How technology has driven patients to expect consumer experiences
I was supposed to go to the dentist for my teeth cleaning in April 2020. That obviously did not happen. And for a long time, taking the risk of being indoors with my mouth wide open and unmasked felt utterly irresponsible compared to dealing with a bit of extra plaque on my chompers.
Now that vaccinations are progressing, I figured it was about time to get my teeth cleaned. After the appropriate amount of procrastination (because who really likes making phone calls these days), I picked up the phone to call the dentist. Nobody answered, so I left a voicemail about scheduling an appointment.
To my great surprise, I heard back from the dentist’s office less than five minutes later. And it wasn’t just a return phone call. The conversation was moved to my preferred channel — text message! According to a study conducted by Twilio of 6,000 people in seven countries, 33% of US consumers would prefer to handle customer service over messaging rather than phone calls. Within a few texts, we were able to find available dates and times, make the booking, and discuss next steps. Voila, what a great, consumer friendly experience!
Emboldened by the ease and efficiency of scheduling my dental appointment, I decided that I should continue adulting and schedule my annual OB/GYN appointment. The story started the same with me picking up the phone, but that’s where the story diverged.
After several rings, my call was picked up, but I didn’t hear anyone say anything. A moment later, I realized that I had been hung up on.
I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I decided to try another route. I pulled up the doctor’s website, clicked on “Request an appointment”, and filled out the online request form. I submitted the request on March 5th. It’s almost two months later and I have yet to receive a response.
What struck me was how polar opposite these two experiences were. Can you imagine another business where consumers come to you with strong intent, but you fumble the conversion funnel and forget about them? I haven’t given scheduling my annual exam another try, but the point is that I shouldn’t have to. If you add enough friction into the rest of the experience, at some point, the draw of the provider isn’t going to be enough.
There are many reasons why healthcare has been slow to adopt a consumer mentality. However, as evidenced by the popularity of concierge health care services like One Medical, gone are the days when patients have no choice but to sit in the waiting room for an hour while the doctor is running late. Consumer expectations have risen with technology, and healthcare providers need to up their game to meet consumers where they are.
Christina Farr is an investor at OMERS Ventures who focuses on health tech. Farr shares three trends that she is seeing in how healthcare is stepping up to consumer demand.
The pandemic accelerated virtual care in ways that no one could have expected. It propelled the technology (video visits, messaging and more) five years into the future in the space of just a few months. Because patients were looking for alternatives to in-person visits, providers had no choice but to adapt to these new mediums. And for some of them, there’s no turning back.
Tech Enhanced Virtual Care
But it’s not as simple as that. Telemedicine makes more sense in some medical specialties over others. Obstetrics, for instance, requires a lot of in-person visits (typically 10–15 in the course of a typical pregnancy). Farr wrote about her firsthand experience in her Substack newsletter, Second Opinion. It doesn’t mean that there’s no opportunity to innovate. Obstetricians throughout the country are reducing the number of in-person visits by providing patients with wireless weight scales and Bluetooth-connected blood pressure cuffs — and tracking them remotely. Some are also offering video visits for patients that are considered low risk. Moreover, practices can also be more consumer friendly by making it easier to book appointments online or sharing medical results with patients via a HIPAA compliant app.
The Rise of Big Tech
Companies like Apple and Google are moving into the space — and that poses a threat to the incumbents. Because these tech giants are known for their commitment to customer experience, that’s prompting the traditional players to react by leaning into digital. Some are hiring innovation/digital groups internally and others are bringing in fresh thinking by buying up digital health start-ups.
How much healthcare delivery shifts to virtual? What innovation will come out of all that data? I’m excited to see what the next generation of health tech startups will imagine and bring to life. One thing is certain — healthcare in 2030 will look very different than it does today. And I, for one, am thrilled for the day when I can book all of my appointments online.
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