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How Providers Leverage Data to Keep Pace with Healthcare Consumerism

With just one in ten organizations excelling at healthcare consumerism, it is time for providers to unlock the business-critical insight buried within their data.

For the healthcare industry, the race to capture the consumer is on. Traditional treatment models, built around the needs of the provider rather than the end-user, are quickly becoming irrelevant.

COVID-19 has certainly revolutionized patient attitudes to remote healthcare, but expectations for convenience and accessibility were already changing. In response, new competitors are exploiting the widening gap between what healthcare consumers want and what existing providers deliver. To be fair, many long-established organizations are waking up to the need for fresh thinking. However, most are still falling well short of heightened aspirations.

According to recent data from Kaufmann Hall, just one in ten organizations excels at healthcare consumerism. To effect real change, these providers must find a way to address multiple issues quickly and efficiently. That means joining the dots between satisfying a new breed of consumer and securing the best possible return from their core assets: staff, facilities, and technology.

In these terms, the challenges are little different from those facing myriad industries where fierce competition and dynamic change are also a constant. In many of these, the businesses that are thriving have turned to data analytics to stay ahead of the field. For healthcare organizations, it is time to follow their lead.

Patient expectations redefined

The reasons behind the shift in attitude to providing healthcare are all too evident. In the wider consumer domain, the likes of Amazon and Uber have set new service baselines. And just as mobile and digital technologies have enabled these disruptors to rewrite the rules, a new wave of virtual and remote healthcare tools are powering service-led innovation.

Initially, COVID-19 obliged consumers to use these new treatment channels. Now they are continuing to do so as a matter of choice. An Accenture survey in May 2020 showed that based on their experiences during the pandemic, 60% of patients polled would like to make more use of virtual care technology. Digital-first entrants to the market, including the aforementioned Amazon, are already taking full advantage. As a result, access to healthcare is far less dependent on the ability to visit a hospital or clinic in person. For providers with business models built around physical proximity to their patients, the implications are profound.

Endless inconvenience

For providers facing this dramatic shift in the landscape, doing nothing is simply not an option. For most, the heart of the problem lies in their reliance on a reactive approach. Essentially, this involves waiting for patients to present with a problem. The typical response is to offer a treatment journey that demonstrates little concern for the user experience. As a result, appointments are based on the structure of the provider, not the convenience of the consumer. Ironically, this approach also means that providers tend to make poor use of their own resources. Inflexible scheduling arrangements and a lack of foresight as to when and where bottlenecks will appear or where staff and facilities are lying idle generate a host of problems. For healthcare consumers, that means delays, cancellations, and last-minute changes to appointments. For providers, the issues include not only poor levels of satisfaction but also overworked and/or underemployed staff.

The great untapped resource

To build a strategy fit for the new age of healthcare consumerism, established providers can still draw on powerful assets. The value of trusted relationships between clinical staff and their patients should not be underestimated.

Providing care face-to-face remains popular. According to a recent Harris Poll survey, 87% of respondents reported high satisfaction rates with telehealth during the pandemic while 82% still preferred an in-person doctor’s visit. Moreover, healthcare providers are generally sitting on a vast, untapped resource. That comes in the form of the data already being generated and stored in the course of day-to-day activities. To date, it has typically been overlooked or ignored. But given the compelling requirement to compete harder for customers, the healthcare industry needs to start turning this wasted asset into a competitive advantage. Up against laser-focused operators such as Amazon and Walmart, working on ‘gut feel’ no longer represents a viable policy.

Opportunities unlocked

So what does a data-driven approach to healthcare actually look like? In some respects, the first challenge for providers is the sheer range of opportunities that better data analysis will enable.

An obvious example is for providers to use data analytics tools to predict patient requirements rather than simply respond to them. By mining their understanding of the individual in question and the characteristic needs of people fitting their profile, providers can pivot to a truly personalized service philosophy.

Data analysis can help build more resilient supply chains and processes on the supply side. Resources can be balanced intelligently, ensuring that they accurately and efficiently match forthcoming requirements. With pressure from the pandemic still intense, providers can ensure that staff is not overstretched.

At the same time, the financial waste of underused treatment facilities is addressed. Better forward visibility also gives providers the chance to offer patients faster and more convenient appointment options.

Theory into practice

In theory, this will all be music to the ears of healthcare managers. But in practice, how easy is it for organizations with few core skills in this area to apply the benefits of data analysis? How difficult and disruptive is the shift to a data-driven strategy? Is the required investment in new software and data science expertise likely to prove prohibitive to already hard-pressed operations?

Democratizing data science

Fortunately, the development of data analytics solutions over recent years has addressed these issues head-on. For healthcare providers, a common concern is the diverse and disparate nature of the data available to them. But while it is true that clean data is the starting point for effective analysis, tools are now available that can readily convert a diverse array of files and formats into useable inputs.

Indeed, a user-friendly, intuitive approach now characterizes many leading data analytics tools. The key trend here is democratization. Low-code and no-code solutions are putting data analytics within the scope of generalists rather than expensive and scarce specialists. In other words, we have entered the age of the citizen data scientist.

Small is beautiful

Implementation and integration can also be frictionless. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) model eliminates the need for major upfront investment. Furthermore, the leading solutions are designed to interface easily with existing IT; there is no need to rip out and replace legacy infrastructures. And the recommended approach for new adopters is to start small and scale up.

Rather than try to boil the ocean, the emphasis should be on targeting high-value use cases. Incremental gains that prove the case for data analysis will empower those advocating change and help tackle any organizational inertia or resistance.

Change starts here

With a few notable exceptions, the healthcare sector has been slow to appreciate the benefits of a data-driven approach. In part, this can be explained by business models that have been predicated on a captive customer base that has little choice beyond their local provider. But that model is crumbling fast.

To survive and thrive in a radically different environment, established organizations must leverage every tool at their disposal. Top of that list should be the huge pool of data already within their reach. Individual organizations will need to identify precisely how and where they can best employ the insight contained within it. However, in simply recognizing the need to do so, they will already have taken a crucial step towards meeting the needs of the new healthcare consumer.    


For more information on unlocking your data’s potential with analytics and AI, please contact Paige Jankowski, VP, Data Analytics & Healthcare at Altair.

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