by Mike Pietig
Despite the proliferation of new digital models of care delivery, healthcare is, at its core, extremely personal. While telehealth, mobile apps, and other forms of digital front doors are increasingly important to offer for your patients’ convenience and ease, it’s equally as important to make sure you don’t lose the human element.
Human connection matters more in healthcare than in any other industry. There is nothing more important than our own health and the health of our loved ones. For that reason, engagements within the healthcare industry should be built on empathy and understanding. When patients come to your organization, they may be scared, nervous, or anxious. It’s crucial to ensure that every single interaction centers around the optimal healthcare experience (HX) and provides peace of mind.
Our recent Omnichannel Healthcare Experience Report confirmed why the human element of HX is so important, and to whom it matters most. We learned that Baby Boomers were deeply invested in having in-person interactions with their care providers, while younger generations were more open to new and emerging channels.
However, one thing was true across all demographics and in almost every interaction, the consumer preference was for a human being – either in office or on the phone. We found that 62% of respondents preferred calling, and 50% preferred on-location communication.
What We Discovered
Even at the height of the pandemic, when telehealth usage was experiencing exponential growth, it was still second to in-office care. Meeting with a provider in person was consistently listed as the top preference for all forms of care, from primary to specialty, physical therapy to behavioral health.
Of the patients we surveyed, Baby Boomers were the most attached to seeing their provider in person, with 77% of respondents in that age category saying they’d met with their doctor in-office in the past 18 months.
Gen X respondents also showed a significant preference for in-person care, although they were more open to telehealth and urgent care settings than Baby Boomers. When it came to gender demographics, we found that women were more likely to prefer face-to-face care, while men were more open to retail clinics and telehealth.
I think meeting a person is vitally important for the PCP to be able to perform a full, accurate assessment. With just telehealth, small signs like tremors, jaundice, and fingernail health could be missed.Female Respondent, Age 45-49
However the patient-provider relationship isn’t just about receiving care. It’s also about clear, two-way communication. Appointment reminders, prescription refills, billing questions, and other kinds of communication all call for different channels. For this reason, building an omnichannel healthcare experience that offers a diverse combination of digital and human communication channels is critically important.
We found that respondents were most interested in digital channels like email or mobile apps for straightforward logistical engagements, such as bill pay or appointment scheduling. But when it came to more nuanced or complex issues, like asking questions about their care or treatment plans, there was a clear preference for human interaction.
No matter which channel a patient chooses to engage with, a human touch is essential for exceptional healthcare experiences. So, when it comes to digital offerings like apps or chatbots, providers should consider amplifying the human experience through user interaction, user experience, and customer experience strategies.
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How to Amplify the Human Element
So how can you meet your patients where they are and deliver exceptional customer experiences? The key is to prioritize empathy in everything you do.
It’s important to make sure your digital channels aren’t coming across as cold or robotic.
Consider whether there might be a different tone you could create for your chatbot or interactive voice response (IVR) system. Is there an alternative way you could phrase the options or adjust the language to make it more empathetic? The best chatbots have the personality of a brand and human-like service. Many companies have given their bots and automated assistants a name (Siri, Alexa, etc.) to make the interaction feel more normal and personal.
Try to find ways to embed the feeling of care into these automatic digital communication tools. Demonstrate to the patient that your first concern is their health and well-being but don’t pretend to be a human. Make it clear they are engaging with an automated assistant.
Understanding your audience is critical to providing personalized digital and in-person interactions. Everyone in your organization needs to have a 360-degree view of the patient or member, regardless of whether your customer is communicating with a chatbot, a member of the care team, or a phone agent.
How do you make this happen? By integrating your systems to avoid data siloes wherever possible. Make sure your customer data is consolidated in a central location, and accessible by all the people or systems that might interact with your consumers. Patients expect us to use every piece of data available to provide the best care.
This will ensure that every interaction your customers have with your organization makes them feel valued and understood. Additionally, strong data visibility will eliminate the frustration of patients having to repeat themselves every time they engage with someone new.
Healthcare organizations are unique. We seek healthcare primarily because we don’t feel well, which means the bar for an exceptional healthcare experience is higher than it is in other industries.
Healthcare is behind other industries when it comes to delivering great customer experiences, but it also means the payoff for succeeding is that much higher. If you can find ways to provide comforting, empathetic interactions, you’ll set yourself apart from the rest of the healthcare industry.
Avtex can help you infuse your entire omnichannel engagement strategy with the kind of comfort and empathy that patients expect. Our experts will assess your customer journey, identify any gaps in delivering humanized experiences, and strategize improvements, no matter where you are along your healthcare experience maturity journey.