Maintaining a Competitive Edge By Delivering Consumer-Centric Healthcare

In healthcare, being patient-centric is an oft touted value that providers have laid claim to for decades. What is typically meant by healthcare practices, service lines and centers of excellence, when they say this is that they care deeply for their patients and are putting them first in every decision that is made. Fast-forward to today, where the term “consumer-centric” describes the new standard for healthcare and the seemingly inconsequential change from “patient-centric” to “consumer-centric” belies a monumental shift in the balance of power. In the realm of consumer-centric healthcare, providers still care deeply about their patients, but now it’s the patients who are making the decisions.

The Rise of Consumer-Centric Healthcare
Several factors have brought about this dramatic change to the way business is done in the healthcare industry, but the two things that have had the most significant impact are technology and an increase in out-of-pocket patient healthcare costs, thanks to the growing popularity of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). In the United States:

  • 51% of the workforce is enrolled in an HDHP
  • HDHP enrollment has grown by 43% over the past five years

According to research by the Brookings Institution, healthcare is one of the largest categories of consumer spending in America. Each year, one in 50 Americans have out-of-pocket costs in excess of $5,000, and one in 200 have costs over $10,000. Because more and more patients are responsible for paying for their medical expenses, they approach healthcare as they do any other purchase they make, they engage in comparison shopping, which brings us to our next catalyst, technology.

Consumer-Centric Healthcare Is Not Afraid to Get Technical
Modern patients are completely different in how they view and approach healthcare. A few years ago, a patient who received a referral would generally accept it without question, but now that same patient will investigate the physician, hospital or service they have been referred to with the tenacity of a Dateline journalist. Whether conducting research about treatments and options using WebMD or browsing healthcare review sites like U.S. News Health or Healthgrades, patients are making their decisions on where to spend money for healthcare in the same way they choose a restaurant or buy a phone. In short, they approach healthcare like a consumer.

Catering to Patients as Customers
Providers committed to successfully navigating the era of consumer-centric healthcare must learn to think of their patients as customers. More importantly, these providers must make it a priority to know what their customers (patients) want and expect, and then develop a systematic strategy for meeting their needs and surpassing their expectations. So what do today’s healthcare consumers want? According to John Quelch, a professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there are five E’s that consumers want with regard to their healthcare experience:

  1. Experience — A journey that leads to a cure
  2. Empathy — A provider who cares
  3. Efficiency — Less waiting
  4. Economy — Fair value
  5. Empowerment — A degree of choice regarding treatment

Developing a rewarding relationship with healthcare consumers is as much an art as it is a science. In order to remain competitive, it’s important to take an honest look at how your organization is providing patients with each of the five E’s. As you do, note your strengths and weaknesses and begin developing a plan to introduce small changes that will lead to greater increases in patient/consumer satisfaction.

Creating a Patient Experience That Resonates
If you haven’t done so already, create a map of your typical patient’s journey. Be sure to account for every touchpoint, including:

  • New patient gateways — From web ads and physician referrals, to billboards, direct mail pieces and your current website, etc.
  • Ongoing patient communications — Text message reminders, emails, bills, newsletters, etc.
  • Onsite experience — Check-in station, waiting room atmosphere (brochures, posters, TV programs), average wait times, treatment times, check-out experience, etc.

As you review each touchpoint, consider things from the patient perspective and ask yourself probing questions, such as:

  1. Does your healthcare brand inspire patient confidence? Does it appear modern or dated?
  2. Is the brand look and message consistent across all points of communication?
  3. Are there opportunities to connect with patients that are missing?
  4. If you were a patient, what would make your experience better?

Sarah Thomas, the Managing Director for Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions maintains that, improving the patient experience can boost your bottom line. “Recent Deloitte Center for Health Solutions research found that hospitals with higher patient experience scores are generally more profitable than those with lower scores,” said Thomas.

The Role of Technology in Consumer-Centric Healthcare
Earlier we shared that the convenience of using technology to “shop” providers is one of the leading causes of the rise of consumer-centric healthcare. However, technology is also a key to winning and keeping patient/consumers. According to current studies:

  • 81% of consumers want to use their smartphones to engage with their healthcare providers
  • 77% of consumers are more likely to choose a doctor who offers telehealth than one who doesn’t
  • 69% of consumers want to receive reminders to arrange medical appointments, or to receive prompts to take their medication

Investing in technology is vital to your ability to meet your patients’ needs for efficiency and to some degree empathy. One way to demonstrate that you care about them is to offer a winning mobile experience. The mobile version of your current site should offer fast load times, as well as the ability to schedule appointments, and access account information.

Telehealth Is Here to Stay
A recent Forbes article noted that before the pandemic, “Blue Cross Blue Shield received approximately 200 telehealth claims per day. Since the pandemic began, there are now approximately 530,000 telehealth claims per month.” In discussing the future role of telehealth, Blake Morgan, the author of “The Customer Of The Future,” said, “Healthcare companies must continue to build out their telehealth capabilities and refine the technology for a smooth experience. The goal should always be to allow patients to access care in the way they prefer and that is most convenient for them.”

Ensure Patient’s Get the Message
Another popular technology option that often boosts patient perceptions of healthcare providers is the use of HIPAA compliant SMS (text) messages and/or the use of messaging apps, like MedChat, Well and Luma Health. Paying attention to your patient’s favorite media channels helps ensure your communications stay on their radar.

There’s an App for That
As you strive to make your healthcare brand more engaging, convenient and easier for patients to interact with, you’ll find an abundance of apps exist to help you reach those goals. There are healthcare apps designed to streamline everything from scheduling appointments and providing ongoing care information, to sending bills, receiving payments, and more. Best of all, most of these tech tools are white-labeled and can easily be rebranded with your organization’s logo and colors, which ensures your patients have a consistent experience with your brand.

We Empower Healthcare Brands to Connect With Consumers
At Nichols Brand Stories, we believe great healthcare brands are built step-by-step as practices follow a proven approach that ties marketing performance to organizational goals. Let us put our experience in creating compelling consumer-centric marketing to work for you. To get started, or simply to have a conversation about how to grow your brand, please reach out to me at