Earlier this month we learned that Walmart may be making a bid for Humana, one of the nation’s leading Medicare health plans. Walmart’s designs on the healthcare industry have been developing over a decade with walk-in clinics and onsite pharmacies in nearly 4,700 stores. Juxtapose this development with the news that Amazon is also making its entry into healthcare, and it may blow your mind that two of the world’s largest retailers will also be healthcare organizations.
The impact on the healthcare industry is likely to be substantial. It raises the question of how an industry that has long focused on the provider and payer as primary decision makers can shift their focus to putting the consumer at the center. And with this inevitable shift, will healthcare organizations start offering consumer-tailored digital solutions that are on par with the ones offered by retailers?
Retailers have been utilizing digital customer experience tools for over a decade. Shopping for the best price, rare items, and convenient delivery requires only minutes and can be done from the comfort of your home or conveniently when you’re on the go. Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers not only make interactions easier with digital, but they now successfully use technology to anticipate consumers’ needs, make recommendations that are well-informed, and escalate the level of engagement to effectuate brand loyalty previously only enjoyed a handful of blue-chip brands.
Contrast this to the long-standing digital applications in healthcare, which have traditionally focused on security and access to information tailored to providers and payers. Today’s consumer-focused digital healthcare paradigm is only starting to scratch the service with telehealth apps, online appointment screening, payment capabilities, and health trackers.
To survive, healthcare organizations will need to up their game with more applications that are engaging, fast, intuitive, customized, and perhaps most importantly, have a clear and significant consumer benefit.
One good example is the e-referral system being implemented in London under the city’s “digital healthcare revolution” initiative. The system replaces the need for patients to do an office visit with their general practitioner before getting a referral to a specialist. Instead, patients do an online consultation at a “virtual e-clinic” within 24 hours of their request, which helps decide their next stage of treatment.
At Barts Health, which runs five London hospitals, waiting times to see a specialist for patients with chronic kidney disease has been reduced from 15 weeks to five days. This acceleration of a typically prolonged process not only enhances the patient experience but can result in greatly reduced costs as chronic conditions are able to be diagnosed and treated earlier.
The healthcare industry has lagged behind retail and other industries in their use of consumer-centered digital applications, but we are now on a horizon that holds promise for using technology and analytics for early and accurate patient insights, cost transparency, and effective education and tools for consumers to manage their own healthcare. And while I don’t hold out hope that consumers will be able to have a healthcare “wish list” and “one-click” purchase options in the near-term, there is enough excitement around digital healthcare member engagement to drive meaningful innovation in short order.
Cynthia Nustad is Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer for HMS.