People love technology and the convenience it brings, whether that's hailing a car on your Uber App or using voice commands to turn off the lights or play your favourite song. In countless ways, life is far more convenient than it was even 20 years ago, but the same can't be said for most healthcare organizations (HCOs) who are seemingly stuck somewhere in the early 2000s when it comes to solving patient problems through the use of digital-first solutions.
According to a recent Forrester report, many HCOs recognize the importance of improving the patient experience using technology, with 72% of those surveyed agreeing that “digital customer engagement is only going to become more important to their organization.” However, despite this, 61% of HCOs report that their data strategies for personalization and customization are immature or still maturing.
Unfortunately, patients are paying the price for this slow pace of digital adoption through frustration with bad customer service and poorer health outcomes for younger patients not having their needs met by traditional primary care physicians.
To meet the growing demand for digital care, HCOs must invest more in creating convenient and intelligent solutions to common patient problems like archaic booking processes, online communication, digital records, and fragmentation in the healthcare industry. If HCOs refuse to adapt or adapt too slowly, patients will continue to avoid waiting rooms and take their chances either Googling their symptoms or trying out new players like Amazon, who are willing to give people the experience they’re looking for.
1 Appointment scheduling isn’t convenient
One place that no person looks forward to in their healthcare journey is the aptly named waiting room. With the explosion of modern technology, people have become used to convenience in every facet of their life—healthcare is no different. In fact, even pre-pandemic, a full 80% of respondents said they would switch healthcare providers if it were more convenient for them. Further, a Deloitte study found that consumers ranked minimal wait times in the doctors’ office and convenient appointment availability as their 10th and 12th most important healthcare interactions.
Doctor’s appointments, both scheduling them and showing up to them, are clear pain points for patients. However, many HCOs still require that you call a receptionist to book an appointment. This problem is compounded when time is of the essence; according to a 2017 study, the average time to get an appointment with a doctor was 24.1 days, up 30% in three years. So, if you need an appointment now, patients are forced to call or email multiple doctor's offices to find an appointment sometime in the same calendar month.
Other health tech companies have seen appointment scheduling as a significant problem for patients and have moved in to offer their services. For example, PatientPop is a SaaS product that allows patients to book appointments online, offers pre- and post-appointment emails, and lets patients fill in their registration and intake forms digitally, saving them time in the waiting room.
2 Health advice isn’t available when it’s needed
With 89% of Americans Googling their symptoms online before seeing a doctor, there’s no doubt that people are looking for digital diagnosis solutions more than ever. HCOs can tap into this sentiment by developing a solution that allows patients to speak with healthcare professionals from home, helping them diagnose their problems, offering health advice, and letting them know when an in-person visit is necessary.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, interest in these digital telehealth solutions has only increased. One study by McKinsey found that there’s been a 38x increase in telehealth use since the pandemic began, with 40–60% of patients interested in “broader virtual health solutions.”
These solutions help solve two main problems facing patients: how to get quick answers about health problems and how to make healthcare more affordable. According to SpyFu, around 90,000 people search Google every month for questions like “Should I go to the doctor if ___.” Telehealth solutions are a fast, secure way for people to answer these kinds of questions. It would also help give people more peace of mind knowing that they were being diagnosed by an actual medical professional and not an anonymous source on the internet.
Telehealth can also help bring down costs overall in the healthcare industry. Reduced costs allow for reduced prices, which could help the roughly half of all Americans who have “put off or skipped some sort of health care or dental care in the past year because of the cost.”
One company trying to fill this gap is Wellframe, an app that puts people in contact with nurses and healthcare workers for free. Using this app, people can initiate a real-time chat with a nurse and get advice on their health. The app also includes other features like checklists and a medical library to help keep patients healthy on their own. With more people turning to convenient ways to get health information, HCOs will need to learn how to offer their own services like this or risk being left behind by faster adopters.
3 Personal health information isn’t easily accessible
Even back in 2015, online medical records were already the norm, with more than 95% of hospitals using them. However, it’s often still difficult for patients to access their medical history when they move or are out of state. For this reason, HCOs need to offer patients access to digital copies of their own health information to avoid mix-ups that could harm their health when they go to a new clinic or doctor’s office.
The current system of digital health records wasn’t built for patients. Despite the fact that most hospitals use digital records, a paper in the AJMC found that “almost half of Americans were not offered access” to their own records. Another barrier is user experience. Many people don’t take advantage of digital records because, according to one study, they aren’t seen as “user friendly,” and they lack the “technical support, education, or reliable internet access” needed to use them.
Another thing we have learned is that patients don’t just want somewhere to put their information; they want a program that helps them understand and use their own health data. In 2019, Microsoft HealthVault closed down. In many ways, it offered what experts have been calling for: a secure place to keep and share digital health records. However, one reason it failed was that it wasn’t designed for patients — it could not store “patient-acquired data,” it didn’t integrate with wearables, and it wasn’t designed for mobile use.
This space, however, hasn’t been left vacant by Microsoft for long. Apple now offers a service called Health Records. Patients can store and share their traditional health information and the data collected from their wearables. If HCOs want to stay ahead of players like Apple, this is an area they’ll need to work to catch up so they can offer their patients the same level of convenience.
4 Digital healthcare platforms are too fragmented and confusing
How often would you order pizza on an app if every time you tried, you needed to input your data, order from one app, pay on another, and then get the bill on a third? Probably not often, but this kind of fragmentation is all too common in the healthcare industry, and people are tired of it. According to a Harris Poll on healthcare, “[patients] want health plans and providers to . . . simplify the experience, and deliver a fully connected encounter that makes healthcare as seamless as any other online endeavour.”
Fragmentation isn’t just inconvenient; it’s costing people money all over the country. For instance, many people are unable to navigate the technicalities of their health insurance plan on their own. Therefore, they need to hire a patient advocate) to help them, which can cost over $100 an hour. Other people who don’t want to hire an advocate don’t take advantage of their benefits because they don’t understand what they’re entitled to.
Bringing together the fragments of the U.S. healthcare system into one convenient platform won’t be easy. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be your goal. Patients are tired of dealing with a million different entities to get their healthcare, and any simplification is a good start to winning back patients who have disengaged with traditional healthcare systems.
Patients want digital innovators in healthcare
Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen more and more industry incumbents swallowed up by smaller, faster-moving tech startups willing to give consumers what they want. Without mature data strategies that use A/B testing and experimentation to create a personalized and optimized experience for patients, the same thing could happen in the healthcare industry.
HCOs need to become digital innovators, embracing data-backed changes that will make their organizations more capable of fixing the things that people have come to hate about the healthcare industry. Already, we can see that HCOs that embrace these changes and optimize using customer insights are five times more likely to increase their revenue than those that don’t. Despite a natural hesitancy toward change, the truth is patients are looking for innovative approaches to healthcare, and if traditional HCOs won’t give it to them, they’ll continue to look elsewhere. You can learn more about the future of healthcare in our Forrester report on optimization in the Healthcare Industry.