Digital health strategy has taken on greater importance as providers work to meet rising consumer expectations.
Yet even after the many digital front-door improvements health care organizations made during the pandemic to make it easier for consumers to access and schedule care, it appears more work needs to be done. That’s a key finding from a recent Experian Health survey of more than 1,200 providers and consumers.
Identifying Opportunities for Improvement
Only 17% of patients and 27% of providers say the experience of accessing health care digitally is better today. Most respondents on both sides say the experience is about the same or worse over the past 12 to 24 months. Interestingly, more providers than patients view access as being worse (47% to 21%).
Seeing a doctor quickly and finding appointments that fit their schedule are the top consumer concerns, while providers overwhelmingly (87%) cited lower staffing levels that impact service as their greatest pain point.
Bridging this gap to improve access and other areas of consumer experience to a great extent will depend on how effectively providers engage their communities in their digital strategy, notes a recent Executive Insights report from the AHA’s Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development.
A panel discussion with marketing and strategy leaders from 13 health systems and Gozio Health explored best practices, successes and challenges to engage communities in a digital strategy to maximize success.
4 Keys to Community Engagement
1 | Hardwire human-centered design (HCD) into your approach.
Start with the consumers’ needs and wants in mind vs. what you want to tell them, which can result in incorrect assumptions. This will result in a digital strategy that provides greater value for consumers.
Embed HCD in your health system’s culture. Elicit feedback from the people you serve. Demonstrate a willingness to hear what is broken and pilot new initiatives slowly so you can make course corrections along the way.
2 | Extend the human touch in care coordination.
Help consumers find the appropriate care that is unique to them as they move through their health care journey. It’s the human touch that says, “Let me schedule that for you.” Care coordination helps to retain referrals after an interaction, lowers costs and reduces inefficiencies while unclogging the system.
Improving access points can be a game-changer, notes Ryan Nagdeman, associate vice president of marketing communications at RUSH University Medical Center, Chicago. Engage patients in the office or through digital touch points — before, during or after virtual, urgent care or on-site appointments. “We want to have somebody — or artificial intelligence (AI) — look in the record and say, ‘I see you’ve been referred for this. Can I help schedule that for you now?’” he said.
3 | Seek diverse inputs to achieve health equity.
In assessing consumer perceptions of your digital engagement touch points, solicit as many diverse inputs as possible rather than relying on the same types of people continuously. Reaching underserved populations often takes more time, money and creative thinking, but these investments are worth making.
Partner with trusted community advisers who can help build bridges and connect health care resources and education to those who need it most. After learning during the pandemic that digital literacy was an issue for many patients, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center partnered with a community group to secure a grant to send teams of medical school and health science students into the community with computer tablets to teach people how to access their medical records online and schedule medical appointments.
4 | Improve data governance and customer-relationship management.
Health care marketing experts are working to elevate relationship management to the level of other fields so that the consumer experience reflects service levels people experience in other aspects of their lives. Using AI to automate appointment reminders and follow-up information for current or prospective patients can improve care coordination. Partnering with physicians and other stakeholders is vital to give them the confidence to support digital transformation in areas like online scheduling.
Carefully analyze how your digital solutions affect patients and whether they truly meet consumer needs and expectations. In journey mapping its breast health services, Virtua Health explained to a panel that included members of the community how patients are able to see a breast surgeon within 48 hours. One patient spoke up, noting what that meant to her: “For me, that’s not 48 hours, that’s 10,000 moments of terror.” “We redesigned everything we were doing after that,” said Ryan Younger, Virtua’s vice president of marketing.