Regulatory burdens, financial constraints, privacy requirements, interoperability challenges, and the complexities of patient care are often cited within the long list of explanations offered up by those with their heals firmly entrenched in doing things the way they've always been done. 

The good and bad news is that patients are also savvy consumers--and they increasingly realize that their options for accessing quality care are growing with each day that passes.   

On This Week in Health IT, host Bill Russell spoke with several experts who offered key insights into how traditional healthcare players can best prepare for this dynamic to compete with the big tech giants who are surging into this space. 

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Learning from Big Tech

There are plenty of lessons Big Tech offers to help healthcare shift from a provider-centric to a patient-centric model--which Eric Quiñones, M.D., Chief Healthcare Advisor for World Wide Technology, described on Newsday.  

Noting how "non-traditional" players like Amazon, Apple and Google are stepping into healthcare in a much bigger way, Quiñones said they're "really pushing the envelope and putting traditional healthcare providers on their heels." 

He said this is largely possible because of their commitment to understanding what consumers want and need, their experience and expertise in providing it, and the technologies these companies have either developed or honed to support this approach. 

"Amazon definitely has that experience…and it's a seamless experience for the most part. So that customer experience, they really have [it] nailed down and being able to have the data…I think they're way ahead of the game," Quiñones said. 

Along the same lines, he said Apple takes the same approach.

"They know that the consumer experience is so critical and they really focus on those things. So that really positions them differently."

Quiñones said the "secret sauce" Big Tech companies possess is the ability to both anticipate and meet consumer needs effectively.

"I think the expectation of patients--they're consumers, they're expecting that now. Healthcare organizations are realizing that. You're starting to see revamping of digital front doors and that's very important. They need to do that." 

As far as advice for healthcare systems who are trying to find a way to compete with big tech giants like Amazon, Quiñones said he'd recommend learning from those outside of healthcare who are excelling in providing consumer-centric service--and then apply it to the patients who are expecting the same thing from their providers.

"I think [healthcare] organizations are getting more sophisticated and they're realizing, 'How are other organizations and industries outside of healthcare doing this? How are they making their consumer experience platinum level?' And I would say, they're going to the users, they're going to the consumers, they're going to the patients, they're doing journey mapping," he said.

Noting that such mapping should include exploring patient and family frustrations, needs, and desires, Quiñones emphasized how important it is to provide comprehensive, easy-to-use solutions that can be accessed in one place. 

He said it's also important to include the perspectives of clinicians, too, so the offerings developed can easily integrate into their workflows.

 "I think to reduce the gap and reduce the friction on both sides is very critical. So again, we may have new interfaces or new experiences for the patient, but we need to talk to the clinicians as well. …to help reduce the friction on both sides of the equation." 

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