Providers must invest in consumer technologies, or risk irrelevance

But Providence St. Joseph Health Chief Digital Officer Aaron Martin sees a near future when hospitals will meet their disruptors halfway.
By Benjamin Harris
12:20 PM

When it comes to healthcare, hospitals and health systems were once monolithic in consumers' minds. But dizzying advances in business and technology have put plenty of industries on notice that old assumptions are out the window, and healthcare is no different.

Smart devices such as the Apple Watch, or new fusions of retail-based care like CVS Aetna or Walgreens have all of a sudden increased the options consumers have for where and how they would like to receive care.

Without substantially investing in consumer experience technologies, providers are in danger of being usurped by these non-traditional entrants into the care world, says Aaron Martin, chief digital officer, Providence St. Joseph Health.

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Streamlining and integrating a variety of technologies and leaning into the trends that have shaped other industries can enable a health system to establish a tighter bond with their consumers, he said.

"We still make people make phone calls to schedule appointments," said Martin. "What other industry does that? Millenials are not going to fool around with an organization that is not digitally enabled."

Getting 'transaction-ready'

One of the keys to building a strong relationship with consumers is by becoming "transaction-ready" Martin said, explaining that there are three digital elements to this: branded content, integrated scheduling and maintaining contact. Each pillar works to provide consumers all of the options they need in a frictionless environment:

Martin lauds big health systems that make efforts to build a large library of online content – establishing a "trusted content ecosystem" for patients to visit means they aren't turning to other resources which could ultimately siphon away business.

The next step is making scheduling a seamless process. Martin says that while there are many telehealth and scheduling apps out there, having to switch between two different systems was "a bad experience for the consumer." 

He said patients have to be able to instantly find a doctor and make the required kind of appointment without navigating between several different platforms.

Finally, hospitals need to create more opportunities for engagement. That means finding ways to stay in touch between episodes of care with a patient. There are a fast-growing number of tools and services that make health more of a daily check-in than an isolated incident; what is most important is remembering that these types of communication should represent the health system to the consumer as a relationship.

"Every interaction with the patient is an opportunity to build the brand," said Martin.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

There isn't much time for healthcare organizations to act, said Martin.

"All these disruptive business models are about to enter the market," and if the healthcare industry doesn't act it will get left behind. Martin –who used to work for Amazon – describes how the publishing industry didn't make any effort to innovate and was totally sideswiped by the Kindle.

If publishers had already established their own digital platforms, Martin said, Amazon would probably have happily integrated it into their system. In that absence, though, the publishers got left out in the cold.

It doesn't have to be that way. Some of the companies that are most actively trying to disrupt the healthcare world, such as Apple or Walmart, are also providers of tools and resources that hospitals would be smart to leverage.

Martin says that the big effort on the part of healthcare systems is trying to meet the disruptors halfway, having their own frictionless systems in place, ready to integrate when the time comes.

"These patients are just waiting out there for us as a health system to get our act together to have the digital presence they're used to in every other aspect of their lives," he said.

Benjamin Harris is a Maine-based freelance writer and former new media producer for HIMSS Media.
Twitter: @BenzoHarris.

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.