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Ryan Donohue talks Patient No Longer on ReviveHealth’s “No Normal” podcast

NRC Health’s own Ryan Donohue recently appeared on ReviveHealth’s prominent “No Normal” podcast to discuss the findings from his latest book, Patient No Longer. Host Chris Bevolo, Health Systems Practice Lead for ReviveHealth, was eager to dig into the psyche of today’s healthcare consumer.

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Chris highlighted how the pandemic has sped up the need for healthcare brands to acknowledge and engage the consumer—or risk losing them to someone who will. Ryan concurred, citing how Patient No Longer draws upon the rich history of the patient-centered care movement and underscores the need to improve the patient experience by taking the first step toward the consumer. “You have to get off-campus to spread your brand to the consumer,” he said. “Do not wait for [the consumer] to come to you.”

Chris quoted Patient No Longer’s co-author Dr. Steven Klasko and his advice for the future of healthcare delivery: “If you’re a provider and think you’re going back to your business model solely being based on hospital revenue and not relevant to people who want care at home…then I think you’ll be out of business.” Indeed, in the wake of the pandemic’s disruption, healthcare brands will have to make some tough decisions, weighing their reliance on what’s made them money in the past against the need for innovative care delivery. And their decisions will have to arrive ahead of schedule—because, as Ryan pointed out, “the future got here fast.”

Throughout the discussion, virtual care was a focal point. Knowing that many healthcare consumers turned to telehealth during the pandemic due to limited or nonexistent opportunity for physical experiences, Chris asked whether happy virtual patients would consider returning to the confines of the mostly-physical environs of healthcare past. Ryan cited NRC Health’s Market Insights survey of healthcare consumers to note that “74 percent [of healthcare consumers] were satisfied with their virtual experience” in the past year, and that even older consumers “are doing virtual care and preferring it.” Chris also emphasized a benefit to this shift, from the provider’s point of view: “I get to see my patients in their environment.”

But big shifts in consumer sentiment present a bigger issue for healthcare brands: how to bring virtual and physical experiences together. As Chris pointed out to clients of ReviveHealth: “If you were designing your health system from scratch today, it would be virtual first everywhere, and physical as the next step—not the way it is today.” While many providers’ methodologies are rooted in physical experiences, Ryan added that “digital helps physical,” and described a hybrid approach involving accessible virtual experiences intentionally coupled with engaging physical ones.

For consumers, all of these shifting experiences still fall along a single path: the care journey. Through its mission of human understanding, NRC Health seeks to educate and empower the consumer all along this journey—a process that today shows an increasing number of twists and turns. Chris likened the care journey to a ball of twine: an often-confusing tangle of care experiences with seemingly no straight-line, easy path through it. Ryan agreed: based on information gathered by NRC Health’s research tools, he described the average consumer as “feeling stuck in a maze.” Ryan and Chris agreed that consumers need more guidance from the maze-makers to safely and swiftly navigate a more frictionless healthcare environment—only, in most cases, healthcare just isn’t there yet.

At one point the discussion landed on a current point of confusion: vaccine distribution. Amid reports of strong resistance among Americans, Ryan painted a contrasting picture: according to NRC Health’s Market Insights, only 14 percent of Americans say they won’t get the vaccine. This number is lower than many other national studies, which Chris pointed out will often box consumers into an oversimplified positive/negative binary. Ryan added that when NRC Health allowed consumers to express natural degrees of uncertainty, a more accurate picture emerged. “There’s a large number of people who are going to ‘wait and see’—about 25 percent,” he said. “And 38 percent say, when [the vaccine] is available, they are going to get it.” Chris and Ryan agreed that the “wait and see” group will monitor people they know who receive the vaccine, and when no issues arise, they’ll be more likely to get vaccinated in the long haul—an optimistic outlook for eventual vaccination rates.

Despite the challenges of engaging consumers, Ryan and Chris both celebrated the discussion currently taking place. “You can freely use the word consumer—it’s not [considered] an expletive,” Ryan said. Chris concurred, drawing a contrast to the past when words like “brand” were discouraged. (He likened the general distaste surrounding such words to the avoidance in the Harry Potter series of the name of Lord Voldemort, a.k.a. He-who-must-not-be-named.) Thankfully, they said, the industry is now becoming more open to brand-building and consumer engagement.

To close the discussion, Ryan described the resolution of Patient No Longer: the importance of tapping back into the natural power of healthcare. Ryan lamented that “we’ve forgotten that healthcare was a calling and that it’s a blessing to work in healthcare,” and said he firmly believes that the pandemic has restored a more positive valuation of healthcare in general and given its brands a much-needed boost in momentum. When Chris asked him what’s next, Ryan pointed to Patient No Longer’s off-the-page future. “We’re really excited for the book to be a living document,” he said. “I’m excited to do workshops and have people imbue their own perspective…going in with no PowerPoint to talk about the patient experience, and widen out our view and see what else comes into the frame.”

After their spirited discussion, Ryan and Chris—like many of the nation’s healthcare brand leaders today—are eager to begin a new journey toward improved healthcare for all consumers.

Interested in learning more or signing up for a Patient No Longer workshop? Contact Ryan directly at rdonohue@nrchealth.com.