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Five bold moves customer-centric healthcare organizations will make in 2018

By Steve Jackson, President, NRC Health


It’s difficult to imagine a time in history in which healthcare experienced as much change as it did in the concluding weeks of 2017. Super-mergers—CHI and Dignity—unforeseen combinations—CVS and Aetna—and the looming threat from outsiders like Google, Apple, and Amazon entering healthcare reveal a deepening battle for today’s consumer.

Only those who most quickly achieve scale, convenience, and the delivery of a frictionless patient experience will survive. Unfortunately, most health systems are unprepared for this new era. To avoid disintermediation, or worse yet, obsolescence, health system leaders will need to make big shifts in 2018 to retain the loyalty of today’s consumer.

  1. Smashing traditional silos.

From the boardroom to the bedside, health systems will massively restructure their organizations to become customer-centric. Healthcare’s traditional siloed approach to marketing, patient experience, clinical delivery, and population health has only propagated fragmentation. Design-thinking requires that organizations align from the outside-in to serve the customer. Expect an influx of “Chief Consumer Officers” to centralize the historic functions of marketing, patient experience, and consumer innovation, redesigning care pathways.

  1. Doubling down on brand.

Despite competitive threats, health systems still enjoy a brand halo and tremendous trust with the communities they serve. The year will require an expansion in marketing investments to build on health systems’ strengths and keep competition at bay. Beyond new logos and taglines, 2018 marketing efforts will center on understanding consumer awareness and preferences, personalizing individual interactions, and creating seamless continuity between online and physical environments.

  1. Understanding deeply.

Most customer interactions with a health system represent a string of fragmented encounters and remain far from relationship-building. Establishing loyalty will require deeper learning, where each interaction is compiled to build a better understanding of the patient. In 2018, health systems will shift from being budding adopters of CRM solutions to synthesizing each interaction with patients—their preferences and behaviors—driving predictive, highly personalized engagement plans.

  1. Measuring differently.

CAHPS efforts will be placed appropriately on the back burner. The measurement system, while a useful early indicator of a patient’s experience, will be exposed as an incomplete predictor of customer loyalty. A fresh start like the consumer healthcare loyalty index, which blends multiple factors of a customer’s interactions with a brand, will slowly replace compliance-based measurement. Today, nearly 70% percent of patients rate their healthcare experience at a 9 or 10 on the CAHPS instrument. Yet at the same time, more than 50% of healthcare users cite frustration with their healthcare experience. Understanding drivers of loyalty requires closer examination of access issues, healthcare affordability, and patient outcomes. Out-of-industry leaders recognize that benchmarking the customer experience across all industries is more valuable than trying to keep up with traditional competitors. Taking a note from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, it is better to be customer-obsessed than competitor-focused.

  1. Recommitting to nurses and physicians.

Successful organizations understand that nurses and physicians are key contributors to the customer experience. To deliver experiences that foster trusting relationships, these professionals need to be allowed to return to their original purpose: caring for others. Barriers to fulfilling that purpose—administrative burdens, redundant tasks, and insufficient staff-to-patient ratios—must be reduced or eliminated. Coaching, engagement, and resiliency programs are not enough. The right tools and processes must be in place to allow all caregivers to spend more time with patients—the joy of their work.

In 2018, the rapid pace of change at the hands of healthcare consumers will continue. And while this seems like a short list for success, these changes will call for dramatic revisions of organizations’ operations, practices, and values. To effect such change, partnering with organizations who see the same future—and can provide the tools and resources to move toward it—will be critical.