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The Ultimate Patient Experience: Retail-Like, Omnichannel Engagement

The ultimate patient experience from the consumer’s view is evolving as out-of-pocket costs grow; providers will need to look beyond their current patient satisfaction strategies to deliver.

The significance of both patient experience and patient satisfaction has grown substantially in the last decade, as consumer out-of-pocket costs have skyrocketed under high-deductible health plans and other cost-sharing arrangements. And their significance will continue to grow as healthcare consumers come to terms with their newfound patient financial responsibility.

Patients are no longer surprised when they owe something for a routine visit to the physician’s office or an elective hospital procedure (although just how much can come as a shock for some). Consequently, patients are becoming more engaged with the financial side of the healthcare experience, requesting price estimates, logging into a portal to pay a medical bill, or calling their provider to learn about payment plans.

But now that patients have come to expect out-of-pocket costs, their payment preferences are evolving. Healthcare organizations need to be looking forward—beyond the needs of today—to align their patient satisfaction strategies with the ultimate patient experience: a retail-like encounter with omnichannel patient engagement.

What a retail-like patient experience looks like

“The future of patient experience will mimic what’s happening in retail—with savvy online consumers,” says Joe McMurray, Senior Vice President of Patient Experience at Zotec Partners. “It is moving more and more to mobile, text, email, and everything at your fingertips.”

The shift to a retail-like patient experience is already happening in healthcare. Data shows that younger patients are replacing traditional care providers for retail clinics and virtual care options, as the traditional patient experience leaves them dissatisfied. Meanwhile, patients across all age groups have become more comfortable and satisfied with alternative care delivery models, like telehealth, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retail clinics and virtual care visits offer patients the convenience they want, while also delivering a more seamless, automated experience they can access using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

These lessons can be applied to more traditional healthcare organizations, like physician practices and hospitals. Patient experience should be quick, simple, and intuitive, and bills from visits should be easy to understand and pay, McMurray explains.

Becoming commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing contactless forms of payment is a prime example of how healthcare organizations can deliver a more retail-like patient experience. Providers can offer options like Apple Pay, Venmo, PayPal, and even e-check to make patient payment simpler and more convenient.

Another example is using email to reach out to patients about their medical bills. The email should contain a secure link to a personalized digital medical bill, as well as empathetic verbiage letting the patient know their options for paying the bill whether it be payment in full or setting up a payment plan, and that the provider is available to assist with any questions they might have. Assistance can come in the form of chat representatives who can walk patients through the payment process right there or customer service staff who can assist via a phone call.

“Medical bills can be complex and therefore complicated,” McMurray states. “When patients are sick, scared, or even confused as to how they are going to pay, they need to know that someone is there to help them.”

Omnichannel engagement is the future of patient experience

Establishing communication channels is key to improving patient satisfaction. Patients should be able to easily contact their doctor’s office to get assistance with navigating the patient experience, whether it be clinical or financial care. But healthcare organizations can elevate their communication pathways through omnichannel patient engagement.

Through omnichannel patient engagement, organizations provide multiple pathways for patients to connect with their providers. The key to this approach is that the pathways are connected and coordinated for a seamless experience. The strategy takes from the retail industry where companies enable consumers to shop for products across platforms without interruption.

“Communications can become omnichannel based on outreach method—emails, text messages, paper statements, or recorded phone calls. For inbound questions, patients should be able to reach providers and their billing partners through an omnichannel experience that lets the patient decide what the most convenient way to interact for them is; they can call, email, text, chat and so on,” McMurray elaborates. 

Omnichannel patient engagement offers a customizable experience. Patients who prefer to call in can get a representative on the phone, while patients who want a digital experience can log into a portal or platform to access their bills and options for paying them. Meanwhile, patients who find they need more assistance after using one of these pathways can seamlessly transition to another.

Most healthcare organizations are not quite there with providing omnichannel engagement, but they should consider this approach now before it is too late.

“It ties into the retail experience: you have a choice with where you go and what you do,” McMurray says. “By not having that omnichannel approach, you run the risk of people feeling alienated or people not understanding what’s going on. Again, patients may be sick, scared, and confused. If there isn’t an excellent patient experience available, they may think twice about going back and using your service again.”

Organizations need to find the right combination of people, process, and technology to deliver a retail-like experience with omnichannel patient engagement and revenue cycle solutions because ultimately, the best patient experience involves no bill at all, McMurray stresses. 

“There will be patients who don’t receive a bill because their insurance covered their service and that’s great! For the patients that do get a bill, you want it to be easy to understand with a clear call to action so they can pay in full or setup a payment plan and be done. Make them walk away thinking that was the easiest bill they have ever paid.”

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