Connecting physical and digital journeys to improve patient engagement

May 22, 2019

Given the evolving consumer preferences, bridging the physical and digital world to drive a unified experience is crucial to patient retention and satisfaction. Here’s how you can achieve it.

Healthcare as we knew it is gone. Changing business models, increased competition, complex affiliations, rapid changes in technology, and demands for deeper patient engagement all are changing the way healthcare is delivered. 

Perhaps the biggest shift facing healthcare providers is the patient’s role as a consumer, who is now taking advantage of unprecedented accessto information and becoming more involved and informed about care. 

  • According to research conducted through Children’s Hospital in Dallas, 85 percent of American consumers read online reviews before making decisions about a healthcare provider, with 88 percent of consumers trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations. 

  • Consumers are at risk for higher out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, as seen with the 94 million Americans who were on high-deductible plans in 2017, which more than doubled the number from 2015.

  • A California Health Care Foundation survey found that EHRs have made it easier to switch healthcare providers, meaning consumers are willing to move to another provider to get a perceived better experience.

Additionally, patients are embracing digital interactions like never before. In a 2014 Strategy survey, up to 40 percent of respondents under the age of 45 identified digital as their preferred means of engagement to manage their health, outranking facility visits or phone calls. The survey also revealed that more than four in five respondents younger than 35 said they embraced care via virtual marketplaces, and 46 percent of healthcare consumers want as much data about their health as possible. Additionally, a 2016 Accenture survey found that 54 percent of healthcare consumers want to interact more with providers through apps on their smart phones. In a separate report, Accenture research revealed that by late 2019, 66 percent of health systems will offer digital self-scheduling and 64 percent of patients will use it.   

Given the evolving consumer preferences, bridging the physical and digital world to drive a unified experience is crucial to patient retention and satisfaction. Here’s how you can achieve it.

Implementing a digital strategy: where to begin

To design a sustainable digital patient experience you need organizational support and to create your digital strategy, meaning you not only need technology, but people and process. A patient’s digital experience is not confined to a department, unit, or facility but rather the entire organization that the patient experiences.

Ensuring broad support for patient engagement requires a holistic approach, driven by insights from data and patients that reveal information such as preferred visit types and times. An organization’s digital strategy will also inform the needed infrastructure, content, and delivery channel. So how do you begin? 

First, identify pain points that can be alleviated by digital tools. Put the patient at the center of the process and understand their care journey. This is simplified by selecting a few key patient segments, or personas, and considering how each engages with the health system. For example, a female head of household and a baby boomer caring for their aging senior parent are both high utilizers of healthcare, but they have very different care needs and preferences. Viewed from a patient-centric lens, with direct patient input, you can more clearly identify gaps in your current delivery process. 

Next, identify the operational challenges that need to be solved to select the right technology. If your front office is inundated with new appointment or appointment reminder calls, patient insights will help you better understand how to solve this problem for unique patient populations. Solutions may include implementing a digital method, such as text reminders or leveraging mobile apps for appointment management. Specific patient pain points need to be considered as you build your  operational business case, as you may be targeting very different patient groups with the solution.

Third, prioritize the elements of your digital strategy based on a set of criteria, such as a patient value, clinical risk, or other organizational value. For example, a workflow gap that is merely an inconvenience to the patient is a lower priority than a patient safety risk. Incorporate the criteria into existing governance and budgeting processes and into the organization’s growth portfolio to secure strategic budget allocations and resources. 

Secure the best technology to meet your needs

Before more comprehensive digital roadmaps can be developed, you should first determine whether you’ll invest in new technology to meet specific needs or if you’ll build your own. After that, there needs to be a clear understanding of what each would mean, such as evaluating specific technology options, identifying resourcing constraints, and determining your budget for the technology solution you decide to implement. Developing and supporting a digital approach to patient engagement is a long-term commitment. Most healthcare organizations need help navigating these populated waters.  

For help developing your technology strategy, you’ll need to select the best vendor to help you. The following vendor checklist, which has been in use by organizations for decades, is a tried and true approach that still applies today. Your vendor/tool selection requires a disciplined approach and should include:

  • Clearly defined requirements

  • Establish selection criteria

  • Demos with use cases

  • Cleary defined decision-making process

Get your team on board through change management initiatives

Patient engagement is a culture shift, not an initiative. Consumer adoption cannot be expected without organizational adoption, meaning a comprehensive organizational change adoption plan should be in place. Change management is the tool that can be harnessed to help employees make a personal transition from a current to a future mindset which includes embracing new technology aimed at helping patients to drive business results.

Change management is an overall approach to:

  • Connecting people to strategy and communicating the reason for change

  • Moving the organization through a distinct set of phases to help them assimilate to change

  • Helping people see the future in a way that reduces uncertainty and reluctance

  • Sustaining the benefits of change as it’s occurring

  • Increasing the business value of what’s being delivered.

Connecting physical and digital journeys to deliver the best possible patient experience takes a holistic approach that engages your entire organization. Understanding your patients’ pain points and selecting the right tools and vendors to help implement those tools, and undertaking change management initiatives to help guide your team through these transitions will help your practice embrace this new era of healthcare.

Matt Henry and Susan Kanvik are health care consultants with Point B, an integrated management consultingventure investment, and real estate development firm. Henry has a 15-year record of accomplishments in the healthcare industry with expertise ranging from data analytics to mobile health to personalized digital experiences. He has led organizations’ digital strategy, roadmap and implementation. Kanvik has more than 40 years of experience in the health care industry with a focus on information technology and data/analytics to improve outcomes and operations. She serves as an advisor to healthcare clients nationally on health IT, data governance and BI/analytics.