Consumers’ digital experiences outside of healthcare are setting a high bar for what they increasingly expect to receive in healthcare. A set of six consumer beliefs is driving change in all industries, including healthcare. These beliefs are:

1. Buy first and research second; 2. It shouldn’t be this hard; 3. No surprises, please; 4. How well do you really know me? 5. I may not be as loyal as you think; and 6. Don’t you forget about me.

At Becker’s Patient Experience + Marketing Virtual Forum, in a session sponsored by Optum and moderated by Optum senior strategist Danny Fell, a panel of consumer and marketing experts discussed implications of these changing consumer beliefs for providers. The panelists were:

● Jason Brown, CEO of BPD Advertising
● Steve Corso, vice president of strategy and business development at Optum
● Leslie Schatz, vice president of product at Optum

Four key takeaways:

1. Consumers bring all of their shopping experiences and expectations to healthcare, increasingly behaving as consumers. “Amazon has changed consumer behavior to a great degree,” Mr. Brown said. In a reversal, consumers now purchase first and discover the brand and build loyalty later.

This consumer trend is appearing within healthcare. For brick-and-mortar providers, such as urgent care, location is the primary factor affecting purchase decisions. For digital services, such as telehealth, search engine optimization is increasingly important.

Similarly, patients increasingly expect their healthcare experience to match that of their retail interactions, which is a sea change in healthcare. Healthcare is “headed in a direction where the patient believes, ‘Make it easier for me or lose me,'” Mr. Corso said. Providers must focus on each stage of the patient journey and consider using modern communications and payment options. In this consumer-centric world, patients are increasingly willing to switch providers. Mr. Corso urged providers to “use your personal experience with the best retailers and challenge your practice to match that experience.”

2. Consumers will punish healthcare providers for unwelcome surprises. Making payment easy and modern also means no surprises, underscored by the No Surprises Act, which prohibits balance billing of surprise medical bills. Although its initial applicability is largely limited to emergency care, it “raises the bar around setting patients’ expectations around cost, and how providers and payers will handle disputes,” Ms. Schatz said. This new law presents providers with an opportunity to think broadly about no surprises and price transparency. Improvements in this area dovetail with elements of an effective digital communications strategy as patients seek guidance in understanding their choices. As in other contexts, understanding patient preferences around communications is vital.

3. Growing interest in personalized, patient-centered care presents an opportunity to better address social determinants of health. As providers use technology to offer more personalized care, social determinants of health and health equity can be addressed. Improved provider understanding of patients can lead to better treatment and patient compliance. “Health equity really does intersect with knowing our patients. I propose that it’s not possible to personalize care without understanding a person’s social determinants,” Mr. Corso said. Technological tools that enable a more personalized approach, such as virtual visits and remote patient monitoring, enable providers to address underlying issues affecting patients’ health.

4. Leading healthcare brands can counter eroding loyalty by building affinity through purpose. After COVID, people are reevaluating relationships, including brand preferences. But consumers are more likely to be loyal to a business whose purpose is aligned to their preferences. Many healthcare purposes resonate with consumers. Truly and authentically building purpose into a brand means prioritizing the purpose throughout the organization and using it as a guide for operational decisions.