By Rick Halton, VP Product & Marketing, Lumeon

The healthcare sector is faced with a phenomenon that it can no longer ignore if it’s to survive and thrive: the consumerization of the industry.

The experiences that consumers have come to expect and demand, like the ease of shopping on Amazon or simplicity of booking a flight, have been infiltrating all aspects of life for a long time, and the healthcare industry is no exception. Patients are consumers, and they increasingly expect their healthcare journeys to better reflect their consumer interactions. In a recent discussion about this trend, Pat McNulty-Collins, AVP of patient experience at WellStar Health System, put it well: “We’re not really talking about patient experience anymore – we’re talking about consumer experience.”

This series will deconstruct healthcare’s shift toward the consumerization of the patient experience. Insights can be broken down into four key themes: driving greater personalization, delivering proactive care, boosting clinical efficiencies, and leveraging emerging technologies.

This first theme of the series explores the need to personalize patient care. 

This trend is mainly being driven by the expectations patients have gained as a result of the service they receive as consumers. For example, if you have a great experience shopping at a particular store or retail site, you’re more likely to return and become a regular customer.

Likewise, patients exhibit similar behavior when deciding where and who to visit for healthcare services. “Patients will come back to you for repeat care depending on how they felt when they were receiving their service,” said the director of patient access within a large health system in a phone interview. In order to convert patients into “returning customers,” a hospital within this health system strives to infuse personalization into every patient encounter. “All of our associates receive customer service training and are encouraged to use the AIDET technique when interacting with patients – acknowledge the patient, introduce yourself, provide the duration, explain what you’re doing, and thank them,” the director said.

Making sure patients feel individually cared for and not lost within a mass of other “customers” – in other words, providing personalized care – makes them feel important and is likely to influence their decision to return to for care throughout their healthcare journey. Additionally, much like retail giants are using customer information to make personalized purchase recommendations, healthcare organizations are increasingly leveraging patient data in ways that can add value to the patient’s experience.

“Patients expect and want healthcare to work like other things in their life, like shopping on Amazon,” said Ed Martin, Technology Director with the Center for Digital Health at the University of California, San Francisco. “With EHRs, we have a lot of good data on our patients that can be used to tailor their experiences. This is going on in retail already, and it’s what we’re shooting toward in healthcare – treating our patients more like customers.” Martin also offered an example: “We can provide potential clinical trials that the patient could participate in based on their illness, or track the status of their specialist referral requests, sending them appropriate communications along the way.”

Care: How and when consumers want it

Another expectation from a consumer’s “regular life” that healthcare has acknowledged is the notion of on-demand access – which is why healthcare is doing more to accommodate the desires of the millennial generation, in particular. Millennials don’t often feel the need to interact with humans during a retail purchase or when booking a flight, for instance – they’ve become accustomed to more efficient interactions, especially through the use of technology.

In a similar vein, Sara Vaezy, Chief Digital Strategy Officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, observed that “not everyone wants or needs a relationship with a primary care physician,” – particularly within the millennial generation, which is largely leading this consumerization movement. In response to this sentiment, Providence’s Express Care service is focused on providing one-time visits, primarily for low acuity, episodic care, which “is how we can attract people into our systems who would otherwise go elsewhere,” she added.

Patients don’t want to interact with their healthcare providers any more than they need to – and healthcare organizations are adapting to allow this level of personalized engagement. For instance, in one of its facilities, the Illinois-based health system has rolled out electronic kiosks that seek to be more informative rather than just be used for check-ins. Patients can use these e-kiosks to get more information about the facility or their visit rather than go up to a desk, where they’d need to interact with someone to get that same information. The Director of Patient Access noted that these kiosks “help meet the preferences of our millennial and tech-savvy patients.”

Patients want to interact with their providers in the same way they interact with other consumer industries and services, like Amazon or an airline. By seeking to personalize healthcare – not only by making it accessible for patients when and how they want it but also using data to tailor their experiences and treat them like real customers – healthcare organizations can begin to meet growing demands for consumerization within the industry.