May 03, 2016
Should Healthcare Take Advice from Consumer Businesses?

A recent New England Journal of Medicine “perspective” article begins by laying out the new healthcare business landscape: “Unreliable service, inconvenience, uncomfortable surroundings, and high prices make customers unhappy, and given the opportunity, they will go elsewhere. Uber, Silicon Valley’s response to the shortcomings of urban taxi and limousine services, has managed to upend an established industry by offering an appealing alternative. Uber’s technology-enabled incursion into a highly regulated market suggests that if consumers gain enough from a new solution, it can overcome powerfully entrenched economic and political interests. Is U.S. health care ripe for disruption by a medical Uber?”

The authors go on to note that, while consumer business ways of working haven’t yet taken over healthcare, they are becoming a trend, and it’s up to hospitals and providers to innovate in order to meet patient (consumer) expectations, particularly as the demographic profile of those accessing and using healthcare changes. Here are three ways to make your service or facility a market leader in quality and efficiency.

Be flexible

Sixty-one percent of Americans have smartphones — and up to 87% of the 30-to-49 demographic — and other business types are responding. You can top up gift cards online, book an airline ticket with a few swipes of the touchscreen through apps, book an appointment at a salon at a time convenient for you (and them) with a few clicks. It’s time to take advantage of technology, such as secure, HIPAA-compliant portals that let you provide online booking to your department or practice website, so that patients can quickly find a time and day that suits them, without having to take time out of their busy days to phone and discuss a list of open appointments. Follow up those appointment bookings with confirmation and reminder texts, or emails that immediately populate patients’ calendar apps. Other options that would lend flexibility to patients:

  • Register (and request appointments)
  • View test results
  • Correspond asynchronously with clinicians in a secure manner
  • Send prescription-refill requests to clinician and/or pharmacy
  • Access educational materials relevant to their diagnosis and medical condition
  • Schedule e-visits and attend a clinical visit virtually
  • Allow portability of the electronic health record

Provide top-notch customer service

The customer is always right, right? In healthcare, patients don’t have the expertise in medicine, but they do know whether or not they feel valued. A recent study of residents shows that they spend an average of 8 minutes with each patient each day, equivalent to the time they spend walking around the hospital, and one-fourth of the time spent doing administrative work. The New York Times reports that many hospitals are trying to free up physicians by offloading or eliminating non-clinical work by:

  • improving the ease of communication with nurses and consulting medical services;
  • enlisting medical scribes to assist with documentation;
  • minimizing admission and discharge paperwork;
  • streamlining transitions to outpatient care; and
  • automating certain routine procedures and processes.

When physicians are less burdened by these kinds of work, they can participate in two-way patient engagement. Being actively engaged with the patient starts with hearing the patient — not just listening. This is where scribes come in: when scribes remove the distraction of taking notes while the patient is talking, the physician is able to look at the patient, listen to their symptoms (including the things that might be ignored if the patient isn’t actively listening), ask further questions, and make a more informed judgment about testing or a diagnosis. Patients knowphysicians are busy and have limited time — what they want is to feel valued and cared for during those encounters.

Offer immediacy

In this increasingly instant-gratification world, patients want to be able to do things right away. And that means making it easy for them to do their part — especially when it comes to their payment responsibility. Nine in 10 patients say they want to be able to pay their healthcare bills online — yet 90% receive bills by mail. Using a cloud-based application such as SwervePay Health can streamline the patient payment process, improving both patient satisfaction with billing (not to mention shortening the revenue life cycle) by decreasing collection efforts. With one swipe, a patient profile can be created, storing all patient payment data securely. Patients can receive email- and text-based invoices (and re-invoices), complete payments with just a click and receive automated payment receipts. In the SwervePay Health portal, they can update their details, view their history, and download receipts (which can be sent for reimbursement from flexible spending accounts). Focusing on patient needs in the revenue cycle eases shows you value their time and helps ensure bills get paid.

Create loyalty

This isn’t about passing out stamp cards for “buy 10 surgeries, get 1 free.” Rather, it’s about thinking about how you can make the “extras” part of the service.

According to one article on the subject, “Perks could include vouchers for free or reduced-cost parking or transportation, free or discounted food in the cafeteria, and lower rates for health-related items at nearby restaurants and hotels. They could also include targeted offers from gyms, pharmacies, medical supply companies, and the like. The focus of these efforts is centered on keeping patients healthy in ways that hospitals and health systems traditionally have not explored.”

These kinds of perks help attract and retain patients, engender goodwill, and may spur word-of-mouth advertising (which remains the most effective kind of marketing). The key is not to entice patients to increase healthcare visits or hospitalizations, but to lower barriers to healthcare access and make patients feel rewarded for being loyal to a hospital or healthcare system.

Change on the horizon

Although less than 7% of our healthcare spending is actually paid by consumers on shoppable services, being ahead of the curve on consumer-targeted activities — such as providing incentives or information in an effort to direct their spending — is an important focus for the future.