Perhaps more than any other industry, healthcare has been rocked by COVID-19. From facing influxes of patients and not having proper equipment to pausing elective procedures for months, the pandemic has caused healthcare to change nearly everything about how it operates and designs patient experiences.
But even amongst the turmoil, COVID-19 can serve as a catalyst to a safer, more efficient and more patient-centric experience in three main ways:
Increased Telehealth Options
Many providers have offered telehealth options for years, but they were often an afterthought on clunky systems. COVID-19 accelerated telehealth by a decade to make it a commonplace and convenient experience for both patients and providers. The amount of U.S. patients using telehealth grew from 11% in 2019 to 46% in April 2020.
Being forced into telemedicine helped disprove many assumptions about the service. Many patients and providers have long thought that telehealth offered subpar service because it lacked in-person connection. But through the pandemic, patients realized the convenience of being able to log on for a virtual appointment from home instead of having to travel, sit in the waiting room and risk being exposed to germs. Telehealth saves patients more than 100 minutes compared to an in-person visit. Telehealth is a much less intrusive way for patients to get care, and it also allows providers to see many more patients in a day. And with advances in technology for at-home diagnostic equipment, the level of care received through a virtual appointment is at the same level as an in-person visit in all but a few cases.
Telehealth has seen its largest adoption over the last six months in primary care, which has proven to be a good testing ground. As the kinks have been worked out and elective procedures resume, more specialists are adopting the technology for pre- and post-procedure visits and other virtual check-ins. Nine out of 10 patients who participated in a virtual visit said it was more convenient than other ways of getting care.
Now that healthcare providers, hospitals and clinics have seen how telemedicine can be applied at scale, many won’t ever go back to their old ways of practicing medicine or delivering patient experiences.
The typical patient experience has long been full of bureaucracy and red tape. Instead of being patient-centric, many clinics were provider- or donor-centric.
But COVID-19 has put patients back in the middle of their care and forced organizations to streamline services and find innovative solutions. The new, streamlined approach to healthcare aims to make the patient experience as efficient as possible. With their standard ways of doing business upended, healthcare providers are finding better ways to operate more efficiently.
Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City was embarking on a digital transformation before the pandemic hit, but COVID-19 led the clinic to create a more patient-friendly experience. Weill Cornell looked for ways to become more efficient, such as by making forms simpler and moving from paper forms to electronic versions. Patients can also check in virtually before coming to the office, which cuts down on time in the waiting room. Copays are collected online, and providers are communicating more through email and text than before. The new efforts streamline the entire experience to get patients in and out as quickly as possible and limit contact with staff.
Streamlining services and processes improves the experience for providers and employees, which leads to more engagement and fewer redundancies. Companies that are the most successful with streamlining their processes take an empathetic approach to truly think about what patients need.
Consumerization Of Healthcare
Patients often feel limited in the doctors they can see and powerless to make their own decisions. But a new wave towards the consumerization of healthcare gives more power to the patients and has shown them they have options in who they see and how they are treated. Healthcare is no longer a monopoly. Patients are now consumers who have choices in their treatment. COVID-19 has accelerated the trend because more people are thinking about healthcare and wanting to make the best decisions.
New technology makes it possible for startups and new kinds of clinics to disrupt the healthcare space. Combined with those factors is an aging population that requires more care and a push towards alternative and home-centered care for the elderly. But consumerization of healthcare includes more than just the elderly. Telehealth company Ro expanded to give patients another COVID-19 option with its telehealth triage service. The program uses expert health information to assess if patients are at risk for contracting COVID-19 and then connects them with a provider for a free video consultation. Instead of automatically going to their primary care providers, patients can instead take the Ro assessment for another opinion.
Patients are also changing what is most important to their care. While most patients used to prioritize bells and whistles, the preference is changing to empathetic service and clean facilities. A shift towards the consumerization of healthcare includes every aspect of care, from the convenience of scheduling to the care itself and the payment and reimbursement systems. Patients are looking at every detail of their care options to make the best choice for themselves and their loved ones.
How Brands Can Adapt
Healthcare has never been more important to people. Patients are now consumers who have power, choices and opinions about their care. They want an experience that is convenient and seamless, while also being personalized.
To meet these trends, healthcare companies need to go back to basics. With so much upheaval in the industry, COVID-19 has provided essentially a blank slate to make major procedural and experiential changes. Companies that will be the most successful will connect with patients to fully understand their needs and then leverage technology and human connection to create experiences that are efficient and personal.
To tap into the growing consumerization, healthcare organizations need to market themselves to patients. Instead of assuming patients will automatically come to them, they have to proactively meet patients’ needs and focus on empowerment and experience.
Healthcare is ripe for disruption. The COVID-19 pandemic will forever change healthcare and create a more patient-focused experience. To stay relevant and lead the changes, healthcare organizations must focus on their patients and find new ways to leverage technology and provide streamlined services.
Blake Morgan is the bestselling author of The Customer of the Future. Sign up for her new course here.