Healthcare is one of the largest and fastest growing industries, long fueling the US economy.  Demand is only expected to rise as the population ages, people live longer, and more Americans gain insurance coverage. But its ubiquity aside, when is the last time you heard someone rave, “I had an amazing time at Acme hospital, I’m always telling my friends to go there!”?In this SMPL Q&A, we talk to strategist Christine Lim about how access is changing the healthcare brand experience for the better.

What makes healthcare brands so interesting?

Typically, simplicity and healthcare are not synonymous. With the lack of clarity surrounding the patient experience, healthcare is often viewed as complicated and frustrating. Trying to decipher your deductibles and premiums, enduring long wait times to speak with a customer service rep, even the hospital visit itself, all contribute to the pervasive low trust of the industry. But amidst the red tape and confusion, a new brand challenge surfaces—How can healthcare brands engage, even delight, consumers with either predetermined biases or who avoid addressing their health altogether?

What trends are shaping our relationships with healthcare?

Every day it feels like there’s something new, unexpected or complicated in the world of healthcare, in part due to the swell of media coverage in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. An increase in mergers & acquisitions, federal threats to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and new entrants constantly alter the industry’s precarious landscape.

An area that’s undergoing a particularly dramatic transformation is access, specifically, how people locate the care they need in a simple, convenient manner. Technology or “telehealth” is turning healthcare access on its head in three significant ways:

  • On-demand Care: Telehealth enables patients to communicate directly with physicians and other providers via their mobile devices in real-time. Patients can also go online to find care providers, schedule an appointment, and even hold their place in line.
  • Peer Reviews: By sharing personal experiences via websites like Healthgrades, patients can help one another find care based on important qualitative features, such as doctor performance and the quality of the office environment.
  • Individual Insights: From wearables to genetic testing, technology supplies useful data empowering patients to (re)gain control of their health.

How is access changing the healthcare experience?

Individually, increased access offers people the confidence to get the care they need and to make informed decisions. For example, a parent searching online for urgent care can feel confident about making an appointment for their child after reading positive reviews, or a person with diabetes can ask their doctor about adjusting their insulin, backed by detailed data collected by a wearable glucose monitor. In both cases, the patient has a greater understanding of what to expect and can choose a healthcare brand that best meets their needs.

At the macro level, telehealth improves population health by opening new channels in which people can receive care. Segments of the population who were previously underserved by traditional health systems, like those who live in remote areas or lack access to transportation, can now receive immediate attention.

In general, telehealth is less expensive than conventional healthcare, encouraging patients to be proactive with their health. A 2018 survey found that 64% of Americans have “avoided or delayed medical care in the last year due to expected costs,” and “44% of patients would not receive needed medical care, even if it put their health at risk, knowing they would have out of pocket expenses exceeding $500.” But with telehealth, healthcare brands have the opportunity to provide cost-effective care and prevent severe or long-term health issues.

There are so many ways to improve accessibility—why reinvent the wheel?

Even though everyone’s path to health is different, that doesn’t mean that brands need to tailor experiences for every consumer. Instead, use the opportunity to enhance existing experiences in a way that increases value.

  1. Retail stores have become regular pit stops for people running errands (greeting cards, toiletries) or seeking relief from minor ailments (Band-Aids, over-the-counter medication). These locations are ideal settings for pop-up clinics where low-cost healthcare providers administer services such as vaccinations, health screenings, and physical exams, all while fitting into the busy lives of patients. This model of convenient care encourages consumers to prioritize their health and wellness.
  2. In 2016, a prominent children’s hospital began giving young patients “badges” to wear during their visits, displaying a child’s location in real time, as well as how long they waited in specific wards. With precise data, caregivers can better serve patients, whether by greeting them in the hospital’s waiting area, receiving alerts when patients wait longer than estimated and coordinating care amongst the hospital’s teams. The badge provides valuable information about each patient and their unique journey, which in turn, the hospital staff can use to improve the patient’s experience beyond conventional clinical care.

Through the lens of accessibility, healthcare brands have the chance to improve the convoluted patient experience. In the cases mentioned above, the core offering remains the same, but complementary services enhance the experience through personalized care that put the patient’s needs first. High patient satisfaction scores and continued expansion prove how simple, straighforward access can engage existing patients and attract new ones, laying the foundation for customer loyalty for years to come.