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Healthcare Disruption + Competition Part 2: How to Win the New Wild West

Howdy pardners. A few weeks ago, I introduced you to the new Wild West: digital health. In this new Wild West, boardroom M&A discussions take the place of pistols at high noon, pioneers are creating rather than traversing the landscape, and a gold-rush mentality is luring companies from fresh startups to large tech giants to the frontier.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills!

Like the California gold rush of the 19th century, the 21st-century digital health rush is awash in prospectors looking to make their fortunes. Healthcare is a $3 trillion (and growing) industry, so it’s no wonder the likes of Amazon, Google (Alphabet, technically), Apple, and wagon loads of other companies are looking to stake a claim on the digital health frontier. With every expectation of striking gold.

This gold rush mentality in healthcare is changing the competitive landscape. Traditionally, healthcare organizations haven’t had to think much about competition. But, today they’re facing an onslaught of non-traditional competition in the form of retail pharmacies, tech giants, and new entrants – including telemedicine service providers, health and wellness apps, and other patient-facing health startups.

A covered wagon train forms a protective circle to camp along the Oregon Trail in eastern Oregon

How the West Will Be Won – By Health Systems

Health systems are in pole position (not to mix metaphors) to come out on top in the digital health Wild West. But, that necessitates embracing both the new environment and adapting to it. Success on the 19th-century frontier was governed by equal parts hard work and luck, but in healthcare’s digital Wild West, there are clear paths to success.

Understanding the Digital Frontier

Patient expectations aren’t shaped by their previous experiences with your health system – they’re shaped by all the other brand interactions they have in their lives.

I know I harp on the Amazon effect a lot, but it’s truly relevant to healthcare. Amazon has done an amazing job of streamlining their customer experience. A huge part of their success is tied directly to how easy they’ve made shopping for, well, everything.

Your patients use Amazon. And Lyft. And talk with their friends and colleagues via instant message. These interactions directly influence how they expect to interact with your health system. That means, you need to embrace digital interactions – and yes, the plural is intentional. Across your organization, look for ways to streamline patient experience by making things accessible online. Which brings me to….

Making Care Patient-Centric

Are you sick of hearing about consumerism in healthcare? That’s too bad, because it’s not going away. Instead of taking care of cattle or horses, homesteaders on healthcare’s digital frontier need to focus on their patients. That means more than just looking at star ratings. Health systems need to understand every step of the patient journey – even the portions that don’t involve direct interaction with a provider. Then, they need to find the rough patches and fix them.

For example, say scheduling is a patient pain point. You launch an online scheduling tool to help address that pain. Great, you’ve embraced the digital frontier, but it doesn’t address wait times. Or the difficulties that people who can’t or won’t use an online tool have. Or patients’ need to coordinate child care, work or even a ride to and from the clinic.

Closer to home (for us), let’s talk virtual care. Having online access is great, but is your platform flexible to meet the needs of a wide variety of patients? Does it integrate with your EMR and other systems to support continuity of care? Are you thinking of how digital interactions across specialties and patient needs blend into a unified experience?

Your digital patient interactions need to be part of a seamless experience, and you need to provide both the flexibility and ease of use that patients expect. Online experiences and in-person experiences need to feel connected. Patients need to see the quality, empathy, and yes, convenience with every interaction.

Spread the Word

Finally, we get to marketing. Not to beat a dead horse, but spreading the word about your digital services is critical to your success. Patients increasingly expect digital interactions, and are inclined to choose providers and care organizations that can meet that need – BUT they can’t make an informed decision unless you let them know what you can do for them.

A while ago, our former Digital Marketing Specialist shared a post about how digital healthcare needs digital marketing. The tried and true healthcare tactics (billboards, bus stops, and banners) are useful for awareness, but they won’t drive action. Let your marketing teams run free and find creative ways to share your new patient-centric, digital focus.

Welcome to the Frontier

We’re at an inflection point in healthcare. Things are changing: new competition is entering the marketplace, patients have shifting expectations, and technologies are altering the way care has always been delivered. But the ambiguity that comes with these changes means opportunity for health systems to take the reins and chart a path through this new Wild West that will lead to success.