Hospitals as Service Businesses: Caring for Today’s Health Care Consumer

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By Jamie Gier, Chief Marketing Officer, SCI Solutions

In my recent blog post and in a corresponding article for Becker’s Hospital Review, I talked about why patient access should be a priority for every hospital chief marketing officer (CMO). Hospitals and health systems dedicate significant resources and budget toward attracting new patients, but that spend is wasted when they don’t make it easy for those same patients to enter the system, get financially qualified, scheduled and cared for. Health care organizations are notoriously bad at this important part of the care process, which has significant impacts on the overall patient experience. Failing to improve the initial contact with a patient or family member increases frustration, decreases trust and introduces unnecessary anxiety, often before human interaction occurs – hardly an experience that compels them to come back.

I received the following comment on that blog post, which gave me something else to think about:

“Great article. It makes me think that the smart hospital will hire a Nordstrom veteran and infuse those customer service genetics into the team. Time to start running hospitals for what they are: service businesses.”

Indeed. But why, exactly, is good customer service so important to today’s health care organizations? Beginning with high-deductible health plans and cost-sharing models, which emerged more than a decade ago, and continuing to the proliferation of health insurance exchanges brought about by the Affordable Care Act, consumerism is taking hold in health care. Consumers are bringing the same expectations that they have for other services to health care, and those expectations are leading hospitals and providers to adjust their approach to the care experience to meet these new patient demands.

The effects of this newly empowered consumer also extend beyond health organizations. More traditionally consumer-focused industries are expanding their breadth of services to include health care: Apple has introduced the Apple Watch. The company has also partnered with IBM’s Watson for health analytics. Fitness trackers are partnering with corporate wellness programs/insurance companies to offer consumers discounts. FitBit just announced it has filed for an IPO. Visits to Walgreens and CVS retail health clinics are now covered by most insurers. The list goes on, but one thing is clear: the health care consumer is here to stay.

Thinking back to the commentator’s point about running hospitals as service businesses, is experience outside of health care now considered an asset for industry leadership positions? Are we headed for an inflection point where health care organizations will be led by executives from industries such as retail and hospitality? If so, what will those organizations look like?

While it is too soon to call this phenomenon a trend, it is clear that the industry is moving in a more service-oriented direction. We are on the precipice of real change, marked by the arrival of the health care consumer. Forward-thinking hospitals and health systems will increasingly leverage technology to make it easier for patients to do business with them, including access, while leveraging sophisticated analytics tools to spot behavior patterns and trends. These organizations will prioritize driving loyalty and providing personalized care – both key to long-term growth. Organizations seeking to pioneer change in an ever-evolving industry will be those that champion the health care consumer – and they may very well have to look outside of the industry to do so.

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