Combating digital disruptors

How providers can stand out in a consumer culture.

Tech giants are showing a growing interest in breaking into the healthcare industry, resulting in announcements like Amazon’s introduction of Amazon Care offering in person and virtual care to Amazon employees and Uber’s new service UberHealth, which allows providers to book rides for their patients. These companies have expansive specialized expertise in customer relationship management and therefore see a massive opportunity to disintermediate providers by taking over the primary patient/customer relationship in healthcare and commoditizing the providers’ role.

While tech giants certainly have the expertise in customer experience to significantly upgrade the way patient relationships play out in the digital environment, providers still have an edge in terms of credibility and exclusive data and patient insights that cannot be replicated by big tech.

Despite the mounting pressure providers are under to meet the demands of the coronavirus pandemic, providers should prioritize ways to rise above these digital disruptors and press the advantages they have while they still exist. The pandemic has necessitated rapid adoption of virtual visit solutions and alternative care settings, creating strain for healthcare organizations and exposing provider vulnerabilities. Providers looking to adapt to these changes must strengthen the internal IT infrastructures of their practices in order to protect against the advances of companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, and better manage their patient relationships.

Professional Credibility and Data Sharing are a Provider’s Best Friends

Providers can strengthen their patient relationships by tapping into the credibility they’ve established with patients and leveraging the reservoir of health data they have at their fingertips to better support their patients. Providers benefit from implicit respect and trust having both undergone years of schooling and training, as well as building meaningful relationships with their patients, making it impossible for consumer tech brands to compete with physician credibility from that perspective.

Providers can further bolster this trust and respect by nurturing their patient relationships. Patients will feel increasingly loyal to providers who find ways to credibly connect and interact with them through virtual care technology while emphasizing the practice’s unique and in-depth knowledge of them as individuals.

Provider credibility is emphasized by strategically leveraging patient health information. Big tech does not have access to a patient’s full medical record, with minute-to-minute updates, community context, or the patient’s full history. Medical history and current community conditions provide clinicians with rich context and understanding of every patient’s unique care needs.

By optimizing this data—including health information, environmental insights, and cultural factors—providers can deliver personalized care and leave patients feeling safe and confident about their experience. This allows providers to outshine tech giants in a way that is nearly impossible to replicate. Powerful AI cannot match the capabilities and credibility of a provider communicating with patients in an accurate and meaningful way. While Amazon may have access to endless data lakes and robust analytic engines, they have not sat across an exam room from your patients and do not have the unique insights to treat patients based on their health status, community issues, and other relevant cultural factors.

Interoperability Benefits Practices Large and Small

Tech giants have an abundance of insights into the needs and preferences of consumers that could eventually help them outperform practices in areas like social determinants of health. However, digital disruptors cannot replicate the credibility and experience practices large and small bring to the table. These practices, no matter their size, can optimize and analyze their data to identify opportunities to leverage their expertise and provide even better care.

Solo practitioners—or those with hundreds, rather than thousands of patients—can take a manual approach to optimizing health data. These smaller practices should follow their instincts and work with employees to manually identify specific populations of patients within their practice that may need extra support. Once these groups have been identified, providers can find meaningful ways to interact with them to improve the status of their health and ultimately result in more powerful provider-patient relationships.

For example, a clinician may feel they have several patients struggling with a specific condition. They can ask their team to pull data on anyone who meets specific criteria, and then send them a note that addresses the issue at hand. Careful planning, staff training, and staff onboarding will be imperative to ensuring they do not undermine their patient relationships.

For larger practices, a manual process is less realistic as their data sets are vast and will be difficult to manage without a robust IT infrastructure in place. To ensure they can properly assess patient health data they will need to consider ways to ensure their data is accurately and comprehensively aggregated and normalized, like implementing an integration layer. Additionally, providers should consider leveraging solutions such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform, which can allow a more automated process to communicate, track responses, and fine-tune messaging.

Larger practices especially must be cautious here and pay attention to doing this the right way, because the risk of further undermining an already weak position against tech giants is critical. Credibility is the main advantage the provider and the practice have over these digital disruptors.

Making mistakes with data interpretation and communicating with the wrong patients about the wrong health concern isn’t just a gaffe, it has the potential to bolster the position of the digital disruptors. If patients feel their providers don’t know them that well anyway, then they may feel that one is as good as another (commoditization) and that they can count on Google or Amazon to manage the process (disintermediation).

For example, imagine a large practice does some data mining and determines that many of their patients would benefit from more coordinated diabetes management services. In response to this, they put together a multidisciplinary program and start encouraging patients to enroll.

If they make mistakes with the data analytics and reach out to patients who only had elevated blood sugar levels and are not considered pre-diabetic, the provider will damage their credibility with the patient in a way that subverts their one unassailable advantage over the tech giants.

With the growing number of tech giants entering the healthcare space, providers have no choice but to face the challenge head on and take the necessary steps to strengthen their patient relationships by improving their data integration, and there is no reason they cannot be successful.