The consumerization of healthcare is upon us. What, however, does consumerization, really mean for your practice? While many doctors have expressed some trepidation—even fear—at this shift, it can offer new ways to connect with your patients. The fact that consumers are taking more control over their own healthcare and researching their providers before seeing them may create new opportunities for savvy organizations that are open to them.
Consumerization – Growth and Implications
The US healthcare industry is becoming increasingly consumer-focused. The rise of Health Savings Account (“HSA”) eligible plans in recent years continues to accelerate this trend. According to research firm Devenir, HSA participation has grown from 4.9 million accounts in 2005 to over 25 Million in 2018. Over that same period, HSA assets have mushroomed to $53.8 billion. HSAs have helped transform patients from passive participants in the management of their healthcare, to direct purchasers of medical services.
Consumerization is the term used to represent the cultural and behavioral shift of individuals from “patients” to “healthcare consumers.” It influences everything from how patients select care, to how they communicate with healthcare organizations, as well as the experience they expect when engaging administrative staff and doctors.
As “patients turned consumers” shop for services, online presence, reviews, and responsiveness are becoming increasingly important to practice growth. Today, more than ever, patients are less likely to see a specific specialist, simply because their PCP referred them.
What’s changed the most in the mobile era is patients’ expectation for frequent and open communications. Patients no longer wait dutifully by the phone for the provider to call them a the doctor’s convenience. Patients expect to engage with their healthcare providers through phone, email, text, and chat, often at times outside regular office hours.
Paradoxically, providers have less time than ever to respond to patients. Providers are working more hours to compensate for shrinking reimbursements and have a progressively growing set of reporting and regulatory demands. Throw in the extra burden associated with EHR use, and you have providers that are nearing burnout (“Death by 1,000 Clicks: Where EHRs Went Wrong”, Fortune 2018). Often these responsibilities must be attended to before they have a moment to reply to a single message from a patient.
Impact on Orthopedics
Orthopedic practices are one of the medical specialties experiencing the impacts of consumerization. Patients consider many procedures elective or postpone-able, especially if their out-of-pocket cost is expected to be high. Joint pain and sports injuries, both on the rise with an aging population, all too often remain undertreated.
In recent years a number of internet agencies specializing in Orthopedic marketing have sprung up to help fill the needs of this changing market. These agencies are effective in delivering traffic to practices, but commonly fail when it comes to motivating patients to show up for that all-important initial visit. In the on-demand, real-time world we live in today, consumers expect to both find information about and engage with their provider before committing time to a making the trip to the clinic.
Dentistry – Ahead of the Curve
Dentists and orthodontists are another group of medical professionals to experience the early effects of healthcare consumerization. Out-of-pocket and uncovered expenses have been common in dental care for so long that patients are accustomed to shopping around. Like orthopedic procedures, patients often believe dental procedures are elective or postpone-able.
Dental practices adjusted to this new reality by taking a more ‘marketing-centric’ view of their business. Responsive websites designed to work from mobile devices combined with internet advertising, text reminders, and a focus on collecting patient reviews have served them and long been the norm.
What’s new is the addition of “chat” features to their websites. Chat enables patients to get immediate answers to questions without calling and often at times when office staff are busy, or the office is closed. Today, chat powered with artificial intelligence (AI), known as “chatbots” can respond to a large variety of questions without burdening the practice staff. Sophisticated chatbots transfer the conversation to a human agent when appropriate, making it almost impossible for the patient to distinguish whether they are talking to a computer or a person.
When configured well, chat tools have numerous benefits over traditional phone or dial in communications. First and foremost, it is discrete. Patients can communicate at work from their computer, without worrying that someone will overhear them and without appearing distracted. Second, they don’t have to wait on hold for a particular person or provider. Third, patients can connect with and chat with your practice at any time of the day, or night when they are not busy.
Chatbots – Chat Powered by Artificial Intelligence
As good an idea as chat is, employing a human operator to respond to chat messages isn’t economically feasible for most organizations, even during working hours. Chatbots, which use artificial intelligence to carry on a conversation with patients, can fill the gap and deliver a satisfying experience to your patients. One of the leaders in chatbot technology for dental clinics is AGENTZ.
Their Digital Receptionist product currently focuses on engaging and educating potential patients while they are visiting the practice website. They’ve proven an AI-powered chatbot can turn visitors into patient appointments. What’s unique about AGENTZ technology is how simple they’ve made setting up and deploying a chatbot for a healthcare organization. Customers don’t need to bring on a marketing consultant or hire an engineering team to add a powerful chatbot into their website. With deployments typically under a month, AGENTZ has taken a lot of the risk out of trying chatbots.
Chatbots for Orthopedics?
If you’re curious about what a chatbot looks like, check out our demonstration practice website by clicking:
The AGENTZ bot will open up on the bottom right corner of the site. Try it out and let us know what you think! Could a chatbot save you time? One less phone call from a patient asking for directions to the clinic. Could a chatbot help one more patient come in for their initial visit?