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7 Absolute Musts for Hospitals in the Age of Consumerism

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Nurses bringing patients in wheel chairs through the hospitalMany private practices have embraced the rise of healthcare consumerism trends, providing ways to create an experience that puts the patient's needs first. In hospitals, though, changes have been slow-going. This is due in part to longstanding structuring, pricing, and patient care protocols that are tough (and costly) to get around.

But these changes are worth it, for the good of your hospital and for your patients' well-being. Embracing consumerism creates an environment where patients can take better control over their own health. Join the ranks of 5-star hospitals patients actually want to return to; here are 7 big shifts you should be making right now.

1. Focusing on Consumer-Facing Service Lines

If hospitals truly want to benefit from healthcare consumerism trends, they must make it easier for patients to get to the service line they really need. This means emphasizing secondary and ambulatory service lines--not just emergency care.

An example comes from a recent conversation I had with Michael Boblitz of Gwinnett Health System. Before Boblitz joined the team, Gwinnett's spine surgery line seemed to be competing with spine surgeons on every corner. By shifting the focus to what patients really want--relief from back pain--Gwinnett’s Back Pain Center was able to help more patients get the care they needed. In addition, they've upped the patient experience with customized care plans and 24-hour scheduling.

This is just one example of how a consumer-facing service line can create more access points into your hospital. Diversifying these service lines and marketing them separately for consumers' needs helps point patients toward your hospital, not just another standalone clinic.

2. Giving Patients Control Over Their Own Health Data

Hospitals are responsible for helping patients understand more about their health. This is difficult to achieve when patients don’t have the tools they need to effectively manage and track their health from home--and communicate results with their doctors. Today’s patients have access to highly advanced health technologies right in their pockets. And yet, few hospitals take advantage of this potential.

Apple has begun providing technologies for hospitals that integrate health records and data with a patient’s smartphone. Patients can view their own health records and keep track of conditions like high cholesterol from an application. Integrating this type of technology into your own systems shows patients that their day-to-day health is important to you (not just their money).

3. Upgrading Systems

This one may seem obvious. But many hospitals are reluctant to let go of standard systems, processes, and technologies in favor of up-and-coming systems that truly streamline experiences. A resistance to learning new processes can be a major barrier to this step, but it's worth it to invest in upgrades and training.

My friend and client David Swartout, for example, spent years evaluating outdated processes and upgrading his practice's status quo. Today, patients are seen in just over 2 minutes on average. Hospitals face unique challenges to these kinds of upgrades. Regardless, your patients' time and needs should be a priority.

4. Reassessing the Online User Experience (Constantly)

Good marketers never stop evaluating a website's user experience. From your website, a prospective patient should be able to read about your service lines, find your location, and call for information. It should be responsive and mobile friendly, and search engine optimized so people can find you from Google, Bing, etc.

Marketers are constantly testing and evaluating things like call-to-actions and imagery, redesigning for the modern user, and programming for the latest Google updates. It’s in your best interest to hire marketers, or better yet, a specialized healthcare marketing agency, to stay on top of things.

5. Offering Price Transparency

Price transparency has been one of the most difficult consumer preferences for healthcare organizations to adopt. Yet, it’s among the top priorities for most patients, with 69% of healthcare organizations admitting that patients are price shopping. Fear of high costs is the #1 barrier to people seeking out treatment when they need it. If you can provide a cost estimate upfront (using cost estimate technology), patients are either relieved or able to make plans and anticipate the unexpected cost. 

6. Simplifying Billing

Only 26 percent of respondents to a 2016 survey of healthcare organizations said they had the capability to use electronic billing. Often, hospital patients receive several billing statements from multiple companies: one for lab tests, one for X-rays, one for physician billing, etc. Investing in billing systems that allow for easy online payments and bill reminders makes a huge difference. Ease-of-use is inventive for patients to come back again.

7. Listening to Patients

All in all, the best way to create a positive experience is to listen to patient feedback. Find out what frustrates patients about your hospital processes, and try not to act defensively. You might discover that you’re behind the times in terms of patient billing, EHRs, or other technologies. Or, you may simply find that your staff is in need of training. Collect and evaluate patient feedback, and organize them in a way that allows you to tackle major or minor internal problems one at a time. 

Healthcare consumerism trends are here to stay, and it’s a long time coming. For the most part, it's about respecting the needs of patients, and that's something any hospital should get behind. 

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