Health care users have always spent time and effort—arguably more than in other sectors—in planning visits and treatments and in exploring all the available options in an attempt to identify the right one. From this perspective, digital transformation, and more recently the spread of advanced technologies like cloud computing and artificial intelligence, have provided additional touch points through which users can refine and express their choices. These technologies have enabled companies to enrich the path through which consumers make their care decisions. In other words: they have transformed the patient experience, allowing it to take on a hybrid dimension where digital channels gradually gain greater significance.
Therefore, the patient experience—which encompasses all interactions between patients and organizations—is increasingly a digital experience.
To stand out among the many players in this crowded and competitive market, healthcare professionals must adapt their funnels and communication system to a context where patients now expect services that are in line with those they receive in other highly digitized sectors. If they do not activate digital transformation initiatives now, organizations—public institutions and private companies engaged in the care experience—risk missing an important opportunity to increase their authority and produce loyalty.
What is the patient experience?
The patient experience can be defined as the sum total of all of a patient’s interactions with the health care system (which includes skilled practitioners, facilities, and services) throughout his or her care, from the moment care is requested, to the conclusion of treatment, and beyond. The patient experience is a complex concept and a composite reality. To ensure that it’s effective, certain aspects must be integrated in its design.
- Results. This is obviously the first factor to consider: patients judge their experience by the results of their treatment. Positive clinical outcomes and improved health are the most important aspects of a satisfactory patient experience.
- Communication. Effective communication between health care providers and patients, for example, covering treatment options and preventive care; encouraging active listening through the use of understandable and relevant information and the creation of engaging content—is essential for improving patient decision making. Patients who have been appropriately informed are able to gain knowledge and awareness and, as a result, are more likely to make informed decisions and actively participate in their health care. Collecting their feedback, through directly administered surveys (e.g., online) and digital communication channels, can help health care providers design tailored actions.
- Accessibility. Easy appointment scheduling, minimal wait times, and availability of telemedicine options: patients value timely access to health care services.
- Empathy. It seems trivial to remember, but patients expect to be treated with respect and empathy by their health care providers and staff. A patient-centered approach that takes the uniqueness of the patient’s situation into account and tailors both messages and treatments to the patient’s specific needs demonstrates genuine concern; this can have a major impact on how patients perceive their own care. It means first and foremost recognizing that patients are individuals with distinct backgrounds, values, and goals.
- Coordination of care. Effective coordination among health care providers and between different levels of care (primary care, specialists, hospitals, etc.) enables a smooth transition between different phases of care, helps prevent critical issues in treatment delivery, and improves the patient experience.
- Empowerment. Empowering patients to take an active role in their health care decisions can improve their experience. From this point of view, using digital tools with interactive features—for example, responsive micro-sites or personalized videos—allow users to participate in a real conversation: the relationship with the health care organization becomes a dialog. By using the data collected on the different touch points, the provider is able to personalize content against the profile of each of its users.
If, as we have seen, the patient experience encompasses all aspects of the patient’s interaction with the health care system, communication is the real key element of the patient’s journey. In turn, this is essential for increasing opportunities for patient contact and for implementing seamless health care consumption pathways. Therefore, organizations seek to enhance it across all touch points, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by technology. In this sense, a modern and efficient communication system in Healthcare is primarily digital.
Why is today’s patient experience more digital than ever before?
When we talk about the digital patient experience, we’re referring to the result of a progressive process of digitizing interactions between patients and the health care organization at every moment of the care pathway. Let’s elaborate on this transition.
Just as with communication, which needs digital tools, the customer experience, in order to live up to the expectations of modern consumers, must also be digital first. By integrating digital technology into the patient journey, healthcare organizations are personalizing healthcare interactions through innovative solutions and ultimately improving the patient experience.
Consumers’ preference for digital applications, which are increasingly used to access health care, is growing steadily year after year, also in the Health care sector.
- About 60% of consumers conduct online research when they want to find a new provider. A similar percentage visit the websites of several professionals before selecting one. And 40% of consumers prefer to book appointments online, an increase of 15 percentage points over the past five years. (Patient Access Journey Report, 2021, Kyruus)
- An analysis on Digital Health (e-health) in the Digital 2023 Global Overview Report published by Meltwater, found that globally, nearly 2 billion consumers used e-health devices and services as of January 2023, with a total value of nearly $7 billion in revenue, an increase of nearly 12% over 2022. We are talking about $33 per individual user.
In light of this data, we can easily predict that organizations in the industry who are not yet prepared to offer an online experience have now fallen behind—perhaps significantly so—in attracting and retaining patients.
Providing a quality digital experience for patients is crucial today. To attract users and create a relationship with them based on trust, make the healthcare marketing strategy effective, and optimize offerings from a business perspective, health care providers must strive to deeply understand consumers’ online behaviors. It is the ability to adapt to the changing needs expressed by users that is the key to producing a significant impact on patients’ perceptions of a care experience (that now embraces multiple touch points).
How to improve the patient experience through digital technologies?
The way health care providers collaborate with each other and communicate with patients is continually being redefined by the integration and increasingly intensive and specialized use of digital tools. From patient-provider interactions to data sharing, digitization is reshaping health care communication in ways that promise to incrementally improve the digital patient journey. Where can we start to manage this change? We know that we need to move beyond traditional communications.
Here are some suggestions for adapting the patient experience to a modern reality.
From websites to patient portals: building a strong online presence
The first step a health-related service provider must take to improve the patient experience is to enhance its online presence. Increasingly, patients begin their health journey with online research and interactions:
- three out of four people in the United States use the Internet as a starting point for seeking health information;
- in Europe, one in every two people search for health information online (Eurostat, 2022).
Health care providers and organizations should focus on optimizing their online presence if they are to intercept this (constantly expanding) segment of users and meet their needs. To do this, they will need websites that are easy to navigate, informative, and engaging:
- offering easily accessible resources and useful, immediate-use features, such as appointment scheduling
- allowing consultation and downloading of training and in-depth materials
- with instant messaging features and sections devoted to transactions
Active engagement on social media platforms can also provide valuable information and foster two-way communication.
Telemedicine applications and other virtual health services will need to be seamlessly integrated into key virtual touch points (sites and portals) to provide convenient and accessible care options. By investing in a robust online presence, health care providers can ensure a comprehensive and optimized patient experience from the very first digital interaction, ultimately leading to greater satisfaction and better overall health outcomes.
The importance of fluid interactions: investing in digital engagement
The quality of digital interactions has a very real impact on both the patient experience and the organization’s reputation and bottom line. Consider this data:
- 81% of patients prefer to use digital tools and 67% would like to book online (McKinsey, 2021).
- 68% of patients are more likely to choose a provider that offers the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments directly online (Accenture, 2019).
- 75% of patients expect to receive reminders (such as reminding them of an appointment) directly on their mobile devices.
- 61% of users believe that using an ad hoc portal dedicated to patients improves the relationship with health care providers (Miller, 2016).
- 92% of patients feel more connected with their health care provider and say they learned to take better care of themselves, thanks to the digital “education” they received.
- 68% of consumers prefer to pay for the medical services they receive by electronic methods (Ruttle, 2023).
That’s why providing a smoother digital experience for patients can increase acquisition and retention rates. Patients now expect superior health care experiences, from the beginning to the end of their “journey.” Therefore, a Health care organization cannot limit itself to digitizing just a few moments of the care journey. Instead, they must take a holistic view and invest in all interactions to improve the overall patient experience.
In this total view of the care pathway, mobile apps—which serve to monitor vital signs, keep track of medications, and access educational resources—have given patients unprecedented control over their health. The theme is inherently communicative: apps enable a direct relationship with health care providers.
The engagement that results from integrating digital tools into the healthcare funnel increases exponentially: patients can now schedule visits and book treatments, receive medication reminders, access personalized information, and even send photos of symptoms to their caregivers for remote assessment. A high level of engagement enables them to take a more active role in the care process, often leading to better health outcomes.
Valuing data: choosing the digital infrastructure of the cloud
The continuous flow of incoming data from various touch points (such as websites and social media, wearables, and electronic health records) when properly leveraged, allows for timely interventions and personalized care plans, reduced hospital readmissions, and improved quality of services. Cloud technology is a strategic component of the patient experience precisely because it facilitates the efficient collection of this data and enables advanced analytics that can be used to personalize the care pathway. By offering real-time access to data, the cloud eliminates friction in communication between healthcare teams and streamlines the coordination of their daily activities. It also gives a significant boost in engagement by supporting the creation of secure portals and advanced telemedicine solutions. It is a digital infrastructure that contributes to the development of informed and informed decision making, the organization of proactive health care, and the delivery of convenient and accessible services. By improving the collection, analysis, and communication of data within the health care ecosystem, the cloud has an extremely positive impact on the patient experience as a whole.
In conclusion, in order to improve the patient experience, Health care organizations will have to make an effort in envisioning a new, increasingly connected and integrated communication, one that is especially digital and where the continuing advances in technology are directed toward creating a truly patient-centered health care system.