Healthcare in an E-Commerce World – Communication Solutions Series

The following is a guest blog post by Laura Alabed-Olsson, Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions, as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter:@StericycleComms
Laura Alabed-Olsson
These days, it seems as though I can’t pickup an industry publication, or even a major daily newspaper, without finding at least one article on healthcare consumerism. Consumers want to shop for healthcare the way they shop for TVs and cars, they say. Consumers expect cost information, quality ratings and anytime access, too, they tell us.

All of this makes me wonder: For healthcare providers that have long operated in a traditional, not so consumer-centric world, where does one begin? Results from a handful of recent surveys offer some insights:

  1. More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health.
  1. 77% of consumers use online reviews, often found on sites like Yelp and Healthgrades, as their first step in finding a new doctor.
  1. 56% of consumers have actively looked for healthcare cost information before getting care; 21% of these have compared prices across multiple providers.
  1. Consumers expect the same online service in healthcare that they see in other industries, and they will switch providers to get it.

So, let’s dig in.

Insight #1: 40% of consumers turn to social media for healthcare information. This statistic may not come as a surprise, especially when you consider the number of patients sitting in waiting rooms – or restaurants or coffee shops or wherever  – with phone in hand, endlessly scrolling Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  What is surprising is how relatively few healthcare providers are pursuing this captive audience with educational content that accurately informs consumers about health-related issues (while simultaneously addressing demands for a “connected” experience). Is your organization leveraging social media to educate and engage with patients? Perhaps it should be.

Insight #2: 77% of consumers look to online reviews when choosing a provider. To further validate this point: Did you know that, the for-profit site that shares a variety of information about physicians, hospitals and other provider organizations, gets a million hits a day? Clearly, consumers have an appetite for information on patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. Is this information readily available on your organization’s website? If you don’t provide it, others will and, in doing so, they are poised to steer prospective patients elsewhere.

Insight #3: 56% of consumers are paying attention to healthcare costs. While the idea of comparison shopping for healthcare is a relatively new one, it’s one that consumers and providers alike must embrace (consumers, because they’re increasingly accountable for a greater share of out-of-pocket costs, and providers, because cost transparency is the new norm – and if you want to effectively compete with traditional providers, retail clinics, telemedicine, docs-on-demand and whatever comes next, you’ve just got to get onboard). Is your organization empowering patients to make thoughtful decisions? A cost estimator on your website – or even a promise to have cost information available when patients request it – could make for a great start.

Insight #4: Healthcare consumers want an online experience that mirrors what’s being offered by retailers like Amazon, Southwest Airlines and OpenTable. When consumers want to book an airline ticket or reserve a table at their favorite restaurant, they don’t have to pick up the phone and call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. They hop online when it’s convenient for them and, in just a few clicks, they’ve gotten what they want. Why should healthcare be any different? By offering online self-scheduling on your website, you’re giving patients 24/7 access to care – and you’re doing it in a way that is familiar and convenient for them. Does your organization offer a way for consumers to access care when and how they want to? Research suggests it should.

Healthcare consumerism requires a significant shift in how providers serve patients, for sure. But in just a few, small steps – like those mentioned here – you can be on your way.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answeringappointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media: @StericycleComms