Making the pivot toward direct relationships with consumers

Five Key Steps for Healthcare Industry Leaders

Recently, the healthcare industry’s “front door” has changed quite dramatically. While physicians still write orders and dictate who is admitted or discharged from a hospital, the way “consumer-patients” interact with healthcare providers has been disrupted on a similar scale to other major product and service verticals in our economy.

There are five key steps for healthcare providers to successfully pivot towards a direct relationship with consumers in the digital age. These steps provide a roadmap to help health system leaders navigate this transformation and the way we interact with patients.

Step 1: Embrace the new “front door” of your healthcare system

Consumers previously entered the hospital through admissions and the emergency department. Now health system strategic planners, service line leaders and marketers have to plan for attracting patients through several doorways, including:
• Industry healthcare portals such as
• Healthcare system and hospital websites
• Healthcare system call centers
• Online appointment scheduling websites and phone apps
• Virtual physician consultations
• Urgent care offices
• Health and mini-clinics
• Physician offices

Today consumers are able to access many phone apps, online resources and information that enable them to be more actively involved with their healthcare decision making.

This fundamental shift away from established physician referral patterns and health networks toward a new era of online data and transparency reinforces why we should embrace direct-to-consumer healthcare strategies. Incidentally, most of these strategies have already been implemented and tested in the retail and hospitality industries.

Step 2: Leverage technology and data to locate consumer populations and identify their most important healthcare needs

We must take advantage of the availability of data in ways not previously thought possible in healthcare. Within the exceptions allowed under HIPAA, we are able to gather personal information on millions of consumers in our marketplace. Data warehouse and business intelligence technology provide us with the ability to collect and match data from several locations to a single file for each individual in a market area. With these tools and data in place, it is relatively easy to:

• Append hundreds of attributes to each consumer in your marketplace
• Profile a consumer’s attributes to help predict behavior and determine what is most important to them
• Find a number of disease cohorts across a defined population
• Send personalized messages to individuals in a cohort
• Profile physicians and practices using diagnosis and procedure codes from claims data
• Develop a physician search tool based on a frequency distribution of diagnosis and procedure codes

This marketing approach will give healthcare providers much more control over their market share destiny than most of the old-fashioned, traditional approaches that are still in wide use.

Step 3: Identify the communications channels that consumers are listening to use them to communicate

Mobilization of digital technology has had a significant impact on the shift in consumer “listening” habits. More people now access the internet using mobile phones and tablets than those who use computers, which, along with the volume of consumer activity that now takes place in the social network, requires a new approach to communicating with consumers.

Company websites are still important, but it is time to commit to mobile marketing technology, including social networking.

A combination of responsive web design and mobile app technologies will be required to build out an infrastructure of new digital access points, which will enable consumers to interact with you through more convenient methods, including:

• Instant access to branded and evidence-based healthcare information about an array of health conditions, diagnoses and procedures
• Appointment scheduling with real-time confirmation
• Direct email or chat communication with physicians
• Access to all medical records
• ER wait times
• Bill pay with a real-time payer interface
• Enrollment in branded loyalty programs with wellness incentives

Step 4: Move as many provider services, transactions, tasks and workflows online as possible

One only needs to reflect on how we do banking, book travel and purchase many consumer items to realize that the die has been cast. While Steve Jobs invented the mobile tool for us to communicate better and access the internet, it is up to us to make meaningful what consumers experience when they arrive at our digital front door.

We should start with the notion that all consumer-facing healthcare processes and services that are the backbone of your business ultimately be online with mobile accessibility. Mobile consumer accessibility should be central to your objectives and should be the default with a requirement that every function, department or division offer compelling testimonial as to why this could or should not be done. The heightened imperative for this to happen is relating to what consumers want most as outlined in Step 3.

This massive shift of how we work, access data and make decisions in the digital age looks very similar to the Industrial Revolution of the 1860’s. Organizations that recognized early the need to make huge investments in machine tools, mechanization and interchangeable parts were handsomely rewarded. So too will healthcare providers be rewarded who are the early movers to expansive internet and mobile app platforms that directly communicate with and provide access to consumers.

Step 5: Create and sustain a robust brand presence and customer service platform on the internet

Let’s face it, your competitors are not going to be standing still while you build your immense consumer database, business intelligence platform, responsive design website and mobile apps. This new technology and functionality needs to be wrapped into a powerful brand. The consumers in your marketplace need to be able to find you, trust you and develop a loyalty to you.

The technologies required to achieve brand pre-eminence online include items from the following checklist to support your brand-building journey:

• Business intelligence – An enterprise data warehouse, analytical services and reporting services that enable you to target consumers for specific messages, predict their behavior and engage them in a way that is meaningful to them.

• Responsive design enterprise website – A new generation website with what is now referred to as Web 3.0 technology or having connective intelligence: connecting data, concepts, applications and people.

• Enterprise mobile phone app platform – Mobile apps are one of the most important direct-to-consumer interfaces. They each have one or more specialized workflows and enable consumers to interact with you in a personalized and effective way.

• Enterprise CRM – A consumer relationship platform that keeps a continuous record of all consumer and patient interactions with providers. It enables provider employees to “know” the patient on a personal level each time they call or visit.

• Intelligent Customer Service – A tool for agents in a call center; it really is an integration of CRM technology with call switch technology. It allows an agent to instantly see a continuous contact record with a person as soon as their call or email is received, providing for a more personalized customer service experience.

• Marketing Automation – Stages and schedules automated responses to consumers who are contacting us. Today, the need for a business to be immediately responsive is paramount. This powerful application allows for the intelligent programming of a campaign with reminders and unique messages that can be staged with simple software settings.

• Online Market Research – Having immediate and near-time responses to digital marketing campaigns pre- or post-launch can provide a treasure trove of data about consumers and their preferences. Using the internet and online research tools available to us, crowd-sourced consumer research can be performed in minutes and hours versus weeks and months. The ability to adjust targeting and messaging of any branded campaign is now almost immediate.

• Revenue Cycle/Billing Modifications – One of the best opportunities you have when dealing directly with consumers is to find out if they have any unmet health needs. Often these needs fall outside of the code-based billing systems that provider organizations have used for decades. Today, there is revenue cycle and billing software that will allow you to be paid for more unconventional consumer needs.

Direct-to-consumer marketing and business development aligns well with providers who are committed to becoming patient-centered organizations. As our consumer-patients increasingly assert their needs and wishes, our industry must be ready with the technologies and processes to heed them and act to advance their health and well-being.

Stewart Schaffer is a managing partner and co-founder of CSuite Solutions, a strategic advisory firm that counsels health systems across the U.S. Schaffer was formerly chief marketing and strategy officer at BayCare Health System, a 14-hospital integrated delivery network in Tampa, Florida. He also held senior executive positions in the hospitality and retail industries as well as two Fortune 50 companies.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker’s Hospital Review/Becker’s Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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