Changes in Consumer Expectations Affect Healthcare—3 Ways to Adapt to the New Patient Journey

September 17, 2020 | Stericycle Communication Solutions

This year has undoubtedly been one of unprecedented change. COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of daily life and has dramatically changed consumer behaviors and expectations for a safe experience when interacting with their favorite brands.  During the shutdown, the commercial world was forced to adopt new business practices to rapidly acquire and retain customers.  While these practices were born out of necessity, they will continue to have an impact on the consumer journey and will also drive patient behaviors as we continue to navigate the pandemic and beyond.  Here are three ways healthcare organizations can learn from commercial brands to successfully adapt to the new patient journey.

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Provide Touchless Transactions

inquicker patient parking at emrgencyThe number one consumer behavior changed by the pandemic was the need for a touchless experience. Retailers, financial institutions, restaurants, and grocery stores have adapted to this touchless process by using digital tools to provide services typically provided in person. Today's consumer can order online, pay, check-in when they arrive, and even let the business know where they are parked. Healthcare consumers leery of in-person visits expect the same touchless experiences provided by the commercial world. Because of this, telehealth visits have skyrocketed in 2020, where adoption before COVID-19 had lagged. While telehealth is a natural way to provide care in a touchless environment, it's not always the right venue of care for all visit types.

When patients need an in-person visit, limiting the number of touchpoints will instill confidence and reduce contamination. Create a hybrid semi-touchless environment using a virtual waiting room strategy. Allowing patients to book an appointment, answer questionnaires, and complete check-in information online or by phone can save time and reduce or eliminate contact with surfaces, staff, and other patients. Once patients arrive and park, utilize a communications platform that allows two-way texting for COVID-19 screening and arrival prompts. Taking the patient from their car directly to the exam room bypasses crowded waiting rooms and provides social distancing opportunities. After the visit, prompt patients to pay their balance online to promote contactless payment.

A large Stericycle client is taking this strategy one step further by providing preferred parking for its virtual waiting room ER patients. Patients who book their treatment time online can pull into a dedicated parking space and safely wait for the next step of their journey. Not only does it give the patient a great experience, but it also allows staff to easily identify the patient's location from the moment of arrival.

Create Personalized Experiences

While there was a desire for personalized consumer experiences before the pandemic, the downturn in consumer confidence has only increased this need. According to Boston Consulting Group, companies have shown that interacting with customers on a one-to-one level can drive incremental growth. Healthcare needs to take notice and respond in kind.

A one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare communications won't resonate with patients. Humans are bombarded with thousands of messages daily.  Your communications must break through the noise and be relevant to the individual patient; otherwise, your messages will be ignored. Your marketing department and patient engagement agency can be great resources for building more personalized and targeted communications along the patient journey.  Not only are they equipped to handle diverse messaging needs, including identifying unique target audiences with similar characteristics, but they can also conduct A/B testing to validate what is working across a variety of communication channels.

Build Trust

While overall healthcare visits are down, with 48 percent of surveyed patients stating they delayed medical care due to coronavirus, it could worsen before it improves. With emerging fears of a "twindemic" (COVID-19 combined with flu season), health consumers are looking for the safest option when choosing care venues for flu shots. Patients may not think of the grocery store as the safest place to receive a flu shot, but it makes sense when already in the store for other required needs.
The competition with retail will be fierce this fall as they compete for your patients with flu shots, testing, and eventually the COVID-19 vaccine. Now is the time to build trust with your patient community. Let your patients know what you are doing to keep them safe. Use media and news sources to highlight changes in procedures or policies that instill confidence in consumers. But most importantly, keep the lines of communication open and encourage questions and feedback.

The pandemic will have lasting impacts on consumers and health systems, but you can pave the way to fierce patient loyalty by taking the lead from successful commercial organizations. Learn how we can help transform your patient journey here.

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