Offering intuitive, easy access for patients is nothing new in the long-held desire for healthcare’s front door. Equally important now is to devote as much thought to these key ingredients for engagement as the hospitality and retail sectors devote to the consumer experience.
The consumer comes first when it comes to hotel stays, flying and retail. Unlike taking a trip or spending an afternoon shopping, few people embark on a healthcare journey and expect it to be a fun, enjoyable experience. So why is healthcare often a sub-par experience?
When we need to see a doctor, we’re often scared, uncomfortable, stressed, in pain or fatigued. We’re often not certain what the prognosis will be. The experience can be physically and emotionally draining. These factors make it even more important for healthcare to be as accessible, flexible and transparent as possible.
Online appointment scheduling platforms offer digital front doors to healthcare, an ideal place to hone and improve the patient experience.
There are a few key factors healthcare providers need to address if they are to be effective: access, transparency and flexibility.
The vaccine program initiated to combat the Covid-19 pandemic spurred caregivers and others to visit their hospital’s website so that they could make appointments for loved ones to receive the vaccine. The call to action — ensuring patients and their loved ones could make an appointment for these critical preventive measures — offered a powerful incentive to use the website as a digital front door to make these appointments. But if they are to succeed at continuing to engage patients and their caregivers, providers need to offer a consistent digital experience.
A 2021 report by Accenture, based on a survey of 399 healthcare executives, revealed that 81 percent said the pace of digital transformation for their organizations is accelerating.
“To be successful, the healthcare C-suite must adopt a digital-first, people-centric approach across all areas of the organization,” the report noted. “They will architect the future and recognize that business and technology strategies are increasingly indistinguishable. This is a unique moment to rebuild the world better than it was before the pandemic.”
Access is also important and goes hand in hand with personalization of the healthcare experience. Some segments of the patient population will prefer to make appointments on the phone and meet with providers in person. Others will want to be able to access their medical documents online and easily share medical information with physicians who may work at other hospitals.
Creating a cross-channel experience is also important since people favor different modes of communication and enjoy the flexibility of using text messages and email for confirmation of appointments, lab results, prescription drug refill notification, etc. It’s critical for healthcare organizations to invest in making SMS access to providers as easy as email.
Although virtual visits were on the rise before the pandemic, Covid-19 forced hospitals and physician practices to rapidly scale this technology. Most patients are capable of navigating video conference technology on their own but private and family caregivers were essential to bridge the occasional technology gap.
To ensure a consistently engaging patient journey, healthcare organizations need to be cognizant of the diverse array of preferences favored by their patient population and make it easy for people to use those that match their comfort level. The growing sophistication of virtual visits not only as a vehicle for noninvasive follow up appointments, but also for areas such as behavioral health, to meet people in the comfort of their own home, will continue to evolve for different specialties.
Transparency is a hot topic, and indeed, there are many barriers within this area to making costs for medical procedures easy to access, timely and relevant for patients to make informed decisions. If providers could work effectively with patients to help them navigate insurance options, it would be an important step, not only improving how patients evaluate their healthcare options but also in coaxing them to make informed choices in their care.
Providers should constantly ask themselves these questions: how can we make the healthcare experience less stressful for patients, how can we make scheduling care flexible and convenient, and how can we work with payers to improve transparency?
The consumer experience in healthcare will never be comparable to travel or retail nor should it. But it should make information more easily accessible and provide a set of tools similar to the online appointment registration process offered by BetterHealthcare that’s intuitive and easy to navigate.
Photo: mathisworks, Getty Images
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