When marketers talk about good customer experience today, they describe ways to remove pain and obstacles from the customer journey. Every industry wants a seamless, Amazon-like digital experience where people can easily and quickly find the information and solutions they need. However, when consumers are in need of healthcare, their experience on hospital websites is often quite poor leaving patients confused and frustrated. Notably, 1 in 5 healthcare patients today have already left or switched providers after having poor digital experience. Whether they’re looking for a diagnosis or preparing to have a child, people seek medical assistance during some of the scariest points of their lives. Their unstated expectation is that healthcare organizations are making digital experiences as comfortable and easy-to-navigate as possible while demonstrating an emotional understanding that helps alleviate suffering and unnecessary stress. But, that’s often not the case.
We recently spoke with Tara Becker and Dan Persson, both directors of solutions delivery at Perficient, to better understand how they approach digital transformation to improve the digital healthcare experience. Both Dan and Tara are veterans in the healthcare space, previously serving as the vice president of client strategy and the CTO of MedTouch, respectively, before the organization was acquired by Perficient in January 2020. They described firsthand how healthcare providers and organizations need to innovate and build benevolent experiences that treat patients as real people and offer them the care they need in the ways they want.
A Whole-Person Approach to Patient Engagement
One of the most difficult and unique challenges healthcare organizations face is how to help people navigate emotionally charged journeys with compassion and true understanding of each individual’s personal circumstances. “When someone is first diagnosed with breast cancer, they’re not looking for a list of 10 clinical trials or searching for the best doctor. The first question they’re asking is ‘Am I going to die?’ And then ‘How am I going to take care of my family?’” explained Tara. When the stakes are truly life or death, organizations need to focus on caring, actionable content that empowers patients at specific points in their journey. Demonstrating concern and empathy from the start is how you build trust. “Once patients are further along in the journey and have the ability to digest critical information, we can progressively present more clinical content to them. But the emotional understanding must come first.”
The customer journey in a field like healthcare is far more nuanced than other verticals. The buyer journey in a space like B2B tech or fashion often begins with awareness and helping customers understand why they need or want your product. However, when it comes to someone’s physical and mental health, that need is already there, and it’s critical.
According to Tara, offering patients generic, one-size-fits-all content can irrevocably damage a consumer’s perception of your brand and sever their confidence in your ability to improve their circumstances. “When a website is displaying information that isn’t relevant to where someone is in their journey, it creates distrust. Often that person will leave and seek the answers they need somewhere else,” she said. Creating personalized patient journeys starts with strategic persona development and mapping content to align with the highly specialized audiences across different stages in their healthcare journey. “Healthcare consumers’ needs will continue to evolve. You cannot set it and forget it when it comes to the content you display. The content you present has to continuously reflect their changing expectations and needs,” said Tara.
A whole-person view is equally as important to patients looking to choose their doctor. Just as the organization is working to gain that 360-degree view of their customers, the healthcare consumer wants deeper insight into who they are trusting to care for them. “The content in your doctor profiles can’t be stale and static. It’s not enough to just put up a profile photo from 25 years ago and basic information on where someone went to med school. Today’s customers want robust, real information about who their doctors are as people, where they are located and what they enjoy doing in their spare time, and how to communicate with them,” said Dan. Digital advancements have empowered people by giving them more choice about who they see. This means that in order to differentiate themselves from other options, healthcare organizations need to be more transparent and willing to make this information easily accessible.
Protecting Privacy While Offering Personalized Experiences
While patients expect individualized, personal interactions with their healthcare providers, they also expect that organizations will keep their personal information protected and not overstep any boundaries. Regulations such as HIPAA mean that the security standards and practices in healthcare are at a higher level than other industries and healthcare brands face a greater responsibility to ensure patient confidentiality. “Patient health information and data is something that cannot be stored in every system, and we have to be careful that we’re capturing only data that is safe to capture. It’s the challenge of making sure people can stay anonymous but we can still use data to accomplish customized experiences,” said Dan.
Perficient relies on personalization technology like Acquia Personalization that allows information to flow from one system to the next to facilitate relevant, valuable patient interactions without collecting personally identifiable information. “The process of handling patient information is incredibly complex at different points in the journey from discovery to treatment to billing. The orchestration tools that Acquia provides allow us to keep data in their relevant systems while surfacing the pieces that matter to be able to accomplish our strategies,” said Dan.
Patient Journey Mapping: A Holistic, Lifelong Commitment
“Historically in healthcare, there's a lot of emphasis on acquiring new patients and getting them to that first appointment, but after that organizations really fall down in terms of the journey. They need to get better at showing they care about the patient post-encounter and communicate the next steps,” said Dan. Organizations must build loyalty and deepen relationships with people through regular, timely interactions that suit where an individual is in their care journey. Dan cited the power of open marketing automation solutions, such as Mautic, which make it easy to coordinate all these separate touches with consumers across multiple channels and offer them reminders about their next check-ups at the right time. “After someone sees a doctor, they’ll have questions about how to follow up, and we need to stay in touch to prove that even if someone isn’t actively seeking medical care, their well-being is still top of mind,” he said.
Holistic experiences in healthcare also touch far more lives beyond just the individual pursuing care, and organizations need a better way to understand everyone involved in the patient journey. “Oftentimes, we’re speaking directly to a caregiver or family member who is making decisions alongside the patient or transporting them to appointments. These users are on a different journey and we need to serve them as well,” said Tara. Providing valuable experiences extends throughout the entire support ecosystem as well as beyond primary doctors to referring physicians, nurses and allied health professionals. “All of these people are involved in the patient’s life and have critical information about their needs that can’t be siloed.” Open, flexible technology makes it simple to communicate with each member of the care team, both within the medical community and within the patient’s personal network, meaning that there is much stronger coordination of care.
Caring for others and the people they love is a serious responsibility and consumer needs are always evolving. The best customer experiences do more than avoid pain and inconvenience; they offer thoughtful, delightful moments that communicate to patients that you care about who they are and you can help.