MedCity Influencers, Payers

Here are six ways that healthcare is adapting retail concepts

There is no single reason why healthcare systems have slowly evolved into a more retailing model.

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How many times have you heard the phrase “Uberization of healthcare” or “the Uber effect”? Uberization refers to healthcare systems providing services in a more on-demand, transparent fashion. It’s quite possibly the buzzword of the 2010s. But as important as Uberization is, the phenomenon is part of a broader trend that has been occurring for years: healthcare systems acting like retailers, or the retailing of healthcare.

Retailing refers to healthcare systems treating patients like the informed consumers they are. The phenomenon manifests itself in many ways:

Patient friendly environments Hospitals are looking and acting like retailers to provide a more pleasant and user-friendly environment for patients and visitors. Nine out of 10 hospitals surveyed by Food Service Director offer both patient and retail services such as restaurants and Starbucks coffee shops. Nearly half offer on-demand room service. One health system offers amenities such as massage therapy. A new hospital in this system, currently under construction, has been said to resemble an Apple store. That’s fitting since Apple was among the companies that helped bankroll the facility that will reimagine the medical environment by providing experiences such as rooftop gardens.

Loyalty programs As hospitals shift their focus from care to maintenance, they’re providing loyalty programs that reward patients for minding their health, akin to customer loyalty programs that retailers offer. These services are becoming more popular as healthcare systems react to the impact of the Affordable Care Act, which has motivated healthcare systems to become stronger partners with patients in healthcare management and prevention.

Focusing more on customer service  Healthcare systems are moving care closer to the patient, with health and wellness centers being set up in retail locations ranging from pharmacies to grocery stores. With visits to hospitals becoming costlier, and with businesses such as pharmacies expanding their services into healthcare, it makes sense for medical centers to move some wellcare services to the places near where patients live and shop. And patients are responding positively. Nearly 80 percent of consumers who had visited a health and wellness clinic within a grocery store, discount retail store, or drug store within the past two years said the experience was about the same or better than a traditional doctor’s office, according to a 2016 survey of more than 2,000 individuals, conducted by Oliver Wyman.

On-demand services Companies outside healthcare such as Uber are making the industry more responsive by applying to healthcare some of the best practices of the on-demand economy. As reported in Forbes, a number of firms such as Pager and Doctors Making House Calls now bring doctors directly to patients’ homes. These businesses can save patients considerable time and the expense of an emergency room visit by partnering with medical providers.

Better physician directories Healthcare systems are beginning to make the process of searching for physicians as user friendly as exploring Amazon.com. Although healthcare systems have a long way to go, the more progressive organizations are treating their physician directories as digital front doors to their entire network of providers. They are applying smart filters and search functionality, along with more robust physician pages, to make it easier for patients to find the most appropriate physician to meet their needs, based on factors such as insurance covered and hours of operation, and the availability of online scheduling.

Publishing ratings and reviews As I have noted, the popularity of patient ratings and reviews is pressuring healthcare systems to become more transparent about the care they provide. Healthcare systems, realizing that patients increasingly consult third-party services for insight into their services, are publishing their own physician reviews just as any retailer does.

There is no single reason why healthcare systems have slowly warmed up to the retailing model. A number of factors have come into play, including the rising costs of treating patients to the reality that patients have more digital tools to research and investigate their healthcare options.

Certainly the rise of mobile and proliferation of digital devices has made it possible for patients to conduct more “near me” searches for care faster and with more information than ever before. It’s a stretch to say that patients are conducting complicated searches for surgery options on their smart phones, but searches for more routine care and for emergency services lend themselves to mobile. And mobile heightens an expectation for getting services on demand more generally speaking. Healthcare systems are responding.

What you should do next

To thrive in the era of healthcare retailing, healthcare systems should be more responsive and transparent by combining data, content, and experiences. Each of the examples I have cited in this column depends on the application of data, content, and experiences. Clearly, medical centers such as Stanford Medical Center are banking on the appeal of a stronger location-based experience, but they also need to use location data to make their services findable and descriptive content online to help patients understand care options available.

Location and physician data, such as your name, address, phone number, insurance covered, and credentials, constitute your foundation for transparency. You really cannot be visible unless you share accurate location data throughout the digital world where patients are looking for you.

Content needs to be actionable to encourage patients to choose your healthcare system. Examples include mobile click-to-call functionality and online scheduling, appointment request forms, and scheduling widgets. Doing so creates a more user-friendly experience and accelerates the process of receiving care. Given the importance of ratings and reviews, your content strategy should also include an approach for publishing patient insights about your physicians.

Experiences go beyond the care provided by brick-and-mortar facilities. Experiences also include the user friendliness and usefulness of your digital front door. Your user experience needs to be as good or better than anything the best websites can offer.

The retailing of healthcare spans the digital and offline worlds as well as generations of patients seeking care. Millennials, who represent the largest age cohort in the United States, expect convenience, price transparency, and digital savviness from healthcare systems. Retailing is no longer a trend. It’s an expectation.

Photo: Bigstock

A veteran of the digital and healthcare industries, Amanda is helping healthcare systems across the country drive new patient acquisition strategies through the use of technology. As managing director of the healthcare division at SIM Partners, a leading provider of location-based marketing technology, Amanda leads client growth strategies that improve the patient journey as well as maximize digital marketing results at the local level. SIM Partners' local marketing automation platform, Velocity, maximizes digital marketing results for healthcare systems by managing location data and content at scale. She is an avid blogger and has been published in MedCity News and Medical Practice Insider.

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