By John S. Kim
The modern healthcare ecosystem is remarkably complex. Balancing the needs of providers, patients, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, national health systems, employers, and mobile health services along with strict regulations designed to safeguard patient privacy is no small task. The good news is that the industry is in the midst of a significant innovation cycle, and as such technology companies are emerging to eliminate much of this complexity, evolving the healthcare system for the better.
New solutions streamline access and increase affordability of care. They also enhance the quality of care and provide a new level of personalization and connection between patients and those who assist them. Technology-based products and services now address a wide range of issues affecting the healthcare ecosystem, and one thing they have in common is a desire for and reliance on communication capabilities that deliver outstanding customer-centric, patient-centric experiences.
The Role of Communication
Until the last two years, communication across the healthcare spectrum has relied predominantly on traditional methods such as email, phone calls, or in-person interactions to convey information. This resulted in frustration felt by nearly anyone who has ever needed to find an answer to even the simplest health-related question. It was nearly impossible to reach the right person live, or the inquisitive party had to wait hours for a return phone call or email. That frustration is finally dissipating. As messaging and chat technologies in particular become integrated into interfaces that enable anyone from patients to providers to insurance agents and benefits administrators to connect instantly.
The Start of a Transformation
The magnitude of impact created by messaging technologies becomes quite clear when looking at the benefits administration segment. Workers who participate in a company health plan have a lot of decisions to make. They can get overwhelmed easily by trying to understand health insurance and wellness options or by attempting to book appointments with approved providers. Navigating the system is daunting to say the least. In an effort to streamline benefits administration and reduce operational inefficiencies– as well as to lower costs– employers are adding new services such as Grand Rounds, Livongo, Oscar or Accolade that can act as intermediaries between employees, insurance providers, and healthcare providers. This movement is essentially the equivalent of adding an on-demand healthcare concierge service– and it is rapidly becoming one of the employees’ favorite parts of their benefits package.
In a practical setting, this means that a company hires a service provider with a team of agents who understand the ins and outs of policies as well as basic healthcare, though they are not trained as doctors. These agents are available to serve the customer’s employees 24/7 via chat. They listen to the employee’s situation and provide whatever action is necessary, whether it is helping him or her choose the right policy for their needs, facilitating the healthcare claims process, or connecting the employee with a doctor. With the employee’s permission, the agent can also pull physicians or other relevant parties directly into the private chat for a cohesive, streamlined experience.
All of this can occur over a single channel created for the customer’s employee. This allows the employee to maintain a single space to interact with all of the other parties involved in their care. Additionally, within the channel, moderated by the service provider’s agent, documents can be shared so the secure transmission of health records or images are contained in one central location. This process has already been described as a massive improvement over attempting to serve employees in a similar vein but relying on the phone. Messaging allows service providers to do more through a more cohesive and efficient experience that values the user’s time and individual needs.
Service providers in this space have found that having a single conversation and being able to communicate through a medium that is comfortable for users of the service is much preferred over having to explain their situation, often repeatedly, on the phone to multiple parties. Additionally, the ability to serve customers in real time and respond to their needs on demand leads to faster resolution times, which benefits everyone.
But not every interaction needs to be immediate. Conversations can take place in an asynchronous manner where it makes sense as well. For example, a customer’s employees may work with an agent on creating a treatment or wellness plan, as with companies like Lark Health or Limeade. In developing goals and strategies, the agent might send a check-in message on a specific day. There is no pressure to reply immediately. The service user could respond hours later when it is a more convenient time. Engagement is relaxed and guided by the user.
The benefits of messaging are not limited to customers and their users. Because agents are able to handle the needs of multiple people at a time, conducting parallel conversations, providers also experience a tremendous boost in operational efficiency. More people can be helped in far last time.
And this is just one segment of the healthcare ecosystem. Messaging is being integrated in new ways across the board as a means of delivering a better experience, one that is personal and helpful yet not intrusive. As messaging technologies grow more sophisticated and healthcare organizations become increasingly open to the power of technology, expect to see messaging influence all facets of care in the days to come.
John S. Kim is CEO of SendBird.