What healthcare can learn from retailers to improve the patient experience - MedCity News

In July 2020 Experian survey found that 60 percent of people had higher expectations for their digital experience than before the pandemic. It means he took less than four months online behavior and expectations to change – irrevocably.

As the pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital adoption in all aspects of life, consumers have begun to develop similar expectations for their healthcare. These days, people want to search for and rate providers, doctors, and treatments the same way they do electronics and clothing. (After all, that’s the experience they’ve come to expect from Amazon, Google, and Walmart.) They want instant access to a wide variety of information—from a hospital’s location to a particular doctor’s specialty to treatment reviews from other patients— so they can make their own informed decisions about their health.

In short, patients want more control over their own health care.

But suppliers, hampered by outdated data systems and isolated from market competition, have not made the same adjustments as retailers. This will change rapidly as new technology makes data more accessible and consumer goods giants like Amazon and CVS continue to encroach on primary care.

Here are three lessons providers can borrow from retailers to improve the patient experience.

  1. Make your “inventory” visible.

Finding the perfect shoes on a site like Amazon is easy and intuitive. A quick search for ‘green men’s trainers’ shows you what’s in stock and how soon each option can be delivered, while individual results pages provide detailed product information and customer reviews.

Finding the right doctor should be just as easy. If provider data and availability is the “inventory” of your healthcare system, the patient should be able to search for it on your website just as they would for shoes on Amazon.

Modern search technology can take a natural language query like “doctors near me who accept Aetna insurance” and filter the relevant results. It can access information such as a doctor’s specialty and whether they are accepting new patients and whether they are available on a certain date – all of which can be used to provide specific, accurate information to the patient.

This is especially valuable for providers facing staff shortages. Just because a doctor is available on a particular day doesn’t mean her support staff is. Advanced search technology can determine if the attendant is unavailable and remove that option, saving the patient the frustrating experience of having to book an appointment again.

  1. Break down information silos.

So, why is not find a doctor online as easy as finding a pair of sneakers? This has a lot to do with how healthcare organizations have historically stored and organized information.

Too often, the information a patient needs is scattered across siled technology systems within the provider’s organization. Medical records may be stored in one database, facility records in another, and staff schedules in a third. These legacy data systems, often constructed piecemeal over the years, cannot communicate with each other, capturing the information.

This is where modern search technology can make a difference. The right system can use APIs to extract information from various sources and combine them into actionable datasets. This can be used, for example, to link doctors to specialties and conditions treated.

This information can support a specialized search such as “find a doctor” or a universal search that relies on natural language processing. What’s more, it can be made available to a third-party search engine – so a patient searching on Google for doctors with a specific specialty in your area will see your results.

This allows patients to do more than just find a doctor. They can also answer other critical questions: Where is the supplier located? How do I pay my bill? How do I access my medical records? How do I change or schedule an appointment? All this information already exists in the organization; the key is to connect it and make it available to the patients who need it.

  1. Focus on user experience.

Previously, providers focused on digital search primarily as a patient acquisition tool. The network was seen as a way to attract more patients and get them to the top of the conversion funnel.

Priorities have shifted amid health care labor shortages caused by the pandemic and the Great Resignation. with more than eight in 10 facilities face a shortage of allied health professionals and America’s already thin nursing workforce is retiring in drovesmany hospitals are unable to accommodate additional patient volume.

So what are understaffed suppliers to do? Shift the focus from filling the funnel to improving the patient experience for those already in it. As retailers have shown, digital channels can be just as adept at improving retention as they are at driving acquisition.

An immediate way to address the digital experience is by ensuring that users have easy access to the information they need. Patients already in the process of receiving care in your healthcare system have just as many questions about their care as prospective patients… maybe more. They want access to their medical records, contact information for their doctor, details about their treatment, appointment reminders, and more.

People accustomed to easy access to information online don’t have the patience to navigate complicated drop-down menus on websites or pick up the phone every time they want an answer. Putting this information at their fingertips with advanced search shows that you prioritize their time and well-being.

Of course, building a strong patient experience will help with acquisition as well. As the primary driver of health care choices has shifted from things like proximity and price to valuing the experience, patients are relying more on word of mouth. Improving the experience leads to better reviews, which improves both your online and offline reputation and brings more patients to your practice. What improves the bottom of the funnel improves the top of the funnel, creating a flywheel.

Hospitals go to great lengths to provide exceptional care to their patients. This commitment must extend to the digital space. By making your inventory visible, breaking down data silos and building a better patient experience, providers will have happier patients and healthier margins.

Photo: LumineImages, Getty Images

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