4 Keys to Delivering A Retail-Like Patient Experience Journey

When it comes to the quality of their healthcare journey, patients, it seems, are losing patience with their healthcare providers.

In Cedar’s latest Healthcare Consumer Experience Study, for example, the share of consumers who said they won’t pay a bill if they cannot understand the administrative experience tripled from 2020 to 2021, to 37%. A vast majority (93%) indicated the quality of the billing and payment experience is important to their decision to return to a healthcare provider in the future. 

For patients, it’s as much a plea as it is an ultimatum to their providers, one in which they essentially are saying now is the time for the healthcare industry to collectively and collaboratively find ways to deliver the seamless, transparent and user-friendly customer journeys they have grown accustomed to as retail consumers. Here’s how Florian Otto, CEO of Cedar, a healthcare financial technology platform provider, sums up the situation: “The pandemic has enhanced digitization, and more value has been placed on the intuitiveness and ease of consumer experiences. We have already seen this shift in industries such as retail and finance, but consumers are explicitly demanding more from their healthcare providers and payers…Healthcare is at a critical point where stakeholders must collaborate to improve digital experiences and transparency or risk significant decline in consumer loyalty and financial outcomes.”

With so much apparently at stake, the healthcare industry is responding. In 2021, overall healthcare IT spending grew by a projected 7.3%, according to Gartner. The question for healthcare providers, then, is where exactly to direct their IT dollars in order to consistently generate the kinds of outcomes that feed patient loyalty and the bottom line? Using those resources to create a more retail-like digital customer journey would be a good starting point. Here, based on our experience working closely with enterprises in both the retail and healthcare segments, are four areas on which to focus:

1. A friction-free, omnichannel customer journey. The best-performing retailers differentiate themselves with an unwavering focus on their customers across every point of interaction. Patients are consumers, too, and as such, they are accustomed to having convenience and control in their digital journeys, whether they are interacting with a retailer or a healthcare provider. By phone, Internet, mobile device, or from a physical location — however customers choose to engage with a provider or payer, their interactions need to be seamless and secure, from initial research and registration to treatment, payment and accessing their records. So, for example, a patient could research a nearby in-network MRI facility, make an appointment with that facility, get an estimate of what their MRI likely will cost, receive reminders of their upcoming appointment, provide the facility with a payment method, view results, schedule and hold a follow-up videoconference conversation with their doctor about the results, and make a payment, all from their preferred digital device.

2. A cloud-forward digital infrastructure. There’s a reason so many retail enterprises—as well as more companies in the healthcare industry—are abandoning their legacy communications networks in favor of modern digital network frameworks such as SD-WAN: because they provide the capabilities, bandwidth and to-the-network-edge security to deliver the flexible, seamless and robust omnichannel experiences that patients today demand.

Via a centrally managed, cloud-based network, providers can access cloud-based clinical applications, conduct telehealth sessions in real-time, and meet patients where they prefer to be met in their customer journey. With SD-WAN as their digital foundation, providers can use solutions such as UCaaS (unified communications as a service), MNS (managed network security) and SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) to enrich the customer journey while creating strong, multi-layered security to protect the network and the users, data and resources connected to it.

3. Greater patient insight into and control over the financial side of their journey. Offering flexible digital payments is another area where healthcare providers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the eyes of their patients by borrowing from the retail customer journey to provide options like Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL), where patients can pay a bill in installments.

There are compelling reasons for healthcare providers and payers to offer contactless digital payment options like BNPL. For one, it improves the overall customer experience, which in turn strengthens patient loyalty. It also provides more space for greater patient financial accountability, and ultimately can lead to increased revenue by lowering the amounts providers have to write off as uncollectible debt. With more financial flexibility, patients will be better equipped to pay their bills in full, over time.    

4. Proactive digital communications with customers throughout their journey. What if the customer experience detailed in the MRI example included a communications component much like consumers expect to get when they purchase a refrigerator or a car? From choosing an appointment time, through check-in, check-out, payment and beyond—with text messages, emails, etc., to provide notifications, information about projected co-pays, links to payment options, results, etc.—the expectation that healthcare companies provide a seamless, transparent CX across the entire patient journey [supported by cloud-based communications solutions like UCaaS and CCaaS (contact center as a service)] is growing.

For healthcare companies that are willing to embrace customer-centric, digitally enabled approaches like these, reinventing the patient experience becomes a competitive differentiator, giving them a clear edge in an industry where the quality of the patient journey matters more to patient satisfaction and business outcomes than ever before.

About Melinda Ciseneros & Grant Harland

Melinda Cisneros is a Healthcare Industry Analyst at Windstream Enterprise and healthcare industry subject matter expert with more than 10 years of experience working as a liaison between healthcare facilities and the information technology department at BJC Healthcare. She previously held positions as a Healthcare Advocate, Mobility Account Manager and an Applications Sales overlay supporting unified communications, strategic services and security for AT&T’s healthcare accounts. Melinda holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas.

Grant Harland is a Retail and Hospitality Industry Analyst at Windstream Enterprise. He has more than 11 years of experience in the retail, contributing to his deep knowledge around business development, technology, product development, sales and merchandising. His unique background in retail and SaaS businesses makes him a credible thought leader and voice of the retailer within Windstream Enterprise. Prior to being Retail Analyst at Windstream Enterprise, Grant spent two years as a senior consultant at retail management consulting firm, Boston Retail Partners, where he delivered upon superior design and implementation of strategy, technology and process solutions. Before that, Grant spent eight years working in retail industry for a retailer doing greater than $100 million dollars annually as a Senior Buyer and Business Development professional.