When CMS reported about the massive explosion in Telehealth utilization, one thing was clear. Healthcare consumers are making their voices heard. They want to access care on their terms, digital or in-person. At the clinic or at home. During the early months of the pandemic, it was all digital, and now two years later about 15-20% virtual and remaining in physical in-person settings.

While consumers have found digital care to be more convenient, more accessible, and a more positive experience, they want the care delivery providers to not stop there. Digital-first omnichannel experience is increasingly a core expectation for consumers in healthcare. They want a frictionless, consistent experience, whether they communicate with providers online, in a clinic, on the phone, at home, or anywhere else.

What is an omnichannel patient experience?

Omnichannel experience is about creating an integrated and cohesive healthcare experience no matter how, when, or where a consumer reaches out. It is built on context, personalization, and continuity.

Omnichannel is not multichannel. A multi-channel experience means that a similar experience is delivered on multiple channels. The first generation of telehealth is an example of a multichannel experience. The 5 minutes phone call that leads to a prescription is not very different from the experience patient have in in-person settings.

Leading consumer-focused companies like Uber, Instacart, and Starbucks have embraced omnichannel experience by default. Whether you are pre-ordering your coffee and picking it up from the nearest Starbucks location, ordering groceries, or looking at the map of how far your cab is and then sitting in the car, you are witnessing a seamless, instantaneous, and user-friendly experience across multiple channels of consumer interaction and purchase. 

DIgital front-door that provides omnichannel experience for the patients across multiple settings

In the healthcare context, this means creating one front door for the members (in contrast to providing links to different digital health apps), where your members can get connected to the right care seamlessly across all settings (virtual, digital or in-person). The scheduling process is intuitive and visit notes are made available the same way irrespective of how the member chose to get the care.

Rising expectations of healthcare consumers

Consumers are now front-loading a lot of risk with high deductible plans. They are on the hook for first-dollar coverage. They expect their care experiences to be highly coordinated and highly digital, with tools for managing their health and health information. Increasingly healthcare consumerism is becoming a crucial part of hospital and health system strategy. The leaders at innovative health systems know that superior patient engagement that provides their clients with a personalized, consistent and seamless experience will provide them a competitive advantage. By giving patients a unified experience across the care continuum, they can meet the rising demands of healthcare consumerism.

A disciplined approach

To provide a great omnichannel experience that delivers superior outcomes, a disciplined approach is required. Start with the basics. First and foremost, it is important to focus on the patient/member/consumer, not plan sponsors or health systems. Who is the consumer and what do they want? That may sound overwhelming since the healthcare data is spread across dozens of disparate systems that don’t communicate with each other. Creating a unified patient record composed of data across the health continuum can provide the right foundation for the second step – segmentation.

Patient segmentation is crucial for creating omnichannel experience

It may be helpful to think about patient segmentation via personas. At every stage of the journey patients’ behavior usually coalesces around a few major variables. These variables grouped together can be used to design ‘personas’. Describing 5-6 major personas is usually enough to cover about 80 percent of the patient population.

The third step is to meet them where they are. A journey-level approach can provide visibility and understanding of the personas’ different needs at each step. Follow the steps, both offline and online, that each persona takes along a given journey. Look for important (and often hidden) pain points that the persona encounters and the resulting areas of opportunity for redesign. For example, if the patient has social needs, referring a patient to get additional services with community providers is great. Having a closed-loop referral process to know that the patient fulfilled that referral is even better. The idea is to make a list of which changes to make first, gradually making an entire process simpler and more effective for patients from beginning to end.

Creating a seamless omnichannel experience is not easy and requires an amalgamation of data, analytics, and workflows tools that need to work together. Digital healthcare navigation platform can bring multiple digital entry points together, guiding patients to the right places and boosting utilization of high-value services.

The overall goal of this whole exercise is to make people healthy, and satisfied and generate loyalty. To achieve that goal, a feedback system is required. A feedback system can provide you insights into what changes are working and which ones are not having any impact on outcomes. Using that information, you can determine the best course to take and make interventions quickly and decisively.

As Millennials and Generation Z become dominant consumer groups, they have different expectations from the healthcare system than their predecessors. Their comfort level and familiarity with multiple digital channels including video, messaging and chatbots means care providers should consider digital-first omnichannel experiences to meet their expectations and effectively compete in the experience-based healthcare economy of the future.

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