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    Embracing healthcare consumerism during COVID-19 and beyond


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    • The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed a lot of truths about the U.S. healthcare system that providers need to address. Among them: that the patient really is in charge.

      Amid the health crisis, hospitals, health systems, medical clinics and dental practices lost millions of dollars in revenue because elective procedures and preventive care visits were cancelled by many governments. Even as facilities have been cleared to resume, patients remain leery to return because they’re afraid of contracting the coronavirus.

      How can you start to recover clinically and financially from the effects of the pandemic? Two industry experts share how you can harness the power of healthcare consumerism to drive better clinical and business results for your organization.

      The shift from patient to consumer

      “Control” is one word that defines healthcare consumerism. Control is the magic dust that transforms a traditional, passive patient into a modern, active consumer of healthcare goods and services. The patient as a consumer has control over his or her choices, care and experiences.

      Where does this magic dust come from? It started with the internet. It’s given patients the power to research their medical condition or dental issue. It’s given patients the capability to research treatment options and to research the performance and reputations of their potential caregivers independently of their current health plans, doctors or dentists. 

      Andreas Syrek, chief dental officer of 3M Oral Care, says that today’s patients are more informed than ever. “They have a clear idea of the treatment they want,” Syrek says. “They will debate about their options and the cost.”

      John Nash, chief marketing and strategy officer for Redpoint Global, a software firm that develops customer experience solutions for an array of industries, points to two drivers of healthcare consumerism: the first is what he calls digitally enabled consumer expectations, and the second is new healthcare payment models.

      Regarding the first driver, patients now expect their interactions with healthcare to replicate the same experience they have in other industries like travel, hospitality, retail and consumer packaged goods, with much of that experience powered by self-directed websites and mobile apps. As for the second driver, patients’ out-of-pocket costs are rising thanks to high-deductible health plans and other benefits designs that shift the financial risk of care over to patients, who now demand price and quality transparency to make smarter choices.

      How COVID-19 fuels healthcare consumerism

      What patients want as consumers from their healthcare providers may not have been clear to providers in the past. But the COVID-19 outbreak has washed away any unknowns.

      “The outbreak has exposed a lot of the fractures and friction in the customer experience that exist right now,” Nash says. “This has been a big wake up call for healthcare.”

      Nash cites telemedicine as a leading example. Almost overnight, patients who typically saw doctors or dentists in person wanted to see them virtually instead. Healthcare organizations that couldn’t pivot as quickly as patients changed their minds likely lost patients to other doctors or dentists who could.

      Syrek cites more mundane administrative tasks that patients suddenly insisted on doing remotely, such as filling out medical histories, signing consent forms, sharing test results, scheduling appointments and paying medical bills. Again, providers who didn’t have those convenience services in place may be playing catch up thanks to COVID-19.

      10 ways to tap into healthcare consumerism

      Playing catch up, though, doesn’t mean you can’t win the healthcare consumerism game. There are a number of things you can do to improve clinical and financial outcomes now and after the coronavirus pandemic ends.

      Syrek and Nash offered the following assortment of 10 consumer-oriented tips and tricks:

      • Launch loyalty programs that reward repeat patients
      • Increase “face time” with patients by moving paperwork online
      • Use technology powered by artificial intelligence or machine learning to collect and analyze patient data from a variety of internal and external sources, not just your EHR system
      • Excel at using the comprehensive data that you’ve collected and analyzed to personalize each patient’s experience when they visit or interact with your organization
      • Prioritize privacy to build patients’ trust in managing their data
      • Make the patient’s experience consistent across all your settings and channels
      • Make all patients’ interactions immediate and happen in real time 
      • Focus on consumer-oriented processes, not just consumer-oriented outcomes
      • Expand remote care capabilities like telemedicine, testing and monitoring
      • Open mail and home delivery services for medical supplies and equipment

      A big part of the revenue recovery story will be how fast healthcare organizations can offer optional or alternative services,” Nash says. “The organizations that do that successfully will be those that embrace healthcare consumerism and respond aggressively to it.

    • Learn how one dentist gained and maintained patient trust amid COVID-19


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