By Carter Hallett
In the age of instant gratification and virtual access, many patients expect it to be as easy to arrange to see a doctor as it is to order a pizza, with just a few clicks from their mobile device. Despite its importance, the healthcare industry has lagged in implementing integrated and intuitive digital services for patients.
Obviously, healthcare organizations are more complicated than the local pizza shop. Dozens, if not scores, of providers from hospitals and clinics to labs, as well as technology systems, data profiles, and scheduling must be coordinated. It’s difficult to provide a unified patient experience when ownership and structure are changing.
Still, patients are seeking the same kind of personalized, practical digital experience from their healthcare provider that they get from their bank, their insurance agent or even from their meal delivery service. Patient expectations of technology experiences are high, and providers are struggling to keep up. 63% percent of healthcare organizations believe they are delivering on patient care, but only 43% of patients agree.
To bridge this gap, a fully-activated digital ecosystem is essential. For many organizations, marketing technology holds the key to building trust, increasing awareness of services and providing the meaningful moments that boost patient acquisition, engagement, retention and revenue.
Advantages of Digital Ecosystems
Marketing has always been the realm of customer acquisition and education. Thanks to an expanding array of integrated technology, marketing and technology can come together to create the experiences patients expect, connecting data, tools/platforms, and analytics into digital ecosystems that streamline and automate manual processes.
The pandemic has had a part to play in patient expectations. Telehealth and web chats suddenly became a bigger part of routine care. The bar was raised in both services and ease-of-use. Improving patient experience through digital ecosystems can elevate both of these objectives, by focusing on meeting the needs of the marketplace and delivering more personalized touchpoints, informed by data.
It’s understandable to be concerned about using patient data to tailor customized online experiences. But if used carefully and in accordance with privacy regulations, data can actually build both convenience and trust. Marketing has always been focused on the dual needs of organizations and their customers — and martech platforms and tools, supported by the wise use of data, are increasingly effective at improving patient care while also increasing operational efficiency. It’s possible for HIPAA-compliant tools to enable patients to ask a scheduling question via live web chat, find a specialist, make an appointment, even resolve financial questions. When implemented properly, all parties benefit.
Coming at the patient experience challenge from a marketing mindset can be transformative. Marketing specialists are experienced at the kinds of initiatives — customer experience, website design, partner integrations, personalization strategies, contextual services — that enhance patient satisfaction. Marketing is strategic but also tactical, focused on achievable results.
One healthcare system recently found out firsthand how a performance-based digital ecosystem can yield measurable patient care improvements. This midsized East Coast network, in the midst of a far-reaching acquisition program, sought to shift its disparate patchwork of websites into a single, patient-focused offering. The network’s goals included a drastic improvement in website interaction, including improved navigation, the ability to better search and locate information, find a doctor, make an appointment, locate a destination inside member facilities and more.
After a thorough assessment of its existing technologies followed by persona, industry and patient experience research, the network, working alongside its development partner, introduced a new information architecture. Nearly two dozen subdomains were integrated and a collaboratively hosted, shared realm for all site content was implemented. Templates were built to support internal teams with their page creation, while a new WCMS (web content management system) connected to critical hospital software. Finally, strategically organized tracking technology monitored fluidity and general user behavior to drive future improvements.
The outcome exceeded expectations. In the solution’s first 90 days, site traffic increased 77%, mobile engagement rates doubled and form submissions increased by 72%. Long-term results have been even more impressive: Online sessions have increased 121% year-over-year, click to call rates have jumped 63.2% and requests for information have increased 315%.
Planning Has Long-Term Benefit
Every ecosystem improvement initiative begins with a present state assessment and review of goals. Technology audits often reveal opportunities for efficiency; in many cases organizations haven’t taken full advantage of existing platforms they’re already paying for. Consulting partners will also look for long-term value creation by uncovering ways for improvements to compound over time, as the ecosystem develops.
For example, integration with an electronic health record (EHR) system will allow a true 360-degree approach to patient support, from advice based on relevant medical information to billing/insurance, prescription management, physical therapy and health tracking, among other forms of care.
The most important element in successful implementation is for the organization to define a clear roadmap for where it wants to go. Transformation work has to be connected to an understanding of patient behaviors and the realities of the marketplace. Change management is key to this process; fortunately, martech specialists are experienced in change management practices. They can help to get clinicians and administrative staff on board with the new system, then support them with training and ongoing technical assistance.
A fully-activated digital ecosystem for patient care benefits every constituent, inside and outside the organization. When designed and implemented properly, the system doesn’t just help internal teams do their jobs better, nor does it simply help patients navigate their care. It does both.
Now, as the world begins its post-pandemic journey, is the time to make these changes. The technical and data landscape will only get more complex in the future, and challenges will increase. A fully-activated digital ecosystem can put patient satisfaction at the level that healthcare organizations expect — and finally make the experience of seeing a doctor as carefree as ordering a sausage-and-pepperoni with extra cheese.
CARTER HALLETT is director of strategy for R2integrated, an award-winning, Baltimore-based digital experience agency serving multiple healthcare industry clients.