How Local Healthcare Providers Can Imitate Advances in Retail to Boost Efficiency

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I have watched Amazon disrupt the retail industry to the point where the term “retail apocalypse” is now commonly used and understood to be a major byproduct of Amazon’s dominance. Now Amazon is disrupting healthcare, and the brand is being joined by a lot of other companies such as Apple. But there is no apocalypse. Instead, we’re seeing the beginning of a long-term transformation that affects the way local healthcare providers manage the patient experience.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen two major announcements that illustrate vividly the two major issues facing local delivery of healthcare: patient access and control. Let’s take a look at both issues.

Patients Want Better Access

On January 30, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan announced they are setting up their own company to manage healthcare for their employees. The announcement was short on details but long on implications: Patients have reached a boiling point. Getting a doctor they want to see at a price they can afford and with efficient care has become so difficult that private businesses are taking matters into their own hands.

And who can blame them? If you’ve needed medical care lately, you understand the frustration. Even people with the means to absorb the skyrocketing cost of healthcare face the excruciating experience of actually selecting and getting a doctor they want, through a combination of poorly managed content on websites; incorrect data on physician sites, such as wrong (or incomplete) location and physician data; and broken physician directories.

Patients have the tools to do efficient searches and evaluate physicians through third-party review sites. But too often, healthcare systems are struggling to manage the needs of digitally savvy patients. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan will likely pressure providers to furnish better, more affordable care — and their actions will likely have a ripple effect.

Patients Want More Control

For years, Apple has been expanding into healthcare by offering apps that make it possible for people to manage their personal health and for healthcare providers to improve clinical treatment using iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches. Recently, Apple took a major step forward by announcing that its Health app will empower patients to track their personal health records such as cholesterol levels using their iPhones and the Apple Health app. A number of hospitals are already onboard, and more will follow.

What Healthcare Providers Need to Do

Your local healthcare provider faces a radically different future – one defined by relationships with partners such as Apple and providers of better data access and management (of which my company is one). This future is highly attainable. To start, providers need to do, ironically, what the best retailers do: make the experience better. To that end, data management is key. Here are some steps providers can take to address patients’ need for access and control.

Start with the basics of data management.

Make yourself findable and accessible through accurate location and physician data on your websites and listings. Publishing accurate data is not always easy for providers. For example, doctors typically keep multiple locations and variable office hours. Getting the basics right requires ongoing monitoring and management via technology.

Make it easy to navigate your network and schedule an appointment.

Providers should make access easier with improved tools such as find-a-doctor directories and scheduling widgets that make it easy for patients to book their appointments, as Apple does with the Genius Bar through online scheduling.

Better directories are crucial. Find-a-doctor directories need to function like the best store locators do for Starbucks or Best Buy, and they need to be optimized for mobile. Yet physician directories are currently characterized by poor navigation and lack of useful search rules that would allow patients to narrow their choices by provider specialty, insurance carried, location, and other factors. Here again, a dedicated approach that relies on automation provides clear use value.

Be transparent.

Much has been said already about price transparency. In addition, healthcare providers can give patients more control by giving them access to detailed reviews of their physicians and hospitals. Many other industries, ranging from automotive to lodging, have responded to the age of the empowered consumer by publishing customer reviews. Doing so sends a message that you are confident in your facility and your physicians – and you care enough about your patients to ask for their opinion.

The road ahead requires healthcare systems to become more open to forming alliances across the network of technology players that are changing and improving the industry. The providers that work with Apple, such as Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic, understand this new reality. To be competitive going forward, you will need to leverage technology to improve the patient experience online and increase patient access.

As CEO and founder of SIM Partners, Jon Schepke collaborates with his team to pioneer the future of digital marketing for national brands at a local level. The company’s Velocity technology is a SaaS-based local marketing automation platform that helps enterprise brands with multiple locations drive customer acquisition everywhere.