The healthcare industry has been in great need of modernizing its foundational systems in order to improve the patient experience for the last decade. Digital transformation has introduced new technology that many industries are now using to operate their businesses and communicate with consumers. However, the healthcare industry has experienced a notably slower adoption rate of new technology. Though patients have long desired for more options of digital channels in which they can communicate with their healthcare provider, many healthcare organizations have remained resistant – or at least quite slow – to act on change.
From ‘Nice to Have’ to a Necessity
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an urgent wakeup call to healthcare organizations. As stay at home orders and social distancing measures began to limit hours of operation for clinics across the nation, the promise of virtual care (which was once a far out item on a wish list) quickly became a necessary reality. After the pandemic began, patients not only preferred the option of digital experiences, but now found themselves more reliant on them than ever before.
The 2020 Change Healthcare – Harris Poll Consumer Experience Index found that across all phases of the healthcare journey, consumers are seeking more modern, digital communication from both providers and payers. The majority of patients said they want their healthcare provider (68%) and health insurance plan (71%) to communicate with them using more contemporary platforms. A growing patient preference for digital communication channels coupled with the larger cultural shift to the prioritization of digital experiences has ignited the shift from brick-and-mortar healthcare to a new era of virtual care.
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Today’s healthcare organizations have an urgent need to create a ‘digital front door’, a full, 360-degree 24/7 virtual experience that can help establish sustained relationships and encourage patient-provider interaction. On the surface, it may seem as though using advanced healthcare technology conflicts with providing a quality, connected in-person patient experience. However, using technology can help to bridge the gap that exists today between in-person and virtual care.
Healthcare systems must now take advantage of recent advancements in communications technology to improve patient care and make that care more accessible to a broader patient population. A sophisticated digital strategy encourages providers to support various touchpoints in the patient’s healthcare journey. In addition, it can streamline provider interactions so that much of pre-appointment information sharing is automated. This saves time for both sides and facilitates the delivery of more attentive care.
Empathy Must Translate into the Virtual Care Setting
Although healthcare organizations must rely on technology to fulfill the need for digital care today, it is important that the human connection remains strong in virtual care settings. Despite the growing patient preference for digital experiences, the need for human connection has never been greater – certainly as a year of quarantine and shelter in place has deprived consumers of social interactions. In fact, the Deloitte 2020 Survey of U.S. Healthcare Consumers found that among consumers who would not schedule another virtual care visit, one in five stated they didn’t like the way they were treated. Ensuring that a virtual care experience is as similar to that of an in-person care experience is critical.
Many patients have received virtual care over the past year in an effort to free up clinic and hospital resources to remain focused on the fight against the virus. Though the adoption of virtual care became necessary for patients in many instances, a general hesitancy towards telehealth still remains due to a concern over the lack of personal connection or empathy in the digital interaction and the thought that it would ultimately result in a reduced quality of care.
For example, whereas a patient visiting their provider in a clinic setting can engage in small talk during the course of an appointment, the setting of a virtual appointment doesn’t lend itself as well to fostering the same type of provider-patient connection. Though this may seem like a seemingly insignificant detail in the big picture of the patient receiving care, the tone that it sets for the appointment can make patients feel less comfortable opening up about their personal health over the internet. In-person interactions provide patients with many communication signals like body language or facial expressions that add up to a greater sense of empathy from their provider – an empathy that providers must ensure is translated over into virtual care scenarios.
As healthcare organizations open the digital front door to a new era of digital omnichannel care, sustaining relationships there were built in the brick-and-mortar era must remain top priority.
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