How can healthcare provide the Amazon experience for consumers? It may seem like a complex question, but the answer is actually quite simple: it can’t.
What it can do, however, is leverage some of the principles the e-commerce giant has perfected to create a seamless experience for those seeking care, said Adrin Mammen, AVP, Patient Access Transformation Officer, Montefiore Health, during a recent webinar. “They’re great at what they do, and there’s a lot we can learn from them,” particularly when it comes to customer service.
Sri Bharadwaj, VP of Digital Innovation at Franciscan Health, echoed those sentiments, adding, “If you look at where we’re going from a healthcare perspective, there’s definitely an opportunity to take a step back and look at how we can create that Amazon-type experience.”
For healthcare leaders, the challenge comes in defining what exactly that means, and determining the right approach for their organizations, according to Mammen and Bharadwaj, who discussed the topic along with Tom White, CEO of Phynd Technologies (a symplr company).
From phone-based to electronic
Companies like Amazon — and Travelocity and Marriott, for that matter — have distinguished themselves by making it easy “from a digital footprint perspective to engage with customers,” said Mammen. And despite the availability of mobile tools, one-way interactions are still the norm.
In fact, for many health systems, the main point of access is the phone, noted White. Amazon, on the other hand, has “taken a warehouse of inventory and built a deep data-centric view of it. The reason they were able to do that is they’re electronic, they’re app-based, and they’re mobile-based.” And, most importantly, “they’re meeting consumers were they are, versus the historical phone-based model healthcare systems have used.”
White believes that as consumers demand more access, healthcare needs to shift to an electronic model “where you have great data that serves up the right provider at the right time, with the open availability that the consumer can book real time.”
Although Mammen agrees in principle, she argued that healthcare consumers may not be ready for a complete transition. “If they still want to pick up the phone and engage with us on the phone, that’s fine,” she said. “And if they want to engage with us digitally, whether it’s through SMS, or chatbots, or a patient portal, we should be able to meet them where they are. And then if they switch channels, if they move from one platform to the other, it’s equally important that we’re able to do that, and make it a seamless experience.”
Episodic care vs longitudinal care
There are, however, key factors that differentiate healthcare from retail, and must be taken into consideration. Finding the best care for a particular individual is far more complex than purchasing a household item, said Mammen. Although there are conditions like strep throat that require a stand-alone visit, it’s usually not the case. “You’re talking about a person and all the care he or she needs,” which includes test results, medications, and other components that are often interrelated. “When you’re working with someone who has heart disease or cancer, the situation is vastly different. I think we can learn a lot from Amazon in how we use the data we have to manage that experience better, and to reduce friction for our patients.”
For many organizations, including Franciscan, the solution is to utilize different approaches to meet patient needs. That way, those seeking “instant gratification” can go the episodic care route—which entails going through triage, providing data and connecting with a provider—while those with chronic conditions can work with providers to set up a treatment plan.
“That’s a very different mindset, a very different concept, and a very different understanding of how healthcare operates,” he noted. And that’s where Amazon’s paradigm can offer guidance. By providing certain information about their history and their needs, patients can sort through criteria such as specialty, ratings and location to identify the right physician. In that respect, it could act as a matchmaker.
The hitch in this plan, he noted, is payment. “Because we have a health plan involved, there’s a lot of back and forth that changes the process. If we were just buying products, like we do with Amazon, it would be much simpler.”
White concurred, adding that in healthcare, “there’s still a lot of friction for the consumer.” Navigating follow-up care requirements and determining which procedures and medications are covered can be extremely thorny. “To me, that’s a data problem” — one he hopes symplr can tackle. “We need to do a better job helping consumers find the pathway with the least amount of friction. We need to build a better data model to solve the problem.”
Another hurdle leaders run into is deciding which digital initiatives their teams should implement and when, particularly when there are, as Mammen stated, “unlimited wants and limited resources.” Her team’s approach has been to sequence digital transformations “in the order that yields the maximum return on investment.” She likened it to building a house; in this case, data management is the foundation. Once that’s firmly in place, other layers such as online scheduling and chatbots can be added on. “For us, it’s about road-mapping and thinking about the dollars that will come back from these investments.”
It’s also about making sure that all initiatives are tied to Montefiore’s overarching strategy of mobile-first. “We need to marry all of those implementations related to digital, and give patients one unified front door if they choose to engage with us through mobile devices,” she said. “The app is the apex, and the bottom is the foundation we’ve built with provider data management.”
And it can’t be just any foundation, according to White. It’s a “deep foundation of data” that goes beyond providers’ expertise and retail storefronts, and delves further into the services lines. “It’s taking all of that rich data and serving it up omni-channel within websites.” Beyond that, it’s embedding search into tools like live chats that enable consumers to ask basic questions and identify the right providers.
Starting the discussion
Clearly, there are a lot of pieces that need to be in place, but White said he’s encouraged that organizations like Montefiore and Franciscan are taking steps in the right direction. “They’re standing up an experience that allows consumers to start the discussion,” White noted. Whether a patient is using the phone or a mobile app, seeking an annual visit or longitudinal care, “having the tools and the technology to begin that dialogue is what’s important.”
It’s also important, according to Mammen, not to push people in one direction or another. “As caregivers, it’s our responsibility to offer options to the patient, whether it’s engaging with them on the phone or digitally.” And although the technology isn’t necessarily new, it is new in the healthcare space, and leaders must be willing to adapt. “As things evolve over the next decade and generations come and go, we may see the ratios of office to telehealth visits change. And where patients are leaning, we have to lean with them.”
To view the archive of this webinar — In Pursuit of the Amazon Experience: Digital Transformation Strategies — please click here.