It’s hard to argue against the fact that the US healthcare system has a capacity issue. In other words, we have too many patients and too few providers—at least it usually seems that way when patients attempt to book appointments. It’s a supply and demand issue that is unlikely to be fixed anytime soon, considering the physician shortage a decade from now is projected to be up to 100,000 providers. “Patient occupancy rates” are high and this scenario mirrors something similar that occurs in other industries as well.
Take, for example, the hotel and travel industry. Where did you book your last flight? Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels, another site? For many consumers, these “marketplace” websites seem like the most logical places to search across all hotels, airlines etc. However, what’s happening is that, as occupancy rates rise in these industries, going to a marketplace is not necessarily in the best interest of the hotel, airlines, or even the consumers (patients) seeking services at a given facility (health systems). There is naturally a significant fee that hotels and airlines pay to promote their inventory through these marketplaces, but what some consumers don’t know is that, because of these costs, they are missing out on opportunities to save money and receive incentives by booking directly through the company's website or call center. The goal for these service providers is to establish customer loyalty, and it’s not all that different in healthcare.
When a patient conducts a Google search for a medical condition or symptom, such as “a cardiologist near me,” hospitals and health systems employ a number of strategies to raise the likelihood that their providers will appear at the top of list. Whether through online advertising, provider listings on third party sites (similar to what occurs in the travel industry), or organic search optimization techniques, the ideal scenario is that patients go directly to the health system’s own website to learn more about providers who might meet their needs. Why? Because when a patient goes to a third party site, they are exposed to other options, such as providers outside of that organization’s network or services offered by competing organizations. Their providers may also not be accurately or well-represented on those third party sites.
While providing patients with endless options to choose from sounds okay in theory, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a cohesive or optimal patient experience across a multitude of non-affiliated providers, nor does it let them gain the benefits of building a relationship with a single organization that can coordinate their care long-term. What’s more, for health systems, when their own existing patients end up booking through these marketplace sites, they still have to pay the third party site!
Now, if all EHR systems spoke to each other, the referral process were seamless between unaffiliated providers, care management efforts were easy across disparate networks, all providers accepted the same insurance plans, we had a national patient identifier, etc. perhaps how patients found providers and booked appointments would be less of an issue. However, that is simply not the case today. Health systems, just like hotels and airlines, are wanting to build ongoing relationships with patients, cater to their various needs, and retain them long-term, but third party sites can hinder their ability to do so. While health systems may not have the chocolate chip cookie or water waiting for patients in their rooms like a hotel (though perhaps they should), the benefits from providing patients with consistent experiences and coordinating care seamlessly across providers cannot be underestimated.
In a recent article in the New York Times, “With Occupancy High, Hotels Seek to Avoid Online Booking Services,” one consumer explains why she prefers to book her stays directly with the hotel versus the third party sites: "....she also likes to call the hotel to speak with someone at the front desk...I like to have more of a personal experience at the hotel,” she says. “I like to support the actual business.” For many people, it’s not much different in healthcare. Whether it’s a phone call to the patient access center or a visit to the health system’s website, some patients prefer that “personal touch” directly from the organization that is going to be providing them with care. Fortunately for such patients, many of today’s health systems are putting a new level of focus on patient experience beyond clinical factors, with relatively new job titles emerging, such as Vice President of Patient Experience or Chief Experience Officer.
Much like hotel executives, health system leaders are looking to build brand awareness and loyalty. Executed correctly, this creates a win-win for patients and the health systems that care for them. While many of us undoubtedly still love the convenience of booking hotels, restaurants, flights and more through third party sites (plus the savings!), finding the right healthcare services cannot be reduced to such simple dimensions, nor is healthcare a “one-and-done” experience like taking a flight or staying at hotel. Healthcare is about finding the right provider matches for our unique needs, building relationships with providers (some of whom care for us over the course of many years), and being part of networks that can coordinate our various care needs effectively—now and in the future. Hotels and airlines had to invest considerably in the guest experience to build loyalty and rely less on third party sites for bookings. The question is: will more health systems follow suit?
Hear how leading health systems are approaching these challenges, as well as innovating more broadly to attract and retain patients, at the Annual Thought Leadership on Access Symposium: Reinventing the Patient Experience Through Better Access in Boston November 14-15th. Learn more here.
Travis Moore, MBA, RN is Senior Vice President of Market Solutions at Kyruus, where he is responsible for Marketing and Sales Operations. Prior to joining Kyruus, Travis was with Influence Health for 12 years, where held a variety of senior roles across sales, product management, marketing, and strategy. He started his career as a Pediatric Nurse on the Neurotrauma and Orthopedic unit at Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado.