Maximizing efficiency has become the hallmark of evolution in most industries. To survive, companies are finding ways to become more efficient, not just for their bottom line or in their use of real estate, but in how they serve their customers. However, consumers’ increasing drive for more convenience at lower costs is now driving innovation in an industry that hasn’t historically made headlines for customer experience: healthcare.
Healthcare has seemed immune to much of the disruption other industries are experiencing, partly due to patients’ perception of the industry as impenetrable and intimidating. However, the status quo is changing. Driven by increased transparency and changes in patient expectations, healthcare providers are learning lessons from other industries and evolving the way they interact with patients, creating efficiencies that benefit all parties involved.
Origins of the Evolution
Modern technology—in particular, computers and the advent of the Internet—brought about a new Industrial Revolution on par with that of the late 18th and early 19th century. Every major technological revolution has brought about more efficient methods of work, whether it be the wheel, the mechanized loom, or the combustion engine. All have added convenience to our lives.
With this latest revolution, as with every one previous, innovation is driving unprecedented changes in most industries. First, computers and the Internet minimized the time it took to complete tasks. Now, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of more revolutionary implications of computer power: autonomous vehicles, sophisticated cloud computing, and AI, to name just a few.
For healthcare, the revolutionary aspects seemed, at first, limited to streamlining various systems and more efficient administration for providers and insurers. The industry as a whole remained opaque, and traditional methods of delivering care remained. Now, healthcare providers are experiencing a “retailization” of healthcare. This retailization is twofold, affecting both delivery of care and patients’ mindset.
Consumers, Not Patients
Patients no longer act like patients. Consumerism transformed all aspects of interaction with businesses, and healthcare is no different. Patients are now consumers of healthcare. More and more, they demand that their experience receiving healthcare fit the demands they place on other industries: convenience, low cost, and tailored. For healthcare providers to truly succeed moving forward, they need to shift their mindset from providing care to maximizing their customer experience. The good news? There are benefits for both providers and patients in this shift.
Bringing Care to the People
Methods of delivering care have evolved. With increased populations in major urban centers, some—such as Boston—are experiencing difficulty delivering care. Whether the struggles are due to access for certain patients due to high costs of care in urban hospitals or traffic congestion in getting patients to the care they need, to be effective in the future, providers are expanding their options for patients.
One such option is the expansion of alternative care facilities to minimize the strain on emergency departments. For patients and providers, this can significantly reduce costs, as urgent care centers are more likely staffed by nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants, not their more expensive M.D. counterparts. Patients also usually enjoy significantly reduced wait times—a common struggle in both emergency departments and primary care physicians’ offices. Expanding the outpatient footprint also reduces the need for costly full hospital build-outs, and the strain on often over-burdened emergency care providers.
These facilities can bridge the gap between care from a primary care physician and emergency care for many patients. With convenient hours and prompt care for walk-ins, urgent care centers provide a powerful center of care for patients who may not need a consultation with a primary care physician or who need the convenience of prompt care without an appointment or ER wait times. Whether shots, flu or strep care, minor medication prescription, or non-emergency needs, urgent care delivers an important new strata of care for patients—and one that is increasingly local and convenient.
While the number of urgent care center locations is increasing, one of the true game-changers has been the expansion of companies like CVS, Target, and Walmart into healthcare. In just the first 15 years, CVS’s Minute Clinics served more than 25 million patients, and other retailers took notice. Target and Walmart now offer their own pharmacy and other healthcare services, providing consumers yet another strata of available care. Services may include vision care, travel preparation, flu or strep care, or minor prescriptions—conveniently filled in the adjoining pharmacy. With many offering retail hours, this is often an ever lower-cost and more convenient option for patients.
This new stratification of care allows patients to determine the level and center of care needed, reducing costs for all parties, often reducing wait times in physicians’ offices or emergency departments, and maximizing convenience for the consumer. This not only optimizes care and convenience for the patient, but providers’ outpatient footprint.
However, for many patients, a key factor in determining the right strata of care is their source of healthcare coverage: their employer.
Employers are more invested than ever in healthcare for their employees. Many are highly incentivized: record high costs to insure employees and increased instances of costly care for conditions such as heart disease—and often leading to decreased employee productivity—are just a few of the reasons employers are increasingly searching for alternatives. But many of these alternatives lead to better options for employees.
These alternatives are increasingly doing away with older standards like 100% employer-paid healthcare. Unfortunately (in the eyes of many employees), these established options are going the way of the dodo. New alternatives, such as offering fixed dollar amount, or “defined”, contributions towards healthcare costs are of increasing interest to employers. Interestingly, while this puts patients in the driver’s seat in terms of selecting the most effective care options, it has also contributed to the increased consumerism experienced by providers and insurers.
With more data on the long-term negative impact on productivity of unhealthy employees, many employers are bringing healthcare providers into their offices to provide convenient screening and other lesser forms of care to employees. In addition, many employers are creating health and wellness incentives for employees, in tandem with providers. These may range from cash incentives to complete an annual checkup with their primary care physician to stepping competitions to promote wellness. Whatever the incentive, it demonstrates employers are more aware than ever of the impact employees’ health can have on the bottom line.
For the patients themselves, however, the highest priority is lower costs and more convenience, regardless of employer incentives.
Seeking Lower Costs and More Convenience
Patients want local, low-cost, and convenient care. While this is true for all patients, it’s particularly important to younger, Millennial patients. As most came into adulthood burdened with more debt than previous generations while also earning less pay than their elders at the same age, Millennials tend to prioritize cost-efficiency, regardless of what they’re spending their money on. They are also less likely to develop a relationship with their primary care physician; for providers looking to increase “stickiness,” more convenient solutions may be a good way to retain these healthcare consumers.
These concerns are not limited to Millennials, however. Their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts have seen the costs of healthcare skyrocket, impacting both their retirement planning and the costs they bear to care for aging parents. In fact, Boomers and Gen X-ers have a reputation for being more cost-conscious and less tech-savvy than Millennials, but data increasingly indicates that reputation is not merited. Gen X and Boomers are some of the primary users of e-commerce, and currently hold the majority of American wealth. Regardless, when it comes to healthcare, they see the concerning rise of costs and have sought to do what they can to minimize the impact on their retirement funds.
When it comes to primary care physicians, Boomers and Gen X-ers are more likely to have a relationship with their primary care physician, but the ratio of physicians to patients has been on the decline for years, with far more patients per physician. However, patients are more open than ever before to receiving care from nurse practitioners or physicians’ assistants, as well as other alternate forms of care, such as telehealth. This remote care option can be helpful for patients with mobility issues, as well as an efficient way for providers to reduce costs of care.
Those healthcare providers that will continue to succeed must innovate to meet these new client concerns. But what steps should they take?
Strategies for Successful Providers
To truly succeed in this new paradigm, focus on lower costs to operate, lowering cost to consumer, and rethinking either your existing or potential footprint in innovative ways to maximize the patient experience. This may look different across hospitals, urgent care centers, and retail clinics. We’ll take a look at the three key areas of improvement that will have the most impact on your bottom line and the patient/consumer experience.
1. All About Convenience
The convenience train will stop for no one, so providers must adapt to the trends. Identify where you fit into the strata of care patients seek, and develop a real estate strategy that fits. This might look like expanding your outpatient footprint to include more urgent care centers, or it could be a partnership with a retailer to provide care within their existing spaces.
You may want to consider partnering with a consultant and developer to identify sites with the most community impact. Other factors are looking at the other businesses in the area; you want to ensure the area does not yet have a similar center of care, and that the area businesses will drive sufficient traffic to your door. Site acquisition experts can partner with you to identify where you can maximize your impact and convenience for local patients.
2. Reevaluating Your Existing Footprint
As you evaluate your existing outpatient footprint, partner with an expert to look at how you can maximize the patient experience. This could be working with a consultant and developer to renovate existing hospitals or urgent care centers and re-imagining the spaces, all while staying operational.
When considering renovation, planning ahead is especially important. Some developers are creating new processes to more effectively assist healthcare providers, such as California’s Truebeck Construction. They have seen a markedly positive impact for their hospital clients when they work on planning ahead to thoroughly understand the needs of the hospital, leveraging out-of-the-box thinking to significantly minimize costs, keep the hospital running during renovations, and remain compliant with the variety of regulations native to the industry.
Leveraging these pre-planning strategies and partnering with an experienced consultant on environmental inspection, environmental health and safety compliance, structural evaluation, among other necessary activities, may seem costly, but may save you significant amounts in the long-term. Experienced consultants can drive cost savings throughout the life of the project, from planning to construction loan monitoring to project closeout.
3. Incorporating Technology
Technology is now embedded into almost every aspect of our lives. More and more patients find centers of care through search engines, which often automatically include reviews. With the new consumer-driven mindset, patients will certainly look at your care facility’s reviews to evaluate the best option.
It’s not just facilities—even insurance providers are making it simpler for patients to search for care providers and read or write reviews. Now, finding a primary care physician could be as simple as searching in an insurer’s app, identifying local providers, and reading reviews to find the best candidate. Keep the patient experience at the forefront of everything you do to ensure the best experience possible; the word will spread.
As patients become increasingly comfortable incorporating technology into their healthcare, there is more opportunity for savvy providers to find cost savings by providing healthcare remotely. Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) found success when they implemented remote services for burn victims in 2011, offering 24/7 access to a healthcare professional and seeing significant return on investment. They were able to reduce the need for in-office visits and increase perceived care for patients. After all, who wouldn’t want an on-call doctor?
LVHN’s data also indicated another place to find significant savings: transfers between emergency departments. On average, transfers costs the industry approximately $1.39 billion annually, but LVHN data indicated that by incorporating telehealth, providers could see an approximately $537 million reduction in costs annually.
There is no doubt that we are seeing unprecedented societal shifts that are transforming norms in even those industries that tend to experience change more slowly. To stay ahead, the best providers will prioritize the patient experience, maximizing their outpatient footprint, providing the optimal care for patients.
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