Engaging the Digitally Inclined Healthcare Consumer
Seemingly overnight, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the healthcare industry and will continue to shift not only care delivery but also how consumers seek care. Huron’s Healthcare Consumer Market Report, which explores the factors driving consumer healthcare decisions, reveals that a significant portion of the consumer population prefers digital healthcare services.
As the industry moves into the recovery and reinvention phases, concern for avoiding the risk of exposure inherent with in-person visits is expected to soar. Consequently, the need for and expectations of high-quality digital healthcare services are also expected to increase dramatically. For healthcare organizations to meet this demand head-on, they must not only recognize the impact of the digitally inclined consumer as digital technology reshapes the future of healthcare but also utilize digital services to engage these consumers in their healthcare journey.
Who Is the Digitally Inclined Healthcare Consumer?
The digitally inclined consumer segment represents 17% of the healthcare consumer population surveyed by Huron, a number that is expected to increase in a post-coronavirus landscape. Half of the people in this segment are between the ages of 18 and 34. Because of their young age, these consumers represent the future of healthcare: a world where digital technology enables effective care from anywhere.
Although 61% of these consumers consider themselves to be in very good to excellent health, they go to the doctor more times per year than any other type of consumer and are more likely than other consumers to seek care for family members and loved ones with life-threatening or chronic conditions. As the healthcare decision maker for themselves and others, this consumer has the potential to drive significant digital health volume for providers.
Digitally inclined consumers make their healthcare decisions by assessing the availability, flexibility and quality of digital tools. Though these consumers are moderately conscious about cost and quality of outcomes, an organization’s digital capabilities are a significant factor in decision making; 24% say they want their providers to utilize the latest technology while 33% say they would switch providers over a lack of digital tools. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, providers should expect digital tools or the lack thereof to have greater significance as consumers weigh their healthcare options.
Digital tools deliver care in ways that best meet this consumer’s preferences, among which include a single point of contact for their healthcare information needs, interactive interfaces and mobile apps they can use on their own time without disrupting daily life. These consumers value increased convenience more than lower costs and quality of outcomes, but it is fair to expect protection from exposure to join that list. Delivering a technology-enabled experience that also limits unnecessary risk of exposure is key to winning this consumer’s loyalty.
Healthcare leaders know they lag behind retail, hospitality and other major industries when it comes to offering personalized care experiences. However, the growing importance of personalization is twofold. One, the digitally inclined consumer cares about personalization more than other types of consumers; 41% of these consumers value individualized attention in their healthcare experiences, while 28% want digital tools that deliver enhanced customization options. Two, the need for personalization when providing virtual care will become a make-or-break factor in decision making for all healthcare consumers.
Engaging the Digitally Inclined Consumer
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and growing concerns for public health have changed how providers think about strategy and business operations. The focus is on consumers and their changing demands. The more organizations know about their consumers and their digital preferences, the better they will be able to determine where to make investments. There is greater desire to engage in virtual or telehealth environments, which would include using digital technology to share health data.
Organizations that understand their consumers and regularly engage with them in their preferred medium will have greater success, both during crisis recovery and beyond. Below are a few considerations for engaging the digitally inclined consumer.
- Know what your consumers are looking for. It is critical to understand your consumers beyond their clinical or financial data. Healthcare leaders should strive to create a multidimensional view of their consumer base to understand their health goals, how they make their healthcare decisions and what they value in their healthcare experiences. Comprehensive consumer insights and analysis will aid leaders in creating that multidimensional view.
- Meet consumers where they are. One foundational element of any strong relationship is communication. By communicating through digital tools, healthcare organizations are speaking in a language the digitally inclined consumers prefer and doing so on a timeline that works best for them. This builds trust — another foundational element of any strong relationship — and digitally inclined consumers are more likely to trust and interact with providers who communicate digitally. When making technology choices, leaders should examine which consumer segments they are looking to attract and retain and invest in tools to meet their expectations.
- Empower consumers to take charge of their healthcare. Pandemic or not, no one enjoys waiting rooms, filling out forms and ordering prescriptions. Digital tools can remove many of the least enjoyable parts of healthcare, changing the experience from negative or neutral to positive. For example, gamification is one way to engage consumers remotely, which helps to reduce unnecessary in-person visits. It also provides patients with an alternative incentive to maintain healthy behaviors, empowering them to take control of their healthcare journey.
- Personalize the consumer experience. When it comes to personalizing brand experiences, the retail industry reigns supreme. In borrowing retail’s personalization tactics, healthcare organizations can use consumer health data to better engage patients and their caregivers, ultimately driving better clinical outcomes. With more on-demand consumer data, clinicians can build care plans that align more specifically to individual health goals and potentially address the nonmedical factors or social determinants of health (SDOH) impacting patients. This could be as simple as making consumers aware of relevant healthcare services such as telehealth options or nutrition programs to wraparound programs that connect a consumer with housing or food security resources. The objective is to understand the consumer enough to provide individualized experiences and recommendations that are meaningful as well as maintain the flow of information consumers can trust.
- Keep working toward greater interoperability. When assessing digital technology investments, interoperability must be a main factor in decision making. Interoperability is not only important for how it enables greater access to health information and data sharing, but it is also important when thinking about particular apps or wearable devices. As healthcare organizations work with developers and information technology experts, they should keep in mind what programs can serve the most people, e.g., some apps designed for Apple products may not work on Windows or Android products.
- Maintain a focus on data security. Although the digitally inclined are more willing than other consumers to share their health data, they still need the same level of data privacy and security. Healthcare organizations will need to be transparent regarding how that data is being used and what the organization is doing to ensure consumers’ information is protected.
Consumer demands are driving the need for high-quality care that accounts for consumer interest in digital services as well as their increased concerns for risk and safety. By understanding the digitally inclined consumer and effectively engaging them, healthcare organizations can satisfy both preference and practicality.
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