While the term “Gen C” was first introduced circa 2012 by futurist Brian Solis as a way of describing a generation of connected consumers defined not by their age, geography, or income but by their hyper-connected, mobile-first mentality, it’s increasingly being used to describe post-pandemic-born babies. It’s also been applied to the mindset and expectations of consumers in the wake of the pandemic.
More recently, it has been used to label kids coming of age during the pandemic and how their expectations and experiences are different from ours.
But I’d argue that the pandemic has changed all of us. People have seen what’s possible by way of such pandemic-spawned conveniences as virtual visits, online scheduling, digital sharing of records and texting, while providers have seen more clearly than ever that convenience is the new currency.
In the broadest sense, we’re all Gen C now (Generation Covid). Our expectations of how we experience healthcare have been irrevocably altered, the differences only being ones of degree across demographics.
Last fall, a national survey of patients and providers (The State of Patient Access Survey 1.0) conducted by Experian Health found that more patients were able to schedule appointments through patient portals, complete preregistration tasks online, make payments from mobile devices and even have initial consultations with clinicians through telehealth.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, the survey also revealed that while some had been hesitant to use self-service technology prior to the pandemic, they were relieved during the first half of it that they were able to access healthcare from the safety of their own home. What’s more, consumers were used to using online interaction and wondered why healthcare couldn’t offer the same level of convenience, autonomy, and security that they otherwise enjoy in their other online activities.
Providers appear to be taking note. In a follow-up survey this past summer, 93% of providers said improving the patient experience is a top priority, up slightly from 90% in 2020. More than 8 out of 10 providers say their patients prefer an online registration experience, compared to 6 in 10 last year, and more providers are offering online and mobile scheduling. A growing majority are planning to invest further in patient intake capabilities because of the pandemic. Interestingly, the number of providers who don’t plan to offer self-scheduling has also risen, from 8% to 29%, suggesting that they may already have such systems in place or are focusing on different priorities.
Let’s dissect what adapting to Generation C’s engagement expectations means.
Patients are ready for more engagement
Just like consumers have embraced unlimited access to online shopping from the convenience of their homes and smartphones, the arrival of the pandemic sped up healthcare’s adoption of similar digital access for scheduling appointments. It also elevated patient expectations for this type of access and convenience, paving the way for alternative or emergent service providers, like pharmacies, to enter the market of digital access for patients.
It’s known in the consumer world that people are very unlikely to give up benefits once they’ve enjoyed them. It’s fair to expect that a significant majority of patients will never return to the old days of calling doctors’ offices and patiently waiting on hold to schedule appointments.
At least 18% of patients we surveyed cited the ability to see a practitioner quickly as their top challenge, registering a nearly 20% increase in that sentiment over November 2020. While a doctor’s availability is limited by the laws of physics, there are innovative ways to use technology to speed or otherwise improve patient assessment experiences and our survey found that patients are amendable to them. The findings indicated that they’re ready for more as well.
It may not be surprising that expanded telehealth services continue to significantly reduce patients’ difficulty in scheduling interactions, staying almost constant at nearly half of survey responses, and there was almost a 20% increase in use of online/mobile scheduling. Health app usage varies by age group, with 33–45-year-olds a whopping 80% more likely to use them than other demographics.
How will healthcare adapt?
Providers are responding to some of these expectations from Generation C while facing opportunities for improvement and competitive differentiation on others. There are four broad areas in which these insights are most notable:
- Patient experience — According to the survey, 93% of providers see improving the patient experience as a top priority. This includes enabling several digital initiatives to simplify and standardize registration processes, changing the way data is collected and used during healthcare journeys and applying innovations to make reporting and invoicing easier to understand.
- Self-directed access — Enabling self-scheduling and online portal access is a more difficult challenge, insomuch that it can require significant IT development. This is also a top priority among providers, especially in a time when a large volume of patients are returning for previously scheduled procedures and/or arriving with new issues that have emerged during the pandemic lockdown. Being able to best respond to this influx is key, as is continually exploring new and better ways to do it.
- Physical access — Perhaps surprisingly, 86% of patients (compared to 81% last Fall) say they believe their provider has made on-site facilities safe and are willing to return to waiting rooms and physical interactions with their providers, leading to a hybrid approach to providing services in person and across virtual interaction platforms. The challenge is that these physical visits can often include pharmacies and other non-traditional providers of healthcare services, which challenges providers to find ways to capture those visits. Ensuring on-site safety and contactless, efficient use are ways they’re doing it. These changes might be permanent.
- Payments — The remit for payment innovation ties directly to patient needs for cost transparency and assists with provider requirements for prompt and full payment. Better, simpler payment processes connect to delivering positive outcomes for patients and providers, and even promotes patient loyalty. The significant revenue shortfall that many providers experienced during the pandemic demands innovation and remains the area in need of the most added awareness and effort. Financial difficulties were a major hurdle for patients accessing care before the pandemic, and as care becomes more nuanced and distributed, innovations in this area will only grow in importance.
The pandemic forever changed the way we think about and access healthcare and will in large part dictate the paths our care journeys follow in the coming years. For the younger demographic of patients who are only now at the age where they will handle their own healthcare, what has been an evolution or revelation for the rest of us will be the status quo.
This means digital transformation really isn’t a new phenomenon anymore; this dynamic is not something that gets done apart from or in parallel with providers’ other work and responsibilities. Digital innovations play a role in every aspect of patient engagement and will eventually play the central role in how patients interact with their healthcare.
It’s key to everything because we’re all Generation C now.
Photo: phototechno, Getty Images
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