Blending healthcare and retail: Rewards and challenges

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The meteoric rise of Amazon has raised concerns for businesses across the spectrum. And, as discussed in a previous post, healthcare is by no means exempt.

But that doesn’t have to spell disaster for healthcare organizations looking to grow. It simply means that they have to think about their operations differently. Focus on customer satisfaction. Be agile, adaptable, and digital. In short, behave more like retail.

That process isn’t necessarily easy. Healthcare organizations looking to “retail-ify” their operations face a number of challenges. But if they can successfully transform their operations, the rewards are well worth it.

Experience Is King

In the past, many healthcare organizations have responded to patient needs slowly, if at all. But since Amazon has set consumer expectations sky-high, the status quo can’t be good enough. The Health Management Academy reports that 40 percent of “very loyal” patients would switch doctors for a more convenient experience.

Some health systems are making the patient experience more convenient by offering virtual visits. Patients can meet with practitioners by phone or through video chat. This frees up physicians’ time for complex cases that need in-person attention. Plus, 74 percent of the telehealth patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital reported that the experience improved their relationship with their provider.

Bear in mind, though, that while technology can streamline the patient experience, it doesn’t erase the need for in-person customer service. Vanguard Communications surveyed 20 of the country’s best-known hospitals and found that 63 percent of Yelp reviewers gave them between one and three stars — largely because of customer service issues. Focus your efforts on removing friction from the patient experience at every touchpoint. Your relationships and your reputation will reap the benefits.

Time to Get Personal

No one understands the importance of consumer preferences better than Amazon. Now, it’s time for healthcare to follow suit.

In healthcare, many demographics affect customers’ needs. Age, income level, insurance coverage, and location influence not only what consumers are looking for, but also how and when they want to engage with you. Research and segment your audience to deliver a powerful, tailored experience every time.

That requires reaching customers through the right medium, too. According to a 2014 McKinsey study, 75 percent of patients prefer communicating with their healthcare provider digitally. And it’s safe to assume that number is higher now than ever. When patients have easy access to physicians through smartphone apps, web-based portals, or live chat, they can control more of their experience. This leaves them with a more positive impression of your organization.

Be aware, though, that creating digital tools doesn’t necessarily mean patients will use them. According to recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services, only 28 percent of consumers who have access to a digital health portal have used it in the past year. However, 63 percent of those who did were coached to do so by their physician — so you can help encourage adoption.

Changing Healthcare, One Experience at a Time

Of course, healthcare and retail are two vastly different industries. But in many ways, they aren’t as far removed as they might seem. Both must evolve because of high customer expectations. And both operate on the same principle: those who give customers the best experience will come out on top. If you can overcome healthcare’s unique challenges and bring these principles into your operations, your organization will be poised to thrive in the age of Amazon.

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