Guest Blog: How to Prepare for Consumerism in Healthcare

Carrie Liken is the Head of Industry/GM - Healthcare at Yext, where she has visited with 230 health systems over the last year and a half. As a former Google employee and graduate of Harvard Kennedy School, Carrie provides deep knowledge of the health space and how technology impacts patient discovery and acquisition.

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Consumerism. This term is not new in healthcare. However, in visiting with over 228 health systems in the last year and a half, I can say that health systems are grappling with this concept and not really succeeding. To start, I’m more frequently hearing health systems refer to patients as consumers. And, they should be, because the patient is — in fact — a consumer, and there are specific things health systems can do to prepare for this shift. A consumer is defined as someone who purchases a good or service for personal use. Given that patients are starting to own more of their healthcare decisions and are becoming more financially responsible for their healthcare, it is only natural to begin to think of the patient more as a consumer and less as a ‘patient.’

In January of 2018, we conducted a study charting the evolving patient journey and found that patients exhibit similar behaviors when searching for healthcare as they do when they search for products. Our study showed that over 76% of people search for providers (rather than physical locations) and one of the key decision-points in the provider selection journey has to do with where the provider is located. (Yext Study 2016 and 2018) A Think with Google study in retail showed that 66% of people look for the location of the closest store when identifying where to find a product.

In this case, the provider is the health system’s “product”. Consider how patients are consumers in other parts of their lives: When a consumer wants to purchase a kitchen towel, all she needs to do is consult Amazon, perform a search for a kitchen towel, click on the kitchen towel product and the Buy Now button, and voila! she has a kitchen towel within 2 hours to 2 days (assuming she has a Prime Now or an Amazon Prime account). This flawless execution of search to purchase to receipt is the norm for a consumer, and one that the consumer — when becoming a patient — is jarringly something she is not experiencing for her healthcare. Search to purchase to receipt is easy in every vertical (think restaurants, hotels, flights, products, etc.) except in healthcare.

It is not easy for a patient as a consumer to find the right provider for the right treatment at a convenient time that both matches the patient’s and the provider’s schedules. But, the patient as a consumer is trained to expect that this should be easy, because it is easy in every other vertical that touches a patient’s life.

So how can health systems prepare for Consumerism in healthcare and meet the patient’s expectations for her healthcare as a consumer? You can take three critical steps:

  1. Organize Your Provider Data. Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc., are building public knowledge graphs that can answer any question a person asks of them. Health systems need to be responsible for ensuring that their internal knowledge graphs are able to feed the public knowledge graphs with accurate, consistent information to ensure the right answers are provided when a patient asks. The only way to do this is to ensure that your provider data is cleaned up and structured in a way that these public knowledge graphs can consume. How do you do this? Determine where your data currently lives (and in how many places) and start to consider how to pull it all together into one single source of truth. Without a base layer of knowledge about your providers, it will become increasingly more difficult to succeed in marketing in the intelligent future.

  2. Activate Your Provider Data through Syndication. There has been a 32% decline in visits to health system websites in the last year. (Yext study, 2018) Currently, 83% of people are visiting other microsites and micro experiences without ever reaching a health system website to make an appointment. (Yext study, 2018) It is all the more important that your correct provider data is fully activated and syndicated on third party sites to ensure brand consistency and patient acquisition. Don’t leave the patient experience up to third party sites without taking full control of that experience. You, as the health system, need to own the experience on and off your website, now more than ever.

  3. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule. Patients are consumers. They have high expectations in healthcare and are frequently disappointed by the digital experience. If you haven’t started to activate Online Appointment Scheduling within your health system, you’re missing a huge opportunity to provide a positive patient experience as well as address patient expectations for their healthcare. How many of those patients will opt to find another provider who does provide online appointment scheduling? By cleaning up your provider data and activating it through third party channels, it’s now up to you to close the deal in the final mile of the patient journey. For those health systems I’ve spoken to who have activated online appointment scheduling, I’ve heard that the patient who books via online appointment scheduling is more likely to no-show at a much lower rate. That is literally revenue contributing to the bottom line of a health system!

Your consumers expect more of your health system — and it’s only going to get more complicated. By taking these above-mentioned steps, you will undoubtedly be setting yourself up for the future of intelligent search in healthcare.