Part of my job is to attend a lot of conferences. I’ve been to more meetings focused on the US health care system than I can count. Last month, I went to something different – Dreamforce – which has become the largest software conference in the world. Approximately 150,000 people descended on San Francisco (so many that they brought in a cruise ship to provide additional hotel rooms) as part of the annual gathering of users, vendors, and partners of Salesforce.com.
The Bay area is brimming with enterprises that are thought of as synonymous with consumer engagement. You cannot walk down the street without seeing the logos for Apple Inc., eBay, Uber, and countless other innovative companies. These companies, and others like them, have raised the bar for customer service while simultaneously developing service tools that consumers have come to think of as second nature in their lives.
The conference put a spotlight on health care and how the business case for health information technology (IT) has evolved over the years. The health IT industry, historically devoted to submitting claims, generating bills, and documenting clinical care, now must develop and leverage deeper relationships with patients and partners to deliver high quality care for value-based reimbursement and meet consumers’ needs and expectations. Now, understanding the consumer is an imperative.
Several health care trends are changing how consumers communicate and find information in the system. New entrants to health care market, such as retail clinics, telemedicine services, and others, have changed how consumers access care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), the proliferation of high-deductible plans, and moves by employers to shift more costs to individuals also have combined to create higher demand for better tools and more cost transparency. But today, there is still a disconnect between consumers’ wants and the tools that actually exist. Meanwhile, in other industries, consumers are surrounded by sophisticated, data-driven tools that personalize and enhance their experience.
Successful consumer engagement and a differentiated customer experience has transformed many industries, and it can do the same for health care. Having more engaged consumers can increase growth and support deeper provider-patient relationships, help to provide better insights, reduce the cost to acquire patients, and increase brand awareness and loyalty. Engaged patients can provide more information, help to foster collaboration with providers, and support more efficient and effective care.
Data from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers suggest that a future where engaged consumers lead to effective, efficient, and satisfying care experiences and better health outcomes might not be that far away. Indeed, 44 percent of surveyed consumers are actively engaged in health care in some way.
Two trends emerging out of the survey make this point even more salient. First, consumers are increasingly tapping online resources. Trust in the reliability of information sources in health care is rising. One-quarter of consumers say they have looked at a scorecard or report card to compare the performance of doctors, hospitals, or health plans, compared with 19 percent two years ago.
Second, more than ever, consumers are relying on technology in health care. From 2013 to 2015, consumers’ use of technology to measure fitness and health improvement goals grew from 17 percent to 28 percent. Among consumers with major chronic conditions, tech-based monitoring has jumped from 22 percent to 39 percent in the last two years.
Unfortunately, the larger, more passive share of the market (56 percent of respondents) still includes consumers that are less engaged, either because they have no pressing need to be or because they are satisfied with the care choices they have made. Today, there is gap between what individuals are interested in doing with their care and what they have experienced. This implies that more health care consumers want greater say in their care, but have not yet made the move to be empowered health care consumers.
Use of digital tools and providing consumer engagement support may strengthen satisfaction and retention while also improving the value of health care services and products. Findings from the survey suggest that some consumers are not aware of resources that already exist, while others want tools that have not been developed yet. Some consumers may be interested, but find the quality and usefulness of available resources lacking. There is also variation in levels of trust – some consumers may only trust resources and tools that are suggested or provided by their doctor, while others may be comfortable with accessing information directly. Some may be interested in all forms of support, while others find only certain technologies appealing. Finally, consumers’ level of engagement may wax and wane as their health circumstances change.
Going beyond traditional views of an organization’s customer base to recognize the unique approaches and preferences of different consumer segments may be essential for accelerating consumer engagement. Specialized data analytics capabilities that can identify meaningful differences and patterns of change in consumers’ behaviors and preferences may help health care organizations respond nimbly to evolving consumer expectations.
During my time at Dreamforce, my phone was critical to navigating my days. I used it for my boarding pass and my room key, to summon cars, to recommend and secure dining options, and to shop for groceries and presents for my son Zander’s birthday party. It notified me when my flight was delayed, when my son Luca’s grades had been posted, and even when the dog was out for a walk. These applications and the underlying personalized data are woven into the fabric of my life. Ultimately, I expect them to become woven into the fabric of my health.