People want more convenience, and healthcare organizations have to respond if they want to avoid losing patients.
Patients want more out of healthcare organizations, and providers are going to have to respond, said Gary Hamilton, CEO of InteliChart.
The company, based in North Carolina, offers a patient engagement platform for healthcare providers, allowing patients to schedule appointments and services. InteliChart also works with providers to help them gather more data about their patients and devise solutions to improve outcomes. He spoke about changes in consumer sentiments in an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive.
“You have to absolutely treat the patient as a consumer,” Hamilton said. “It’s not going to go back to what it used to be.” (The story continues after the video.)
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered the explosive growth of telemedicine, giving patients more convenience than they have had before.
But Hamilton said there are other factors spurring patients to demand more from providers. Healthcare systems need to understand what patients want, and they’re going to have to employ digital solutions to meet those needs.
More selective with their money
More patients have high-deductible health plans and are paying more out of their own pockets, so they want more for their money, Hamilton suggested.
“Patients have much more out-of-pocket costs today than they did 10 years ago,” Hamilton said.
“They want to know what they’re spending,” he said. “They’re trying to determine what they spend and they’re more selective on their providers.”
Especially as patients have enjoyed the benefits of telehealth and scheduling appointments in their home, they want more convenience in other healthcare choices just like they do with shopping or banking online.
“They expect to have some of those tools in healthcare as well,” Hamilton said. “Healthcare for the most part has been this enigma of very little information. You’re told something by a doctor. But you don’t necessarily have access to what they told you. You have no idea what it’s going to cost you before you walk through the door. And once you receive services, how are you going to pay for it?”
“I think that’s changing significantly,” he said. “It’s not only changing because the consumers are driving it, but cost transparency is changing from a requirement standpoint.”
The federal government is requiring healthcare organizations to offer more transparency in their pricing. In addition, a new federal law, the “No Surprises Act,” is supposed to ensure patients aren’t knocked out by unexpected bills.
Providers have to disclose more “to help patients make better decisions,” Hamilton said.
Patients are demonstrating they won’t hesitate to choose another provider with better options or more convenience, he said.
“Patients are willing to switch providers,” Hamilton said.
“It comes back to convenience,” he added. “When a patient has to be told they can’t be seen for three months, that doesn’t really gel well with them. By definition, they’ll look to another provider.”
There also is growing competition within the healthcare industry to give patients more convenience.
“There’s an enormous amount of competition that exists today trying to convey convenience options to patients,” Hamilton said. “If you don’t have the tools that your competitors have, if you don’t have the conveniences and you don’t have as friction-less an experience for patients, they’re going to default to other options because they can.”
Without more digital options for scheduling or other services, providers risk losing patients and also are at a disadvantage in building relationships with new patients.
“Patients very definitely want convenience, patients want cost-effectiveness and they want transparency,” he said.
Going beyond the visit
Healthcare organizations should also be thinking about using data and technology to help manage their patient populations, Hamilton said. Digital options, such as automated calls or emails to check in with patients after they get discharged from the hospital, can help patients avoid readmission, and providers can save money.
An automated phone call could walk patients through their next steps after discharge, such as going over medication or any follow-up appointments. “That alone would go through and very clearly tell me what I needed to do, answer my questions and very likely mitigate a readmission,” Hamilton said.
At the very least, an automated call offers providers some guidance on if patients are responding.
“You know that call is going out, you know whether or not I took the call, you know if I interacted with the call, if I had any questions about the call,” Hamilton said. “Those are the tools that are just necessary. You need that digital assistance.”
Otherwise, providers could be relying on a staff member for follow-up, which uses time and money, Hamilton said.
It’s increasingly critical to manage patients outside of hospitals or visits with doctors’ offices, he said. “You can’t do it unless you do it digitally.”
Loyalty to the consumer experience
Hamilton said he expects to see more creative ways to pay for healthcare in the near future. And he anticipates a more consumer-focused industry.
“We’re a patient for maybe 1% of our lives and we’re consumers for the other 99%,” he said.
“Healthcare has had this black box, mysterious component where the consumer-patient has known very little about the services they're going to receive, what’s going to be done, what it’s going to cost, and then after they visit, there’s no more communication,” he said.
With people paying higher costs out of pocket, Hamilton said that’s going to drive patients to look for ways to spend wisely, and spend less.
Healthcare providers must recognize that change in consumer thinking.
“If providers aren’t prepared … Look at the push that Walmart’s making, CVS is making, now Amazon is making. They are going to eat their lunch, because patients don’t have the loyalty to healthcare systems,” Hamilton said. “The loyalty is to the consumer experience.”