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Consumerism in healthcare: What are our customers asking for?

Monday, August 7, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Consumerism in healthcare: What are our customers asking for?

 By Kelly Macken-Marble, MAOM, CMPE 
Source: Executive View, June 2017


I recently reached out to a local healthcare system to schedule an appointment to establish care and address a painful shoulder. I admit to not being the greatest patient in the world, so my trying to establish care is a big deal for me.

I called the local clinic number and spoke to a very kind scheduler who let me know that, while there were appointments available on the day I was available, she could not give me one of the open appointments. She went on to describe that these appointments are “frozen” and then “thawed” daily for same-day appointments. My option was to call back and hope that I was one of the first callers to receive one of the open appointments, like winning an appointment lottery.

I opted to schedule with a different clinic.

My story is an example of how difficult we make it for our patients and the community to access care. As a healthcare administrator for more than 20 years, if I find navigating the system just to get an appointment difficult, what must it be like for the elderly or those with complex healthcare issues?

The complaints I field from patients are usually about how hard it is to connect with their clinic or the health system, as they often experience long hold times on the phone, inconvenient service hours and long waits for a scheduled appointment. To be successful in this age of population health, we will need to make accessing healthcare easy.

The healthcare consumer landscape is changing and driving healthcare systems to adopt a customer-focused strategy aimed at engaging with patients and the community when, where and how they want to engage with us, which means flipping our very traditional model of delivering care on its head.

The Advisory Board Company recently published a poster describing five “must-have” traits for a consumer-focused health system.

• Frictionless transactions: How easy is it to schedule an appointment, transfer records or just interact with the system? Do your patients need to pick up the phone and call your system or can they text you or have a web chat with a scheduler or nurse?

• Multimodal access networks: Convenience is a top driver in decision-making. Offer multiple avenues for easy access to affordable care including e-visits, video visits and lower-cost convenience care locations. In 2015 there were more than 10 million retail visits in our country, and this trend is going to continue. Integrated delivery systems have an opportunity to leverage these access points to engage the community in wellness, prevention and to extend primary care further into the community where people live, work and shop. Think primary care without boundaries of where, when or how.

• High reliability: Your customers simply expect high quality and reliable care, no further explanation needed.

• Competitive price points: Healthcare consumers are shopping based on price more than ever before, so look at cost-sensitive services with an eye to be competitive. Patients also desire the transparency of understanding their out-of-pocket expenses prior to a procedure.

• Loyalty: Patients are not as loyal as they once were. Some of this change is generational, but healthcare is becoming more transactional in nature. To keep patients connected to your health system, develop a customizable experience including onboarding programs, personalized care plans and community wellness programs. 

In my current role leading ambulatory care, we are working hard to develop a convenience care strategy that offers multiple care options from virtual care to more acute care options, 24/7 scheduling and RN triage, as well as some digital engagement tools as alternative ways to interact with our system. Our goal is to offer the right care at the right time, at the most convenient location and at the lowest price, which will increase the right kind of utilization and reduce avoidable high-cost options, such as the emergency room, when appropriate.

We will need to work differently to engage our patients, families and communities moving forward. I often use the word “customer” when speaking about consumerism and patient engagement. This can be a little off-putting to many providers, but sometimes the simple act of using the word “customer” pushes us to think of our patients a little differently, helping us to remember that our patients do have a choice as to where they receive care.

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