Features

From Yelp to YouTube

How consumerization is transforming the patient journey

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Technology has come quite a long way in the last few decades. Remember when going on vacation meant stopping by the closest AAA location, and grabbing a couple of travel guides? Then, someone at the counter would diligently mark the desired route along the map with a sharp, yellow highlighter. Today, those mapping skills have been rendered a nostalgic memory by Google Maps, and travel guides have been replaced by recommendation engines like Yelp, TripAdvisor and even Facebook.

This type of digital transformation has been quietly gathering momentum in healthcare as well, helping to transform the patient journey. In August 2015, Yelp announced that more than 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis clinics in the U.S. that are listed on its site will include additional data, such as emergency room wait times, friendliness of the staff and noise levels in hospital rooms.

Patients-especially those who rely on Google or Yelp in order to find their next meal or plan their next trip-are now gravitating towards these same online tools to find and research doctors, both for convenience and to ensure they are receiving the best possible care. As a result, healthcare organizations must focus on three key trends that are driving the future of the patient journey and are poised to transform the healthcare system.

Cost Conscious Patients Become Healthcare Shoppers
As insurance reform and Health Savings Accounts continue to shift the burden of payment from employer to employee, patients are becoming increasingly cost conscious about their treatment options, transforming from passive patients into active healthcare shoppers that are invested in their own health. While the merits of this change are certainly debatable from a public policy perspective, the end result is that patients are increasingly approaching healthcare with the same decision-making criteria they use for any other consumer purchase in today's digital environment, basing decisions on the best reviews, outcomes, convenience, prices, etc.

Recent surveys reveal how powerful these trends have become-44% of patients now go out of network to use a physician with higher ratings1, 56% of patients use YouTube search to learn more about their condition2 and 84% of patients Google their condition after receiving an initial diagnosis3.

For stakeholders across the healthcare system, this transformation in patient sentiment and behavior is forcing significant business transformation, and even changes to basic treatment protocols. Many healthcare centers now provide electronic appointment calendars, and will send text messages if wait times have become too long. Other systems have deployed patient to physician email platforms and mobile reminders. The patient-physician experience is also being transformed as patient education is conducted, using tablet-based video clips.

SEE ALSO: Consumerism: Changing How Hospitals Do Business

Wearables -The Newest Form of Tech Disruption
Wearables giants such as FitBit recently finished a record holiday sales season, resulting in an increase of consumers paying even more attention to their daily activity levels. While the ultimate winners in the wearables market remain to be seen, there is no doubt that we are entering an era of unprecedented patient data, providing consumers with a wealth of information on their health status in real-time.

As consumers engage in various activities, wearables can generate a stream of actionable data used for personal goal setting, and ultimately even link the information directly to their healthcare providers. This state of always-on, anywhere health monitoring is poised to dramatically change the economics and treatment paradigm of health prevention and chronic disease management, and give rise to powerful healthcare dashboards. Larry Smarr, a lead researcher of the personal data movement has said, "We know exactly how much gas we have, the engine temperature, how fast we are going. What I'm doing is creating a dashboard for my body4. "

Checkups In the Check-out Line
As wearable devices are transforming health data into a consumer led service, an explosion of retail pharmacy clinics and telehealth providers is enabling many healthcare activities to become an anytime, anywhere event. Most recently, the Robert Wood Johnson foundation finds that there are now more than 1,800 retail clinics in the U.S., serving more than 10 million patients per year. The main reasons consumers report using these clinics is convenient location and hours, availability for walk-in appointments and lower prices5. While retail clinics have seen significant growth in the last few years, those 10 million patient visits represent just 2% of all primary care visits, indicating that there is still tremendous upside for retail clinics.

As retail stores continue to improve their already strong mobile web presence, the continuing rise of mobile apps could result in capturing the convenience of an Uber-experience, combined with the local presence of a retail clinic-and ultimately delivering a truly new level of healthcare prevention and treatment for today's digitally empowered and cost-conscious healthcare shoppers. 

The Road Ahead
The consumerization of healthcare is being driven by changes in the broader digital consumer experience, as well as fundamental shifts in the healthcare treatment and delivery system. These key trends are creating powerful opportunities for patients, providers as well as for healthcare marketers.

In addition, as consumers increasingly rely on digital platforms to guide their decision making, forward-looking brands will develop and manage their online platforms with an eye towards addressing consumer needs such as convenience, location, hours and price. As personal health data becomes more prevalent and local treatment centers proliferate, look for new healthcare services to emerge that are intensely personal, local and data driven. These services will be integrated into the daily flow of online consumers, providing them with anytime, anywhere access for addressing their healthcare needs. The journey to health and wellness is evolving rapidly, and the future looks promising for patients, providers, and healthcare marketers.

References:
1. Patient Use of Online Reviews. http://www.softwareadvice.com/medical/industryview/online-reviews-report-2014/ 

2. Manhattan Research, Google Consumer Study 2015.

3. Patient Use of Online Reviews. http://www.softwareadvice.com/medical/industryview/online-reviews-report-2014/

4. When Numbers Know You Better. http://getresultsinaction.com/when-numbers-know-you-better/

5. Building a Culture of Health: The Value Proposition of Retail Clinics Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, April 2015. http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2015/rwjf419415

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