Posted: August 1, 2017

Imagine you're the new coach of a major football team. You've been handed the reins mid-season after a long losing streak, and you have to tackle the job knowing your fans and supporters are disgruntled and restless. The internet and talk radio self-proclaimed "experts" claim that your team is worn out and ready to implode. Some question whether you are really qualified to coach and have what it takes to get the job done.

Today, being a healthcare marketing leader can feel a lot like coaching a losing team. Armchair quarterbacks are coming out of the woodwork to tell your players what the other team (the hospital across town) is doing, but they have little appreciation for what it takes to actually make it happen. Budget constraints, cultural resistance to change, and an over reliance on IT are impeding your progress. Even consumers whom were once loyal to your organization are switching providers in search of a better experience.

What do you do?

Just like any worthwhile coach, you know that assessing wins, losses, and opportunities is the best way for your team to learn, improve, and win. Despite external criticism, you need to stay positive and upbeat because you know how fragile a team can be in terms of confidence. You need to model positive energy, develop a winning strategy, move the ball down the field one play at a time, and always keep score – that is, measure your results and adjust your playbook, accordingly.

Defining Healthcare Consumer Expectations

As consumers ourselves, we are all witnessing an explosion of connections, data, and innovations. This hyper-connectivity has changed the game, and we all play a part in changing the rules – demanding simple, seamless, and personalized healthcare experiences at every touch point.

Here’s why:

  • We are both better informed and paying more, therefore we’re making decisions differently
  • We’re accustomed to tech-enabled functions that make it more convenient to “do business”
  • We value cost-effective, high quality care
  • With greater access to information, we can sometimes self-diagnose certain health issues and have our own opinions about how we want to be treated
  • We expect better communication throughout our entire healthcare journey
  • We know technology can provide easier access to our own health records and test results

With these advanced expectations to meet, traditional healthcare organizations are experiencing competition from a new player — retail clinics, which offer walk-in appointments for highly accessible acute care services for a limited number of diagnoses. Analysis by consulting firm Accenture estimated about 1,000 clinic locations nationwide in 2007, more than 2,000 in 2015, and a projected total exceeding 2,800 this year. Separate research helps explain the boom: Retail clinics handling common acute illnesses deliver care measured as good or better — at less cost — than comparable treatments in ambulatory or emergency department settings, and they offer it immediately. So how does traditional healthcare compete?

To seize the opportunities ahead, your brand need to reinvent itself in a manner that is compatible with an increasingly digital world and its inhabitants (a.k.a. your consumers). So why aren’t more healthcare leaders willing to transform their approach to digital experience and seize the opportunity to win the loyalty of digitally-savvy healthcare consumers? The answer is as simple as human nature. Innately, humans are uncomfortable with the notion of change. We find comfort in stability and predictability. Unfortunately, the digital economy is none of these – it’s fast and always evolving. Therefore, you simply must assess where your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities lie and develop a plan. If you need help getting started, request a free healthcare marketing assessment.

Focus on the Wins First

Many healthcare organizations are already working toward delivering a better digital consumer experience, with the help of CRM-powered personalized campaigns; advanced earned and owned media strategies to improve results in local search; better websites with provider comparison, quality, and cost estimation tools; enterprise patient portals; and even mobile apps to aid patients with chronic conditions. Take stock of your organization's efforts and celebrate those places where you’ve made progress and are already living up to expectations. Acknowledging your wins helps build confidence to tackle some of the more difficult projects that remain.

Learning from Losses

To get everyone in the organization on the same proverbial page when it comes to identifying areas for improvement, you need to do some upfront work to develop rich consumer personas, document your consumers’ current healthcare journeys (by service line and even condition or procedure), and then interview actual consumers (both prospects and current patients) in your local market. By deconstructing what they experience today vs. what their expectations are, you can both identify and prioritize the areas for improvement.

Here are some very typical findings our clients obtain using this type of research:

  • Consumers are happy with various individual aspects of their experience, but they remain unsatisfied on the whole. Be honest in assessing where your gaps are today, and tackle them one at a time. 
  • Consumers of all ages are savvier and more skeptical than physicians and executives think, and they are seeking providers that present more than one option for managing their health. Carefully examine your service line content and make sure your content strategy is focused on answering consumers’ questions.
  • Younger consumers are price sensitive and more swayed by appearances. The user experience needs to “look cool” to impress them. Invest in professional design services, ask them to prepare multiple comps, and test them with consumers in your market.
  • If it’s too hard to compare provider quality, obtain an accurate phone number, make an appointment, or find a location, consumers will just move on. Know what influences consumer decisions and optimize for conversions.
  • Almost half of all consumers are willing to switch providers to get a better experience. Continuously evaluate your digital capabilities as compared to local competitors and strive not to “catch up” but to surpass what they offer.

I recognize this is a big lift for many systems, but most industries have already anointed the consumer as king, driven by a competitive landscape increasingly shaped by digital interactions, all of which put the consumer in control. It’s no wonder these same behaviors are starting to spill over to healthcare, where consumers had previously been conditioned to feel powerless and routinely dissatisfied. Here are just a couple of clear cut parallels that you can easily get your executives to latch onto:

  • A bad experience at a restaurant yields negative Yelp reviews that then keep customers away; and today a bad experience in a provider’s office does exactly the same thing.
  • Overpriced airline tickets get ignored on Kayak, and today consumers are price shopping for MRIs and even surgical procedures.

Opportunities to Better Satisfy

Emerging consumer capabilities will need to be transparent, actionable, coordinated, and collaborative, according to Deloitte research. This means that building a rich consumer experience goes well beyond the marketing department, and involves stakeholders from operations, IT, security and clinical care teams.

For example, empowered healthcare consumers are increasingly unhappy with their access to their health data and the lack of sharing of that information between providers. These consumers blame poor or complicated data access for longer wait times at the doctor and wasted time spent on filling out paperwork and verbally relaying medical histories. While privacy laws and government regulations prevent sharing of health data at scale, investigating options for single sign-in for patient portals, insurance, and medical histories across your organization could offer big consumer satisfaction improvements.

It's also important to factor in the shift from treating acute illness to disease prevention and ongoing chronic disease management. Treatment is becoming more personalized through the use of genetic, behavioral, and digital tools designed to monitor and manage a consumer's health. Accordingly, healthcare entities should be ready for open dialogues with consumers about diagnoses and treatment options. And providing more transparency into cost and quality (or physician reputation prior to scheduling) will go a long way to meeting consumer expectations.

The key here, like the coach knowing the fans want wins and understanding how to deliver them, is knowing specifically what your healthcare consumers expect and then putting the technology in place to help you deliver it. Forming the right partnerships and implementing the right solutions can help healthcare organizations tighten gaps between available services and consumer expectations.

Want to learn more about building an enterprise vision and roadmap for Healthcare Consumer Experience in 2017? Download our white paper.