Humanizing the digital experience in healthcare

Ask any person to describe their experience with digital health technology, and they’re likely to use adjectives like complicated, frustrating, and impersonal. The current jumble of eHealth systems, silos and unintuitive applications – none of which can communicate with others – has created a consumer experience that pales in comparison to the user-friendly practices of other industries. Banking, transit and e-commerce have all prioritized the consumer with holistic platforms that offer a seamless and genuinely positive experience.

An annual survey conducted by Cedar found that 49% of healthcare consumers want their digital healthcare experience to be smoother and more like Netflix, Amazon or Uber. Where other industries offer personalized and engaging technology, healthcare falls short, but investing in the right patient engagement tools that deliver tailored experiences will help counter rising expectations.

These are the three changes healthcare technology needs to make to replicate Amazon-, Uber-, or Venmo-like healthcare experiences that most accurately help digitally replicate the humanized interactions patients desire:

Create an inclusive infrastructure

The digital healthcare ecosystem has reached the point of complexity we know today due to a lack of interoperability. As solutions work in a silo, patients are forced to manage multiple applications and web portals for each element of their care. A recent study by the IQVIA Institute found that consumer app stores offer more than 350,000 health-related apps, with an average of 250 new apps launching every day.

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To reduce this complexity, digital platforms need an integrative infrastructure with open APIs. Recent legislation, like the final rule on interoperability and patient access, is helping to encourage cross-platform data sharing, but the ecosystem is so crowded that it will take years to achieve the level of interoperability consumers want. Implementing a more inclusive infrastructure will consolidate data and provide a unified view of the patient, resulting in a more positive digital experience.

Personalization of the experience

An inclusive infrastructure will unleash the power of data and enable “deep personalization”. For example, Amazon drives engagement by tracking past orders and predicting what its users may want to order next. Spotify can recommend songs to listen to based on previously listened playlists. Technology platforms need to gather information about the user to customize the UX and UI, which will help inform other aspects of the technology. How companies obtain and strategically use this information will determine the quality of the user experience.

Healthcare organizations are improving their personalization methods by sharing user data from wearables, EHR, entitlements and patient health goals combined to inform their presented unique user experiences. Using bits of data from different areas of patients’ lives that are already being collected will enable the humanized experience through implementation rather than adding more steps to the process.

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Technology is meant to act as a enabler, and while healthcare as a whole is lagging behind, the industry is slowly implementing personalized strategies that improve engagement. The data silos that historically limited cross-platform data sharing are beginning to fall, and data from traditional EHR can help create a resilient user personality. Open-architecture platforms that can leverage this EHR data will truly unlock the next generation of digital experiences. The largest EHR provider in the US, Epic, recently took a major step towards a more interoperable healthcare ecosystem when it agreed to join the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA), an initiative promoted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to set up a nationwide data sharing network. Similar endorsement of the new laws by health tech actors will support the data sharing we need to build a truly patient-centric health ecosystem.

Build around consumer expectations

The aforementioned platforms like Amazon set the bar extremely high for consumer experience. Well, consumer expect the same level of personalized, high-quality experience in every digital interaction, across all industries.

A HealthMine Health Plan Intelligence Survey found that 90% of health plan members have access to a membership portal, but only 21% of them use the portal regularly. This lack of engagement is likely due to confusing navigation, general unhelpfulness, or poor incentives. But pioneers in the consumer tech world have devised a tried-and-true blueprint to engage consumers and meet—or exceed—their expectations.

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As Netflix evolved its model from a DVD mail order company to a direct-to-consumer streaming platform, it completely revolutionized the industry and was a masterful strategy for reaching its customers across multiple touchpoints – smartphones, smart TVs, and tablets. Health tech can take a page out of the Netflix playbook and deserve its place on the home screen of a customer’s smartphone. This requires consistent engagement between healthcare providers and their patients, and not on an episodic basis. After waiting for DVDs to arrive one by one in the mail, the move to streaming fundamentally changed the way users interacted with Netflix. If a consumer could access their health information, or even connect “on demand” with a provider, it would dramatically change the way they think about and interact with their care.

Through personalization, consideration of the consumer experience and an open architecture, developers in health technology can help the industry to fulfill the digital experiences that consumers expect. By bringing the “Netflix experience” to healthcare and modernizing our ecosystem, we can make the patient experience easier and more accessible. Humanizing touchpoints where patients would previously have had a face-to-face encounter will help normalize digital interactions. This accessibility, in turn, leads to increased engagement, which can contribute to more positive patient outcomes.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

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