Preparing for the New Era of Patient Consumerization
Patients are customers now. This is an undeniable and recent truth that needs to be addressed by everyone in the medical field. Everyone knows companies like Zappos or Chick-Fil-A that seem to run their businesses flawlessly. Yet many medical practices, even working in a far more sensitive and complex environment, fail to implement the systems and structures that make these and other retail companies so successful.
The issue is that patient expectations are more demanding than in the old days. Higher deductibles mean that they’re spending more of their own money, which naturally makes them expect more from their healthcare providers. They want:
- Better service
- Better experiences
- More personal attention and care
- Quicker answers to their questions and concerns
But the traditional way of running a medical practice can hardly accommodate a customer-service mindset. Uncomfortable waiting rooms and inaccessible doctors are just the tip of the iceberg; medical offices often make patients feel like a nuisance, like something that must be endured rather than enjoyed. And that’s not what patients want.
It’s time for practices large and small to adopt some of the best practices of successful businesses and apply them to their own operations. The ongoing patient consumerization of healthcare isn’t going away; medical practices must either adapt or get left behind.
The New Trend of Patient Consumerization
Patients are becoming more informed about their medical conditions and treatments, as well as how they can manage them better. They are also demanding more options for self-management. That means that, in effect, patient consumerization is about patients taking control of their health and increasing their participation in their own care.
They’re demanding more from providers in every aspect of healthcare, from the point of care to the patient portal. Patients are seeking efficiency and a convenient experience that allows them to take control of their lives. They want a single place where they can manage their health and wellness without having to visit multiple doctors or spend hours searching for information online.
And there are a lot of reasons for this development.
Greater Cost Transparency
Whereas prices used to be more hidden, today they are increasingly transparent. Consumers are now able to compare prices and quality across providers, thanks to new government regulations and internet-based technologies at their fingertips.
Cost transparency is particularly important in the healthcare industry because patients can see how much they have paid for their care and how much they could have saved by going with another provider or procedure. In many cases, they can even shop around ahead of time. This has the potential to revolutionize the way they purchase health care going forward.
Expanding Care Options Via Telehealth
No longer bound to their local practice, patients can now access care from providers anywhere in the country. They don’t have to wait until they get sick to see a doctor. They can reach out 24/7 with questions or concerns through email or video-chat. That makes it easier for them to get the answers they need on their terms, instead of having to take time off from work or school to make an appointment.
For medical practices, telehealth is a way to expand their reach and attract new patients. Practices can leverage telehealth services to provide consultations for patients who don’t live nearby, or to assist with after-hours care when other providers are closed. Telehealth can also help practices improve their bottom line by lowering overhead costs and increasing efficiency.
Online Patient Review Sites
Consumers can also learn about the quality of providers based on reviews submitted by other patients. Online ratings are becoming increasingly common as patients share their experiences with doctors and hospitals online through review sites available on the internet.
These rating systems help consumers make informed decisions about where to receive treatment, but they also provide a valuable tool for providers to improve their performance. Patients can use reviews to identify which practices and doctors provide the best care, and providers can use this feedback to improve their services.
As expected, this increases competition among providers and can drive improvements in quality. Providers need to engage with patient feedback to gain an advantage in the market. Those who ignore this will find their number of new patients dwindling.
Changing Office Environments
A key factor in this shift is changing office environments. In the past, a doctor’s office was often located in a building with other medical offices. These offices were usually small spaces that were not very inviting to patients. Patients wanted to feel comfortable when they visited the doctor’s office, but these settings did not provide that experience.
Today, many doctors’ offices are in larger buildings where they have more space, more inviting decor, and can offer better amenities such as waiting rooms with TVs and children’s play areas. This can create a better experience and increased flexibility for patients, especially if they bring their children to the appointment.
Improved Communications and Service Options
Patients want to know that they are being listened to and heard when they come into contact with their healthcare providers or insurance companies. In fact, they want to know that they are being taken seriously as valuable individuals with unique needs and concerns.
This is a normal part of consumer relations in other industries, but it can feel like something of a novelty in healthcare. Medical practices need to develop a culture of listening carefully to patients and taking their concerns seriously. This includes making sure that patients have ample opportunities to communicate with the staff of their medical practice, whether through email, phone or in-person.
Learning From the Best
It’s a smart business practice for healthcare providers to learn from other industries, particularly in the ways they have successfully increased customer satisfaction and retention. No matter how you slice it, this is a major goal for healthcare providers as well, and being able to identify and implement the strategies that work well for other industries can only be a good thing.
But medical school and business school hardly teach the same skillset. That’s why healthcare providers can benefit from the insight offered by TRIARQ Health, a management services organization with a long track record of applying successful business strategies to the healthcare sector as a whole. Practices that want to avoid getting bogged down in the complexities of running a practice, and instead focus on providing the best possible care for their patients, can benefit from TRIARQ Health’s assistance.