Healthcare consumers have found their strength. No longer are they the passive majority receiving care. Instead, they have power and flex it in dollars spent. These care consumers know what they want and aren’t afraid to search for it. In fact, 23% of the consumer market has seen three or more different providers in the span of two years, according to Johns Hopkins.
Unlike the era of yesteryear, where patients might see the “family doctor,” care consumers today have options. And they aren’t afraid to forgo consistency in their search for providers with the types of offerings they seek. As preferences lean increasingly toward decentralized medicine, the benefits of telehealth appeal to those seeking care and matter for those providing it.
Elevating the experience of the care consumer
Technology has afforded modern consumer brands (healthcare included) a critical choice: They can deliver services as it has always been done, or, they can reimagine the system. Take transportation as an example. Consumers without a car, bicycle or moped who wanted to travel between two locations in a city, but didn’t want to use public transit would have hailed a taxi just ten years ago. Timing and quality of the service were variable. Uber revolutionized the experience. The process differed in slight but meaningful ways.
Consumers wanted control. They can hail vehicles from the mobile app.
Consumers wanted ease. Uber drivers call to check-in with you.
Consumers wanted comfort. Water is often offered and music can be synced right from a smartphone.
Creating a consumer-centric healthcare system
Dale Cook, MobCon Digital Health speaker and Learn to Live CEO, identified the following traits of a consumer-centric system:
- Easy to transact
(Disclaimer: Dale spoke at the digital health conference MentorMate founded and sponsors to share insight and drive action. Read the research and strategies other speakers shared to reach the modern care consumer.)
Keeping these traits in mind, healthcare can learn much from the consumer brand space to create valuable end-to-end experiences rather than episodic care. Healthcare has already begun to transition to facilitate more consumer-friendly interactions.
- Decentralization of access points as evidenced by telehealth
- Convergence of retail and medicine
- Value delivered in the physical and virtual spaces
- Data generation to inform and shape the experience
Navigating the decentralization of care delivery
To satisfy consumers’ desire to transact easier when receiving care, providers have turned to decentralized options, including telehealth. The appetite in the marketplace is ripe to capitalize on the benefits of telehealth as the market clamors for more remote service options. According to the American Well® Telehealth Index: 2015 Consumer Survey, 64% would see a doctor by video.
Beyond that, by 2018, 37% of employers will offer telehealth. By 2020, there could be an estimated 158 million telehealth sessions taking place as part of the care curriculum, as presented by Shawn Oreschnick, Logic PD Director of Analytics and Research Services, at MobCon Digital Health.
Benefits of telehealth: Augmenting the experience
Other speakers predicted the use of telehealth won’t completely replace in-person care, but would instead augment the experience. For Kaveh Safavi, Accenture Senior Managing Director and MobCon Digital Health speaker, telehealth isn’t just a tool to treat the unserved or underserved, it also offers the ability to expand care possibilities for the already served by blending the physical and virtual worlds. How?
Increased understanding. Via telehealth, patients can see images at the same time as doctors
by observing the video screen.
One-to-many. Telehealth creates the ability to facilitate a one-to-many relationship. This could involve one doctor conferencing with many patients or many doctors advising one patient. The latter model has come to be the gold standard in cancer treatment.
Easier access. In many specialties, care professionals are under-represented compared to the patients requiring attention.
Benefits of telehealth: Removing the stigma from care
Beyond increased understanding and access, the decentralization of care also offers the possibility to remove the stigma from seeking care in the first place, according to MobCon Digital Health speaker Dale Cook.
Mental illness is one such condition with associated stigma. One hundred and fifty million people suffer from mental disorders nationally, according to one article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Yet three-fourths of the population doesn’t see a therapist, citing the associated social label, lack of accessibility due to geography and high costs for all parties (consumers, payers, providers and employers). Digital treatments based on the pillars of cognitive behavior therapy like Learn to Live, offer a more consumer-centric approach to care by considering why care was avoided and adjusting to match.
The doctor will see you now — on your errand run
Increasing the placement of care delivery sites represents a secondary method of decentralization. Walmart, for example, aims to position its brand as number one in the care delivery space. There are 130 million visits to the emergency room annually. By comparison, there are 20 million more visits to Walmart locations each week. Walmart isn’t attempting to displace the market. They are simply responding to the needs of consumers, as presented by Jacob Best, Grand Rounds Director of Medical Networks, at MobCon Digital Health.
Brands like Walmart are wise to consider expansion into the healthcare market. There is much brand loyalty/mindshare up for grabs and (currently) low patient loyalty for healthcare providers.
Walmart isn’t the only one. Walgreens, CVS, Target and Whole Foods are also housing appointment areas within retail locations. These new usages of existing spaces represent examples of the care ecosystem evolving to better meet consumer needs.
Understanding the consumer and the context
For healthcare players, understanding the needs of the consumer (decentralization, true value, etc.) isn’t enough, according to Shawn Oreschnick.
The contexts for health monitoring/maintenance along with care delivery are equally important.
Components shaping the context
- Use cases
- Access points
- Competitive landscape
Other MobCon Digital Health speakers advocated the need to build new processes to match how people want to consume care. Jacob Best referenced the use of virtual services to connect with consumers and refer care options before any services are received. Previously, for many, care referral was handled at the departmental level, divorcing it from process and consistency.
Specialist interaction represents another example of industry players understanding and adapting to consumer context. For many consumers, healthcare and otherwise, time is their most valuable commodity.
Technologies that allow consumers and specialists to meet before travel time is invested, especially when seeking care across state lines, offer an advantage for consumers that may sway their care decision if they are considering two providers.