Industry Voices—Is healthcare going to the drones? What hospitals can learn from Amazon and big tech

Amazon logo on the side of a building
Healthcare needs to take some cues from industries that live and breathe customer experience in order to thrive in the current environment. (Sundry Photography/Shutterstock)

The healthcare industry is lagging behind others when it comes to customer experience; it’s a common sentiment shared among many executives in the industry today.

The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the global initiative to vaccinate our entire population, have exposed serious shortcomings in our healthcare delivery system—especially apparent now as care gets pushed outside traditional hospital settings and into the cloud and home.

In particular, it’s put a bright spotlight on the piecemeal, non-coordinated approach many healthcare providers take to communicating and engaging with their patient population at the right place and right time. As the federal government begins distributing vaccine doses to pharmacies such as CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens—and as Big Tech juggernauts like Amazon, Apple and Google intensify their focus on the healthcare space—the industry is watching closely to see who will lead the way to digitally transform a space that has historically been slow to innovate and deliver a seamless and personalized patient experience.

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Most, if not all of the Big Tech players have mastered what it means to deliver a superior customer experience with Net Promoter Scores (NPS) at enviable levels.

A recent report from CBInsights, titled Big Tech in Healthcare reports that “nearly 40% [of those surveyed] selected Amazon as the tech giant to have the biggest impact on healthcare.” Why? For starters, it’s because of their reputation and success with disrupting so many other industries. But it’s also because they possess such a sophisticated ability to harness data to deliver rich and intelligent personalization across the entire customer journey. Those personalized experiences have given rise to changing customer expectations—consumers expect their preferences to be recorded and used to improve their experience. This applies to healthcare consumers as well. Patients now expect their care experience will be on par with all the other personalized interactions they experience throughout the day—down to the barista at their local coffee shop who already knows their order before they walk in the door.

Healthcare needs to take some cues from industries that live and breathe customer experience in order to thrive in the current environment.

All consumers are healthcare consumers  

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused healthcare to undergo a more rapid transformation than anyone could have imagined. As cases surged, providers saw the need to better serve their communities and offer the types of personalized experiences that patients have grown accustomed to in just about every other aspect of their lives—from banking to dining.

But most healthcare leaders have gaps in their current processes, leaving them vulnerable to network leakage and decreasing their ability to capture market share and revenue. The vaccination rollout has further underscored the need to have systems in place to communicate with customers quickly and efficiently, and to target the right demographics with the right message at the right time.

Healthcare preferences, of course, are more complex than those for coffee or online retail purchases. Patients understand that. Still, they grow frustrated over poor patient experiences such as: Why do I have to fill out a paper form when my provider already should have the answers to most of these questions? Why can’t my doctor remember what medications I take? Why do I have to tell six different people how I am feeling every day when I am in the hospital? Or that I am lactose intolerant when mealtime comes?

The fact is, many healthcare providers have the ingredients for personalized experiences, they just aren’t tapping into them.

What hospitals can learn from Amazon

If you think healthcare is too complex to disrupt in this way, think of the industries already changed by Amazon. Bookselling, grocery shopping, shipping, IoT devices, and entertainment have all been impacted by Amazon’s customer-centered approach. Customers have grown accustomed to Amazon and Netflix sharing similar customers’ preferences with them, which makes the customer feel understood while earning their brand loyalty and repeat business.

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Customer experience is the foundation on which Amazon grew its customer base to over 300 million active users. Hospitals, too, are finding ways to create connected experiences for their patients, from providing menu choices each night for the next day’s meals, to allowing greater choice in their entertainment options, to using pet therapy to brighten their day. Now that face masks are mandatory at all times during COVID-19, healthcare staff are pinning pictures of themselves smiling to their gowns to create a more personal connection. These all go a long way toward improving experience but stop short of personalization.

The pandemic has shown us that digital technologies can play a greater role for hospitals aiming to provide personalized experiences. There are now several ways for providers to communicate with patients, whether through phone messages, email, SMS, or patient portals. Not every medium works for every patient, and hospitals would do well to remember patient preferences here and act upon them. Any techniques to elevate engagement, even just tweaking outreach pathways, can get patients more involved and invested in their own care.

Vital information should also be stored and shared across providers where possible, so patients aren’t forced to complete the same forms over and over and over again every time they visit a doctor. And longitudinal outreach and follow-up should reduce friction, not increase it; if a hospital is following up on a discharged patient through an automated message, for example, that message should include paths for patients to have their questions answered as well as specific, personalized information to help them in their recovery.  

Additionally, health systems should reflect on how they are connecting patient experiences across the entire care journey. Does the patient understand our COVID-19 precautions before their appointment? Do we know their pharmacy preferences? Is homecare an option as a measure against surge capacity? Does the patient have family members nearby who can act as caregivers in the event of homecare? Do patients have a socio-economic hardship that may inhibit their ability to access or receive the right care?

These are the types of connected and personalized experiences across the patient experience that your community is not only accustomed to but will ultimately earn their loyalty and improve outcomes.

Healthcare can no longer afford to be complacent. While some health systems had begun to prioritize patient experience, COVID-19 has upped the ante. Megatrends like social, mobile, and cloud have descended upon the healthcare industry and led to an explosion of new data that has only just begun to be leveraged. As more digital natives enter the workforce, expectations will continue to rise with a generation that has less affinity to legacy providers and brands. Integrations, usability, and customer experience will be essential at every step along the healthcare journey to help ensure the right care is delivered to the right patient, at the right time, in the right setting, and via the right modality.

There are countless more experiences that we as healthcare leaders need to challenge and invest in. If we in healthcare don’t, the Amazons of the world will.

Jim Somers is the chief marketing officer at CipherHealth.