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Patients aren’t patient anymore: the consumerization of healthcare

E-commerce and the consumerization of healthcare

Patients aren’t patient anymore: the consumerization of healthcare

Convenience, choice, and control have become the mantras of the modern consumer, rocket-fueled by the incredible rise of e-commerce.

Getting what you want when you want it may be the new norm when it comes to purchasing everyday items, but what about when it comes to consuming healthcare products and services?

How are sky-high consumer expectations around choice and transparency translating into the healthcare sector, an area where systems and processes are traditionally influenced by the insurance carriers and providers?

The rise of the “patient as consumer”

Blame it on the smartphone. It’s now inextricably intertwined with e-commerce. Shoppers expect to go online and find what they need fast, with a few screen taps, and minimal hassle.

According to research from Internet Retailer, more than one in every seven dollars in the United States last year was spent online—while global e-commerce sales reached almost $3 trillion for 2018.

The market opportunity is huge, and the healthcare industry across the United States is busy figuring out how best to take a leaf out of e-tailers’ playbooks.

For Neil Ackerman of Johnson & Johnson, the message is stark: failure to adopt the lessons of e-commerce companies constitutes a serious mistake for healthcare firms.

“Healthcare can learn from the hyper-focus on providing top-tier customer experiences that e-commerce companies achieve day-in, day-out,” Ackerman says. “Healthcare companies can use this model to provide broad selection, fair prices, and the most convenient end-to-end flow for delighting customers.”

Creating transparency in healthcare pricing

Healthcare pricing is notorious for being complicated.

With the growing number of people in the United States on high deductible plans, knowing what a healthcare service or product costs is critical. For many, assuming the insurance company will cover the medical bill is not a viable option.

At the same time, individuals are increasingly used to comparing prices online across a range of products and services. Again, it’s essential that healthcare firms pay close attention to this trend: transparency in pricing builds trust and loyalty among consumers, according to Ackerman.

“These days, it’s so easy for a consumer to know if your price is fair. The ability to democratize this data has put consumers in the driving seat,” says Ackerman. “Manufacturers and healthcare companies can no longer count on the traditional push of a product. Nowadays consumers pull a product to success. The relationship is more balanced and will continue to side with the consumer over time.”

More convenience through healthcare technology advances

Advances in healthcare technology and the rise of digital healthcare are central to the ongoing consumerization of healthcare.

Giving individuals control over their experience of healthcare is key. Take medication: people increasingly want transparency in pricing and choice of where to buy it. Then, they want their prescriptions delivered to their homes, or at a location of their choosing, in the same way they can make one-click purchases online.

“Healthcare providers must invest heavily in technology to meet these changes in consumer expectations or they risk missing out,” says Mark Taylor, director at UPS Healthcare Strategy group. Taylor points to e-healthcare solutions already on the market as good examples of consumer-centric technology in action: the CVS smartphone app for managing prescriptions, or the GoodRx app for comparison shopping prescription medications. “If providers don’t have robust, user-friendly apps available via smartphone for consumers, they are making a mistake.”

In addition, mobile technologies and tracking dashboards like UPS My Choice® allow consumers to customize deliveries to their schedules. Users can reschedule deliveries and get estimated delivery windows so they know exactly when to expect their medications.

UPS My Choice also allows users to select alternate locations to receive their deliveries so that they aren’t sitting unattended on front porches, creating unwanted attention. And with the extended UPS Access Point network, customers can pick up their packages  at convenient neighborhood locations, including CVS Pharmacies and Michaels stores nationwide. 

Telemedicine services and the need for speed

The benefits of telemedicine—convenience, ease of scheduling, and lower costs—are well-established, and the infrastructure to support telemedicine is growing stronger. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), more than three-quarters of U.S. hospitals engage in some form of telemedicine.

Taylor believes advances in telemedicine services will eventually make the widespread adoption of telemedicine inevitable. “More and more people are wondering why they need to spend time in a waiting room to get treatment. Technology will be the great change maker.”

As more consumers adopt telemedicine, it will up the ante in positive ways for the healthcare supply chain. “Just because care is being offered digitally through technology like telemedicine, the treatment still has to happen physically,” Taylor continues. “If a healthcare provider is going to offer telemedicine, their supply chain must become all the more robust—because if it fails, people will turn away from telemedicine and not want to use it again.”

To support telemedicine and the delivery of healthcare services direct to the home, Taylor anticipates the supply chain needs to change to enable easier, faster, and more accurate final mile deliveries to consumers who are patients.

However, as the supply chain becomes more distributed, other factors will come into play. “Things like special handling instructions that are visible on the packaging can help with moving temperature-sensitive shipments through the network,” Taylor says. He points to UPS’s deep expertise in cold chain logistics across its seven million square feet of healthcare warehousing space around the world as examples of potential game-changers for healthcare companies.

Enhancing the consumer experience in healthcare

Ultimately, it comes down to giving individuals control over the healthcare choices they make.

“Customers do not wake up and say, ‘I would like to pay more and have less choice.’ Providers need to understand quickly that customers rule and that the world is going to have more choices, not fewer,” says Ackerman.

He advises healthcare companies to fully embrace customer experience and to work hard to reduce friction in the delivery of services. “Friction equals failure,” he warns. “Creating friction leads to more negative experiences and less loyalty.”

Creating friction also makes your company vulnerable to competition. “The more friction your process has, the greater the opportunity that someone will disrupt you. Don’t let the ‘Because that’s the way we always did it’ remain in any part of your organization. It is not a strategy that can win,” says Ackerman.

A new era of customer-centric healthcare

For patients, the old model is evolving. The “patient as consumer” expects transparency in pricing and in quality of care. They expect to be able to read accurate and helpful reviews for their doctors, and they want to easily schedule services on their smartphone. They want access to services at a time and place convenient for them.

Find out more about how UPS is helping transform the supply chain and usher in a new era of consumer-driven healthcare.

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