The Rise of Digital-First Interactions in Healthcare

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3 Ways that Digital-First Interactions Are Here to Stay

As the United States continues to navigate the disruption of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become clear that consumer behavior in healthcare has permanently changed. While the initial shock of the pandemic in 2020 led to massive restructuring across the entire healthcare industry, these changes were originally thought to be transitory. However, many changes in consumer behavior have continued throughout the last two years.

Wary of in-person visits and potential exposures to COVID-19, consumers have widely embraced online scheduling, tele-health consultations and digital communications. Additionally, the loss of health coverage for millions of Americans led to increased demands for price transparency and growth in anticipatory customer service. It’s impossible to tell how or when the global pandemic will end, but regardless of its future, it’s readily apparent that recent changes in consumer behavior are here to stay.

We’ve outlined three changes in consumer behavior, as well as potential strategies that healthcare providers can take to adapt to evolving consumer needs.

1. Digital Experiences in Healthcare

It’s incredible how much consumer relationships in healthcare have changed in just the last two years. In January 2020, patients were more accustomed to the time-intensive and burdensome approach of scheduling and confirming appointments by phone. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of patients preferred in-person visits with their healthcare providers, with only 33% of inpatient hospitals even offering telehealth services.

In the last two years, these two practices have completely reversed. Today, patients expect to receive digital-first interactions with their providers in the form of online scheduling, confirmation texts and emails. Patients have also embraced tele-health, with national virtual care visits expected to reach more than one billion in 2020.

2. Long-Term Customer Service

One of the tragic features of the COVID-19 pandemic is the development of “long COVID”, or COVID symptoms that last for more than three months. As many as 87% of COVID patients experienced a lingering symptom more than two months after their diagnosis. For patients who experience long-term COVID symptoms, the financial costs can be severe.

Patients with long COVID are often too ill to work, and may miss significant time, or even lose healthcare coverage and benefits due to their inability to work. In response to this unique challenge, healthcare providers must prepare customer service and patient experience teams to anticipate and address long-term needs.

Healthcare providers should train their customer service teams to recognize the concerns underlying a patient’s inability to schedule or pay for treatment. Proactively reaching out to patients with flexible solutions designed to meet their unique needs, is another potential solution.

3. Embrace Price Transparency

Few patient concerns in healthcare have moved as decisively in favor of consumer rights as price transparency. A recent law mandates that hospitals must post charges for 300 shoppable services in a consumer-friendly format, as well as share their payer-negotiable rates or cash prices for services. It’s imperative that healthcare providers take these rules seriously.

Patients are not moving back to the days of surprise billing, hidden costs, or unclear up-front estimates. Our own surveys reveal that two-in-three consumers shop for care, and that price transparency is a major issue for prospective patients. Healthcare providers who refuse to incorporate open transparency into their cost assessments are likely to experience significant patient loss and attrition.

Healthcare providers would be best served by rigorously implementing transparency into their pricing, not only to remain compliant with newly mandated laws, but also to foster patient trust and relationships. In addition to this, providers can offer flexible financing and payment plans to better meet their patient’s needs.

Moving to a Consumer-Driven Patient Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the many ways that American life is affected by our healthcare system. From fears over health coverage, to anxieties over exposures from an in-person visit, Americans have adapted to the disruptive landscape with behaviors that maximize safety, flexibility, and choice.

Hospitals will need to rethink their consumer engagement tactics and strategies to continue to maintain their revenue goals and retain patients. We’ve outlined here some of the top strategies hospitals can take to align their goals with a changing healthcare landscape.

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