Taking on Healthcare Consumerism with Digital Health

When was the last time you ordered food to be delivered? Likely, you had your pick of how to pay, where it would be delivered, how you wanted to interact with the delivery person and, most importantly, what items to purchase. Consumer culture is all about convenience and choice — things that are common and expected across many industries — and healthcare consumerism is no exception. But the transition from a historically paternalistic system where decisions are handed down from provider to patient to one where patients have control and play a key role in their own care has not been an easy one.

In our recent webinar, Embracing the Healthcare Consumer: A New Era of Patient Engagement, Get Well’s Senior Vice President of Product, Todd Strickler, outlined the history and emergence of healthcare consumerism, shared his outlook on what health systems can do to keep pace with evolving customer expectations, and explained the role digital health technology may have to play in this changing environment.

The expansion of consumerism in healthcare

There’s been a paradigm shift for consumers today — with precious little time available, people must decide the amount of money they’re willing to exchange to get value from a service. At the same time, to paraphrase Sir Richard Branson, organizations must set customer expectations and then not just meet but exceed them. It sounds simple, but requires organizations to work from the outside in.

The future is primed for a digital transformation in healthcare, with the consumer leading the way. In fact, large technology companies — like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook — are setting the stage for where consumers are going next. Many leading healthcare companies are following suit.

The ways in which organizations can now engage with their audiences are now more diverse than ever. And consumers are ready to embrace it like never before. In 2000, just 0.5% of the U.S. population used text messaging; in 2021, 98% of adults in the United States have access to mobile devices with text messaging services.

Additionally, in the last 18 months, there has been a notable uptick of digital adoption across industries — leading to a 20%-40% increase in digital adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of already-ongoing digital adoption and transformation.

As digital needs accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry saw its own surge. Care settings were overrun or needed to be closed off due to concerns about the virus, leading to a demand for digital healthcare services. 

Now, nearly every healthcare consumer knows what it means to be served digitally. And there has been a massive influx of investment into the field, too, as organizations scramble to keep up with changing consumer expectations.

In practice: Healthcare consumerism as a game changer

Digital health helps lighten the load, but with COVID-19, it became apparent that it was also hard to even maintain the status quo with an increased patient load. However, a combination of technology and innovative approaches that engage the patient in their own care can help providers to complete tasks or enable patients to provide feedback on how a service is going.

As health systems make the move to digitize, the technologies bring with them more opportunities for touches with consumers and a greater volume of interactions. 

By increasing the value of those interactions and putting more control in the hands of patients and support staff, health systems can start a snowball effect that eventually lightens the workload for providers and staff.

The role of technology in healthcare consumerism

Digital technology is a means to an end. When applied in smart ways, it helps eliminate walls and unify the patient experience, leading to one that is better, smarter, and more convenient for patients and their families alike.

Gianfranco Casati, the Chief Executive for Growth Markets at Accenture has said that “every business will be a health business.” The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the truth of this statement, as industries and corporations are working together to accomplish the delivery of a seamless consumer journey across markets.

The goal? To unlock the consumer-driven experience. Based on our experiences here at Get Well, we recommend approaching this in three ways:

  • Be human: While healthcare is the largest industry in the United States, the 20 million people employed in the healthcare field constitute just 6% of the adult population. This means that the remaining 94% aren’t affiliated with the field and may not have knowledge of its inner workings, or possess well-developed health literacy skills. Always bring the focus back to the consumer mindset, rather than the healthcare organization’s concerns. By using digital tools like smartphones that are already in a patient’s possession, organizations stand a much better chance of leveling the healthcare communications playing field.
  • Go digital: Adoption of consumer and digital technology is very high, providing an excellent place to connect with consumers. As a health system, it’s important to use that technology to deliver a true care journey for patients — a set of interactions that flow from one care setting to the next. Devices that patients already own also provide a prime opportunity for engagement on their own terms — the crux of healthcare consumerism.
  • Be caring: Many still think of consumerism as a transactional approach, one where goods or services are demanded and money exchanges hands. Yet with the rise of healthcare consumerism and patients making their needs known, health systems have a rare opportunity to change the dynamic from a transaction into an encounter and, more importantly, into a care relationship.

The bottom line

The role of the consumer in healthcare is in flux. Rather than passively sitting back and taking instruction, patients are actively demanding a hand and decision-making power in their care. 

With this change comes an opportunity for health systems to not only engage patients but also empower them. And those hospitals and health systems that utilize technology as a means to do so will likely be the ones who do so most seamlessly and effectively.

Learn more about the rise of healthcare consumerism and how hospitals and health systems can best meet customer expectations in our on-demand webinar, Embracing the healthcare consumer: A new era of patient engagement.