How Should Healthcare Organizations Use Generative AI?

Generative AI header image

Nearly every day, we have at least one conversation with a healthcare organization about generative AI. Some are already using generative AI tools in some fashion. But to be honest, most of them are grappling with it. 

Generative AI–meaning a tool that generates language or an image when you feed it prompts—has been around for a while. But major strides in recent years with large language models (LLMs) have made AI faster, more accessible, and more reliable (though not without issues).

So, what should your hospital or health system be thinking about with generative AI? Let’s start with what we know most are thinking about right now.

What Do Companies Think They Should Do With Generative AI?

Gartner recently polled 2,500 executives, asking them what their primary focus was for generative AI initiatives. Not surprisingly, improving customer experience was at the top of the list. LLMs have made AI-fed chat features an increasingly popular tool for engaging customers. 

Also at the top was revenue growth, no doubt because lots of businesses are now commercializing generative AI. The other big answer was around cost optimization. In other words, using the technology to increase output while spending less money. 

Does this mean hiring less people? Are we right to fear that we’ll all be replaced by machines? It’s a popular trope and a good movie plot, but the reality is that generative AI works best with human interaction and oversight, not instead of it. 

The smartest organizations are the ones who don’t just see increased productivity as the ultimate end game for AI; rather, they see its potential for unlocking innovation from their teams. Instead of asking, How can this technology help me reduce my investment in human capital?  . . . They ask, How can this technology empower my people to add value to what they’re doing?

For that, we have 3 suggestions. 

1. Normalize Using AI Tools in Your Organization

Generative AI tools have exploded in the last year. ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI, went live in November 2022. It gives a response to a text-based prompt, like “write a paragraph about avocados,” or “organize these notes” for text you paste. ChatGPT is many people’s first introduction to how powerful generative AI can be for the work they’re doing.

However, there are concerns with both ChatGPT and DALL•E (an AI model designed to generate images from textual descriptions). First, these tools can be inaccurate and biased. And second, schools and universities are having issues related to academic integrity, and industries like publishing are having issues related to copyright. In fact, a group of authors is currently using OpenAI for copyright infringement, claiming their books have been used to train ChatGPT.

These are serious issues. But there are many ways for employees to use these tools for good. So many are already using them, but hiding it. If you lead a team, one of the best things you can do is empower people to explore generative AI. Explain both the benefits and the problems, and foster a culture where you can learn together what works and what doesn’t.

Other tools that may be helpful to organizations include: 

Most of these tools have options that range from free to enterprise-wide offerings.

2. Explore Healthcare-Specific Uses of Generative AI

The big digital players–Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—are building healthcare-specific LLMs. Google has an LLM called Med-PaLM, which aims to help providers make more accurate diagnoses. A provider can input patient data and get back probable diagnoses based on a patient’s medical history.

Amazon (HealthScribe) and Microsoft (DAX Express) are tackling different areas with their products, using LLMs to help providers transcribe, extract medical terms and medications, and create summaries from interactions with patients.

If your hospital or health system isn’t exploring these technologies, you absolutely should be. These tools are a perfect example of how generative AI is best when combined with human interaction and discernment.

EPIC has already been using generative AI technology, and has expanded its partnership with Microsoft. If you’re an EPIC organization, there’s now a suite of AI tools that can help with note summarization, documentation, and coding. Ultimately, these tools can help improve patient outcomes.

3. Consider Investing in Proprietary Generative AI

Bain recently surveyed 100 health systems and asked what use cases of generative AI they were most interested in. The top answers concerned billing/collections and analyzing patient data.

To truly do these things, you need an LLM to be fed with your own data. Imagine if you could input your private, custom billing data and ask the model which account is most likely to default in 30 days? Or feed it clinical summaries and ask it to create the medical billing codes for the procedures? Or input unique symptoms from a patient and ask about all the times in the last 5 years you had patients with those unique symptoms, and what the diagnosis was?

OpenAI is offering commercial versions that allow organizations to bring their own data and use it to feed the model, creating their own proprietary application. Healthcare organizations who really want to get out in front should consider creating a proprietary instance of generative AI to serve their organization’s specific objectives. 

So What’s Next?

When it comes to digital technology, hospitals and health systems have traditionally been late adopters. After all, it feels safer to wait, to have others mitigate the risks, and then to learn from their mistakes–even if it means playing catch-up. 

But in waiting, you’re losing so much potential value. A smarter play right now is to be ahead of the curve—at least exploring the tools and possibilities, if not yet investing heavily in them.

It’s early days for generative AI and there’s still a lot to discern. So go ahead and research. Explore. Learn. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate the effect AI will have on every aspect of your business. It’s not a fad, in the same way that personal computers, mobile phones, and the internet itself aren’t fads. 

If you’re part of a digital marketing team and would like to understand more about the potential of generative AI, we’re happy to sit down and talk. We don’t have a sales pitch or a specific product to sell in this space. We just want to keep the industry moving forward, because that’s how we all win.

The Future of Health: Insights from HLTH 2023

hlth image

Earlier this month, healthcare professionals from across the globe converged in Las Vegas for the annual HLTH conference. The event highlights the conversations shaping the future of healthcare delivery, technology, and policy. Through panels on virtual care, health equity, data integrity and interoperability, the patient and caregiver experience, and digital innovation, leaders across the healthcare continuum shared their challenges and insights. Modea sent three of our own to learn from the best and brightest minds in the industry.

As healthcare digital product consultants with a mission to improve the healthcare experience, Modea attended HLTH to learn comprehensively about the digital healthcare landscape. In a conference with 10,000+ healthcare industry peers, who all on some level share our mission, there was no shortage of inspiration. We learned about new technologies that enable better virtual care, opportunities to improve interoperability and, as a result, both the patient and provider experiences, and innovative use cases of generative AI. We’re eager to bring this inspiration forward into our product development work as we partner with our clients to better serve their customers.

In this blog post, we’ll cover our top takeaways from HLTH, and we’ll summarize how you might bring these insights into your consumer-facing product development practices.

Investing in the Entire Caregiving Experience is Crucial

The caregiver experience often remains an afterthought. However, caregivers tend to carry substantial purchasing power in healthcare, and therefore, caregiver satisfaction strongly predicts loyalty. Caregivers, like patients, will switch providers based on a poor or inefficient experience – digital and otherwise.

So how can payers and providers elevate the caregiver experience? Solutions that provide consolidated, thorough family health records, centralized scheduling, care coordination, and resources to ease the complex balancing act of caregiving are table stakes. Measurement is also important. Just as health systems measure patient experience from a clinical standpoint, measuring the wraparound care experience for patients and caregivers will help identify successes and opportunities. For instance, health systems might consider facilitating surveys to better understand the caregiver experience. Monitoring call volume metrics can also be an indicator of caregiver experience; reduced calls can indicate that caregivers are able to accomplish tasks via virtual self-service. 

Another consideration here is that women are more likely than men to be their family caregivers (a statistic that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic). Furthermore, the administrative burden of caregiving falls disproportionately on women of color. As such, reducing the caregiver burden is not only important from a patient/caregiver loyalty perspective, but from an equity perspective, as well. By reducing caregiver burden for women (and women of color), health systems can enable these caregivers to have more time for work, addressing their own healthcare needs, and more.

How to Apply this to Your Product Development Work: Caregiver User Research

From research through design, development, and testing, product development to serve patient populations often starts with a deep study of the patient journey. However, we could all do more to understand not only the patient or patient-family journey (in the case of children’s hospitals), but the experience of any caregiver engaged in that patient’s care: whether it is a parent, a spouse, a child, or otherwise. By better assessing the caregiver journey, their challenges, their desires, and their experience, product teams can more intentionally build products that not only drive efficiencies and improve the quality of the patient experience, but do the same for caregivers. ROI matters, and investing in products that improve the caregiver experience will ultimately help you provide more care to more people.

Leveraging Tech to Strengthen Patient-Provider Relationships

Virtual care promises convenience but threatens to jeopardize the human relationships at the heart of healthcare. Still, virtual care is necessary for improving access to care. Successfully scaling virtual medicine requires technology that augments trust and rapport between patients and providers.

We learned about several technologies aiming to strengthen the patient-provider relationship, and in doing so, improve the care experience. For instance, leveraging universal patient identifiers can help patients and providers consolidate health records to give providers fuller context about a patient’s history. (Imagine the alternative experience, which many of us have ourselves experienced, when a provider knows nothing of your health history and may provide inadequate care as a result.) AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants allow care teams to efficiently handle routine administrative tasks, freeing up provider time to interact on a human-level with patients. It’s important to remember, however, that solutions must enhance, not replace, human connection. 

How to Apply this to Your Product Development Work: Keep Tracking AI Use Cases

On a recent webinar, we heard the quote, “we’re in the flip phone era of AI.” What does that mean? Think of how far cellphones have come since the introduction of the flip phone, which was innovative for its time, in 1996. We are at the beginning of the era of AI innovation, and at this point, it’s hard to predict how this technology will evolve. What we do know is that from accelerating drug discovery to optimizing hospital operations, AI will shape the next generation of healthcare. Healthcare product teams will need to keep their fingers on the AI pulse, tracking trends and new use cases, and continually learning how to apply or integrate AI capabilities into consumer-facing healthcare products. AI and other digital, emerging trends underscore the value of agile product development. The more agile your product team, the more iterative the products you’ll build. As AI innovation accelerates, building products that can evolve with the technology will be paramount.

Community Health and Prevention

“Health is mostly not about healthcare,” declared Dr. Larry Moss, CEO of Nemours Children’s Health. Put in other terms, health mostly happens outside of the walls of a hospital or clinic. Education, nutrition, housing, and other social determinants drive the lion’s share of health outcomes. (Addressing social determinants of health was a big theme at the ViVE conference earlier this year.)

At HLTH, there was a lot of focus on solutions that address health outside of healthcare. For instance, Instacart Health’s Food as medicine program, which will now provide access to Medicare Advantage members, as well as the broader Well at HLTH exhibit, both underscore the emphasis of nutrition – and equitable access to nutritious foods – on health outcomes. 

The transition from treatment to prevention is tied to the transition to value-based payment models, which has been sluggish. Digital health companies can assist by providing platforms and tools to help providers succeed under new value-based incentives, such as patient engagement solutions to drive prevention and treatment adherence, tools that keep patients actively involved in their care, and further upstream community-level interventions.

Paying providers for services that proactively maintain health, rather than rewarding volume of treatments, also holds promise; progress on value-based payment models will require more buy-in and collaboration from payers and employers. Prevailing incentives simply aren’t structured to reward preventative medicine. Investment in community health and addressing root causes, not just symptoms, remains imperative.

How to Apply this to Your Product Development Work: Personal and Community-Level Journeys

The tools patients use to manage their health will continue evolving, both at the personal and community level. As you establish and evaluate your organization’s strategies and goals for the consumer digital experience, having an understanding of these new characteristics of and solutions for the patient journey will help you assess the potential impact of product development initiatives. For instance, you might want to consider not only how your patients are interacting with care within the four walls of the health system and via your digital experience, but outside of those places, too. What are they facing in their community that may impact their health outcomes? Do they have access to healthy food and pharmacies? How might your digital tools help level the playing field for members of your patient population with different personal or community-level experiences? 

A Focus on Whole Person Health

Historically, care delivery has zeroed in on isolated conditions and episodes. But momentum is building around “whole person health,” which considers the complete physical, mental, and social needs of patients. Whole person health represents a societal shift as much as a clinical one as patients themselves can drive more of their care and health outcomes. 

We heard from innovators changing the face of at-home diagnostics, advancing stress and fitness tracking, and focusing on underlying, root causes of conditions. Importantly, none of these innovations can exist in a vacuum. For “whole person health” solutions to take root, they must integrate with existing care pathways, whether that means connecting to patient health records, appointment scheduling, or treatment plans.

How to Apply this to Your Product Development Work: Rethink the Meaning of Omni-Channel

Whole person health takes omni-channel patient experience one step further. Historically at Modea, we have talked about omni-channel care to the extent that it enables a seamless transition between the digital and analog points of the care journey. To include whole person health solutions, omni-channel must also account for all that the patient is doing outside of traditional care delivery settings (virtual or analog). What is the patient managing in their own time, on their own devices? How will these personalized health solutions integrate with the products you are building for their patients? Product teams that are paying attention to the whole person will be able to better serve the needs of the whole patient

In Summary

In the case of HLTH, what happened in Las Vegas will not stay in Las Vegas. Rather, it will carry implications for years to come. Along with 10,000+ of our industry peers last week, we learned about the innovations and frictions that will shape the future of healthcare. We hope that the insights and applications we shared through this article will help inspire you to think differently about your product development processes, whether in how you study your users, how you test your products, or how you build products that will adapt and evolve with new technologies. 

Here at Modea, as consultants helping our clients shape the digital healthcare experience, we are eager to carry these learnings forward into our work. Get in touch with us if you want to learn more about how we can apply these industry trends to day-to-day product development for your organization.

Improving Staff Well-Being and Retention Through Digital Solutions

image of a digital health tool and icons that represent different functions of health services

The state of the U.S. healthcare system and the increased demand placed on employees are contributing to a high number of health workers experiencing burnout and leaving their jobs. This trend stems from increasing mental wellness challenges as health workers are put in environments that strain their emotional, psychological, and physical health on a daily basis. 

image of nurse experiencing burnout while surrounded by piles of paperwork

What exactly is “burnout” and how does it affect a hospital? 

According to the 2022 U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce, burnout is characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (feeling “out of body”), as well as a low sense of personal accomplishment at work. Burnout can also be associated with anxiety and depression, and can be caused by organizational, structural, cultural, and societal factors. 

In healthcare, specifically, some major contributors to burnout – especially in the last few years, though these have always existed to some degree – include excessive workloads, long shifts, administrative burdens, and a lack of organizational support. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that U.S. healthcare organizations will need to fill more than 203,000 nursing positions every year until 2031. There is also a predicted shortage of physicians and behavioral healthcare providers. The growth in the US population and the aging population are two identifiable causes to the physician and behavioral healthcare provider shortage. A shortage of general surgeons in rural areas is also a problem. Because specialists are often not as geographically close to rural communities, rural residents’ access to care can be compromised. 

To help providers address issues, such as physician burnout and staff shortages, healthcare organizations need to consider short- and long-term solutions that will set them up for success. Many of those solutions come in the form of digital tools. 

The Power of Digital Tools 

As hospitals continue to deal with the realities of physician burnout, more and more patients need better and more equitable access to care. Utilizing the right tools can make the management of care easier for both the patient and provider. 

While there is no single solution that will alleviate all of the issues healthcare faces today, we boiled it down to several digital initiatives we feel are most noteworthy to discuss.

1. Interoperability Across Technology Systems 

interoperability across technology systems which helps with worker burnout

Healthcare systems are adopting new technologies that aim to create significant service enhancements. An EHR system is a great example of a digital tool that aims to alleviate fragmentation of care, but properly introducing it to your organization, or managing a current one, is no small task. As new technologies are added to different departments in health systems, many of these technologies don’t speak to each other, which can cause frustration and even create more work for staff. 

A 2021 study found that healthcare workers’ frustration and emotional exhaustion increased due to the lack of interoperability and cross-functionality in using new technologies. Having a strategy to ensure collaboration and synergy between staff and new digital tools is key in improving services, access to care, and staff workload.

Working towards better interoperability can alleviate some of the difficulties surrounding operations. Interoperability allows health data to be exchanged between different systems and, therefore, creates a better and more streamlined health information ecosystem, which can effectively lessen the strain on those using and accessing the data. Digitizing and automating services through third-party vendors or within the existing EHR system is also beneficial as it relieves health workers from completing mundane and repetitive administrative work. (Note: any initiatives dealing with the sharing of patient data will mean heavy involvement from your organization’s IT security and compliance stakeholders.)

Where to start: Modea recommends departments, such as marketing and IT, come together and audit the current technologies as well as the needs of the organization. Have you thought about creating journey maps for your staff? Consider how different members of your staff use various technologies and identify areas in their journeys that are complex and burdensome. 

We have worked with clients to create customer journey maps, as well as internal staff journey maps, so reach out to us if you would like to talk more in depth on this topic. 

2. Investing in Intranets For Staff and Providers   

investing in intranets for staff and providers which helps employee retention

An intranet is a private network within an organization and is used to securely share information and resources amongst employees. It encourages communication and allows employees to easily access important training, forms, and applications. An often overlooked digital tool in healthcare, an intranet, serves as a valuable tool and a facilitator in communication and employee engagement

Interestingly, engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave an organization than those disengaged. Intranets also have social and collaborative features such as comments, direct messaging, and document sharing. These features allow for seamless communication and sharing of information across departments, which can allow staff to work more efficiently and be more engaged. 

Where to start: Most healthcare organizations have some sort of intranet in place, but they are often the last digital asset to receive any updates or improvements. We recommend creating a survey for all employees to contribute feedback on how they use the existing intranet and the improvements they would like to see. Users may use intranets for different reasons, so segmenting your audiences can create better tailored experiences. Maintaining anonymity can allow staff to be candid on the daily challenges they face when using the system and then work to gain organizational alignment on the importance of using that data to make changes. With burnout increasing amongst healthcare workers, having the right internal resources is as important as external patient-facing digital tools. 

3. Open Scheduling and Online Visits

split image of a virtual appointment and an in-person appointment which helps staff shortages

On average, virtual appointments can save time for patients and providers by 105 fewer minutes than in-person care, as virtual care removes the need to travel to a doctor’s office and wait in a waiting room for periods of time. However, healthcare organizations can be slow to adapt and create the right digital tools to schedule and facilitate online visits. Offering open scheduling, which lets patients make same-day appointments, can reduce the stress healthcare workers face when trying to squeeze a patient in for the earliest available appointment. 

Embracing a hybrid care model will have positive impacts upstream as patients will have easier access to the care they need, regardless of their location and circumstances. If your organization takes a “consumer first” approach to digital and provides the ability for a patient to search and find the right doctor for their condition, it will help lift the staff burden from fielding unnecessary calls and inquiries while allowing them to focus on other important tasks. 

Patients expect to receive care that is best for them, whether virtual or in-person. A hybrid care model offers flexibility for patients and providers. 

Where to start: Modea recommends beginning with organizational alignment on the approach to online scheduling and a hybrid care model. The most common barrier is open scheduling and provider reluctance to implement this due to less control over their schedules. 

4. Enable a Self-Service Patient Experience 

self-service patient experience using a healthcare website which boosts engagement

The information provided on a healthcare website may help patients determine whether they need care based on their symptoms, as the right online information may save patients from making unnecessary appointments or seeing the wrong provider. Empowering patient self-service lessens health workers’ time and work spent on scheduling and attending to low-value appointments. Open scheduling is another form of patient self-service. Valuing your healthcare staff’s time by offering patient-focused, less burdensome solutions empowers both healthcare workers and patients in their care. 

Studies have shown that the U.S. healthcare system provides a high number of low-value care, which is defined as medical services that have the potential for harm or high cost, and generally outweigh the benefits. Low-value care can be wasteful and often lead to overtesting, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment. It has a staggering estimated cost of more than $300 billion annually

Wasted resources, time, and the administrative work that come with unnecessary or low-value care appointments can be mitigated by providing educational resources about conditions and health management on your clinic or hospital’s website. Not only is it beneficial for a health organization’s site to provide valuable resources and the right information to online users because it is educational and helps improve their care journey, but it also builds trust and authority in the organization. Websites can play a critical role in addressing and solving unmet healthcare needs.

Where to start: We recommend working internally to align on how to think of your website not as “just a website” but as a digital asset and tool that is critical to how you provide care to your patients. Consumers and patients today can access care from almost anywhere in the world and while self-service is not a traditional means of health management, more and more hospitals are introducing it. Customer research can help illustrate to stakeholders and leadership what your patients really want and how they prefer to access their care, which will further solidify the importance of making these digital investments. 

5. Embrace Mobile For All Audiences 

consumers access their care with mobile and boost engagement

Consider your mobile strategy. Having a well-thought-out mobile app that delivers a seamless experience provides another way for patients to trust your organization and access their care on a device most Americans already own. 

Developing a mobile app that innovates how consumers access their care and enhances a healthcare organization’s digital footprint offers a personalized and customized experience unique to that organization and patient, which builds a stronger relationship with your brand. Mobile health apps are designed to complement in-person and online patient experiences and are another tool that improve the patient journey. Even with complex EHR systems, such as EPIC and Cerner, there are still ways to personalize the experience and build a proprietary app that your organization owns. It is key to maintain interoperability and unified data so the systems talk to each other. Doing so reduces additional work for healthcare staff. 

Building an internal mobile app for your healthcare staff is also a way to facilitate and streamline communication to health system employees – many of whom spend their days moving throughout a hospital. An internal mobile app can be the hub of all your employees’ needs. It can offer visibility into benefits and payroll information, the ability to submit and review IT help desk tickets, quick access to company messages and news, targeted employee communications, and can even house nurse schedule management.

To fully reap the benefits of your digital investment, educating patients and staff on how to use the apps will support self-service and increase engagement.  

Where to start:  Research your competitors to see what they are offering and the digital experience they deliver to their patients. Modea can help with the planning around building a native mobile app, or modifying what you have, and the reasons to support various approaches. We have extensive experience in mobile apps for healthcare and can help guide your organization to the perfect mobile asset. Whether building tools for internal or patient-facing purposes, don’t forget about the importance and convenience of mobile.

In Conclusion

Healthcare systems are becoming increasingly complex and, with the introduction of emerging technologies, are feeling constant pressure from customers – both patients and internal – to elevate their digital tools and experience. To help mitigate healthcare burnout and unify communication between patients and providers, healthcare systems should collaborate and partner with specialized technology consultants to facilitate a smooth digital transformation journey

Thinking about how your company needs to digitally transform? Modea can help you strategize and utilize the right tools for you. 

Digital Tools to Improve Access to Care for Rural Populations

individual trying to find the closest hospital in a rural area

By nearly every objective measure of health, people who live in rural areas are doing worse than those who live in urban and suburban areas.

This health gap between rural and non-rural has persisted for many years. It’s an area of focus for many hospitals and health systems, who are leveraging every digital and analog tool at their disposal to close the gap.

Your digital customer-facing platform can be one of those tools.

In fact, digital investments can help healthcare providers advance health equity by improving access to care for many underserved populations, including rural communities.

But first, you have to understand who your customers are. With hospital consolidation, patient populations are rapidly changing and expanding, and service areas are becoming larger.

In this report, we’ll share some surprising findings about healthcare customers who live in rural communities. And then we’ll help you interpret what these data points might mean for your hospital or health system.

What We Know About Health in Rural Communities

When compared to those who live in less geographically isolated areas, the 61 million Americans who live in Tribal or rural communities are less likely to get the care they need and more likely to have worse health outcomes. They have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and lung disease, and have a higher risk of dying by suicide or having substance use disorder.

61 million Americans who live in tribal or rural communities are less likely to get the care they need and more likely to have worse health outcomes

Too often, rural residents don’t get the care they need, when they need it. In fact, that lack of access to quality healthcare is one of the biggest contributors to the increased risks and poor health outcomes for rural Americans.

Shortages of doctors and hospitals in rural areas only widen the gap, with two-thirds of hospital closures in the last decade happening in rural areas. Not only that, just 12% of physicians practice in rural communities, where there are also shortages of nurse practitioners, dentists, and social workers.  

just 12% of physicians practice in rural communities

Hospitals and health systems want to solve this problem. From sponsoring public health initiatives to applying for Critical Access Hospital status, these organizations are leveraging various tools to help address health inequities in rural areas.

However, as a health system or hospital, you have another very powerful tool: Your website and mobile experience.

The Data in This Report

Our clients—which include local, regional, and multi-state health systems—often cite improving access to care as one of the reasons they are investing in digital. But what does digital access look like for people who live in rural areas?

To answer that question, among others, we recently conducted independent research, surveying more than 1,200 individuals across the U.S. We wanted to learn more about how they access care, and what keeps them from accessing care. We also combed through other research on healthcare access for rural Americans.

What we gleaned can help hospitals who are seeking to better serve those who live in geographically isolated areas.

The Big Idea

Investing in and improving customer-facing digital tools can increase access to care for many underserved populations, including rural communities.

investing in and improving customer-facing digital tools can increase access to care for many underserved populations

Key Finding #1: Rural Users More Likely to Rely on Smartphone, Less Likely to Have Computer

In our survey, about 90% of respondents living in rural areas reported having a smartphone.

smartphone ownership graph of rural, urban, and suburban populations

Surprisingly, smartphones were more common among rural individuals (90.1% ownership) than urban (80.7%) or suburban (about 85.4%).

Individuals living in rural communities were the least likely to have either a desktop computer or a laptop computer (while 79.8% reported owning one or the other, only 45.8% of rural Americans reported owning a desktop computer). A 2021 Pew Research Center survey confirmed this, finding that while smartphone ownership had increased significantly over the last 3 years, ownership of desktop or laptop computers stayed flat. 

These two points together mean that rural users are most likely to use their smartphone when searching for care, and least likely to use a computer

For this reason, the healthcare websites most accessible to rural users are those built to be mobile first. This means that the design and function of the website is built thinking of mobile first, and desktop second. 

Key Finding #2: People Living in Rural Areas Are Less Likely to Have Broadband Access

people living in rural areas are less likely to have broadband access

Compared to those living in urban or suburban areas, rural individuals are nearly two times more likely to lack broadband access.

A Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation report found that, in 2019, 13% of people in nonmetropolitan areas lacked internet access at home (compared to 7% of people in metropolitan areas).

Not only does this finding underscore the point that mobile-first matters for rural users, it also is a reminder that not all users with a smartphone have internet access. This is another reason why they tend to be smartphone-dependent. 

Furthermore, if they are leveraging a cellular network to connect, their page load times will be longer. The longer the page load time, the higher the bounce rate tends to be.

This is why it’s important to work with UX designs and web engineers who know how to design and build for optimal page load time.

It’s also an important consideration for telehealth, in that you have to understand how your users will connect and what types of technology are most accessible over cellular networks.

Key Finding #3: Rural Users Are Willing to Drive

When we asked about barriers to care, rural respondents were slightly more likely to cite issues with work and childcare than urban and suburban ones. But surprisingly, they were less likely to flag transportation or distance as barriers, compared to urban individuals.

graph of barriers to receiving care from individuals in urban, suburban, and rural areas

One explanation is that people living in urban areas may be less likely to have a car, and if the subway or bus line isn’t near where they go for care, it limits them.

We do have to acknowledge that much research has focused on the travel burden for people living in rural areas, with one study finding that rural residents traveled more than twice the distance (nearly 18 miles) as urban residents (about 8 miles) for healthcare. In that same study, more than 55% of rural residents identified the cost of gas and the financial expense of travel as barriers, compared to 45% of urban residents.

But what our data suggests is that a hospital’s service area may be larger than they think. This is especially true with hospital acquisition and consolidation. People living in rural areas may be willing to drive further—even to the next hospital over—if they think the care is better or if booking an appointment from their phone is easier. 

Hospitals must be aware that their competitive set is becoming broader, which has strong marketing implications. Are you really reaching your full demographic?

Key Finding #4: Rural Users Most Likely to Use Family for Finding Care, But Also More Likely Than Other Cohorts to Use App

We asked respondents a series of questions about how they prefer to research a condition and how they prefer to find care.

Rural residents are the most likely to want to talk directly to their doctor, both to find care and to research care. They are also the most likely to turn to family for both things. This suggests they put their faith in people over technology, which makes sense if we think about rural individuals living in small, tightly knit communities. They value personal connection when making healthcare decisions.

graph of how do urban/suburban/rural survey respondents research and find care

However, they are almost as willing as other cohorts to use Google or a hospital website for researching care. And most interesting, rural users were more likely than either urban or suburban users to use an app to find care. That said, they are less likely to use an app to research care, preferring to turn to people for help making decisions. In essence, they are the happiest of all the cohorts to use an app to make an appointment – or to leverage technology to get in front of a provider as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

graph of comfort using mobile app to find care

Building a proprietary hospital app is a significant digital investment, but it gives hospitals complete control over the digital experience, allowing them to customize for their customers. 

We know from previous research on customer preferences regarding hospital apps that convenience and ease of use are the top factors. And the way to ensure your customers can do the key tasks they care most about is for your hospital to own the app, just like any other digital property.

Key Finding #5: Telehealth Has Vast Potential for Rural Communities

Telehealth has vast potential for rural populations

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically increased the number of people using telemedicine. For people living in rural areas, telehealth can be a more accessible way to talk to a provider. A 2022 study showed that people in rural areas have strong interest in telemedicine and mostly positive experiences.

In fact, the CDC is supporting specific telehealth projects in rural areas, including stroke and cardiac rehab, diabetes prevention and management, tobacco cessation, and epilepsy management.

Building a sustainable telehealth platform can involve regulatory and operational challenges for health systems, and it brings up many questions. Do you have providers who will offer video visits? Do you have the security you need to keep visits compliant? And for rural users, a big watchout is making sure the platform is set up in a way that allows them to access from mobile only. 

For hospitals and health systems reaching rural America, telehealth should always be part of the digital discussion. In other words, if you’re investing in your digital platform and you’re not even talking about how to integrate telehealth, you’ll find yourself behind the curve. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

At Modea, we believe in the power of a terrific digital customer experience. We work toward creating these experiences for our hospital and health system clients because we believe digital can improve the consumer experience and make healthcare more human and personal. 

But we also believe Americans need better access to healthcare. And building great digital tools that improve access is the difference we can make.  

This is why we want to make sure that hospitals and health systems know the opportunity they have to reach people in rural areas. 

Not sure where to start? We recommend that hospitals work to gain clarity on these 3 things.

  1. Know your customers. Has your service area expanded in the last few years? We see this with our health system clients who are buying hospitals or consolidating. If it’s been a while since you’ve done Voice of the Customer research or mapped your customer journey, now is the time. (Learn more about what digital roadmapping looks like.) 
  1. Know what your data is telling you. Do you understand how customers in different zip codes are interacting with your digital properties? Do you know what devices they are using to access your website? Do you know where they are getting lost in the process and where they are converting? Your data tells a powerful story, if you know where to look. (Learn more about the analytics and BI work we do.)
  1. Know where the gaps are in your digital tools. If you haven’t audited your digital tools with an eye toward access to care, particularly for historically underserved populations, you likely don’t know what you don’t know. Talk to us today about a Digital Equity Audit. 


ViVE ’23 Recap

ViVE conference

Recently the Modea team had the opportunity to attend ViVE, a digital health conference, in Nashville. In addition to connecting with clients and colleagues, we got to hear from some of the most innovative and influential minds and brands in healthcare. 

ViVE aligned closely to our Modea vision of making healthcare more human and personal. We learned how players ranging in size from new startups through technology giants are investing in the digital healthcare space, with collective missions to improve the patient and provider experiences. 

Here are the major themes we heard for how innovators are looking to disrupt and improve healthcare.

Theme 1: Interoperability

Interoperability refers to how disparate systems, technologies, applications, and other tools speak to one another to provide a better, more seamless experience for the patient, provider, or health system. As the industry is witnessing a deluge of new technology solutions, the movement towards interoperability will remain critical to ensure different devices and applications can communicate and exchange data.

Interoperability means that patient health information (PHI) can be effectively shared between the electronic health record (EHR) and other tools. And because PHI is involved, maintaining patient privacy is paramount. However, to achieve the required privacy, some patient data must be deidentified, which may remove key data diversity or information about individuals’ Social Determinants of Health, or SDOH (see Theme 2). How can we achieve interoperability of patient data while still obtaining a holistic view of the patient population? It’s a complex challenge that many are tackling. 

Finally, while retail health options are good for the consumer – lowering costs and bringing more of a consumer mindset to health – they also lead to more fragmentation. When a consumer’s health data is disjointed or fragmented across systems, it can lead to more care redundancy, inefficiency, and frustration. With the consumerization of healthcare, therefore, interoperability remains imperative for patient engagement in their care.

healthcare digital solutions

Modea’s takeaway: Invest in digital solutions that fit into your existing workflows and systems to promote, rather than hinder, interoperability.

Theme 2: Health Equity/Social Determinants of Health

There was a lot of discussion around making healthcare delivery more equitable. Social Determinants of Health are the social, environmental, and economic factors that people are born into that affect their health outcomes. An individual’s zip code, for instance, is one of the most important determinants of health outcomes. So, when zip code data is de-identified/removed from patient data, we’re missing critical aspects of health data.

Reimbursements, and particularly Medicaid reimbursements, are a critical part of the health equity conversation. If certain healthcare services are not reimbursed, these services or treatment options will not be accessible by lower-income or underserved individuals. For instance, if healthcare services rendered at a community clinic are not reimbursable by Medicaid, and if that community clinic serves a low-income patient population, that patient population will be less able to access the care they need.  

There are a ton of startups using predictive analytics to create more equitable care experiences, and we’re interested to see how hospitals and health systems leverage these tools in the future.

Two of these startups we heard from:

alvee logo
pear suite logo

Modea’s takeaway: There are countless angles from which to address health equity and healthcare disparities. Understanding your patient population is a great place to start.

health equity

Theme 3: Physician Burnout

If you’re a physician and you’re reading this, we’re not about to tell you anything new. Physicians are burnt out, which was only exacerbated by the extra burdens placed on them throughout the pandemic. 

Part of the cause of physician burnout is administrative burden. Unfortunately, the introduction of new digital solutions doesn’t always reduce administrative burden; sometimes, it increases it. This is why it’s so critical that new innovations fit into or drive efficiencies in existing physician workflows. 

As physicians burnout and retire early, health systems are having to hire contract workers to fill these gaps – at a much higher cost. These contract labor costs are one of the largest factors driving down health system margins. Reducing physician burnout not only improves physician retention and the bottom line, it helps ensure that physicians and clinical staff can provide the best care to patients.

The most promising category of solutions to combat physician burnout? Generative AI, as Theme 4 below details. However, generally speaking, tools that promote physician productivity without introducing additional complexities will improve both the provider and patient experiences.

Modea’s takeaway: Treat your physicians and other staff as you would any customer segment. Their loyalty, engagement, and happiness are key to your health system’s success.

image of physician multitasking

Theme 4: AI

Not surprisingly, AI was the most common theme of the conference. Apart from the word “leverage” (what’s a business conference without it?), “ChatGPT” was the phrase we heard most.

Physicians are excited about the possibilities for generative AI in the realms of: personalized treatment planning, diagnostics/clinical decision-making, clinical productivity, combing through the extent of EHR data to reduce error/inform decisions, and more.

Our client, the American Medical Association, hosted an event spotlighting physician innovators and startups who can connect online (or IRL, as was the case at ViVE) via the Physician Innovation Network. During that spotlight we heard several physicians express excitement about the potential of generative AI, so long as the right guardrails are in place.

image of digital health with AI

Modea’s takeaway: AI isn’t going anywhere, and is getting more advanced all the time. While its implications remain to be seen, it’s important to educate yourself on its applications and potential.

Theme 5: Consumerization of Healthcare

This theme is nothing new for us at Modea, and it’s clear it’s not going away anytime soon. The consumerization experience, and the critical understanding of patients as consumers, continue to be a big topic across startups, providers, and big tech companies. 

The shift to retail health (think traditional retailers getting into the healthcare game, such as Dollar General and Amazon) is changing consumer expectations of healthcare. Consumers are seeking convenience, transparency, and lower costs, and they’re finding it more easily with these nontraditional “providers.” 

One big item we hear a lot about when it comes to consumerism in healthcare is the personalization of the patient experience. Patients are seeking out personalized care on their own terms, taking advantage of tools such as at-home diagnostic kits and wearables. As part of that, patients are becoming more comfortable sharing their health data, especially when it promises quicker access to knowledge about a condition or even a treatment. When healthcare systems offer personalized digital experiences, patient engagement increases thanks to streamlined access to care and information.

Modea’s takeaway: Care and health are increasingly happening outside the walls of the hospital. We need to meet consumers where they are, through a combination of digital and analog care solutions.

mobile app images

The future of healthcare is constantly evolving, as many organizations scramble to tackle top priority initiatives while addressing shrinking margins. However, we believe there is a bright future ahead when it comes to the technology, innovation, and tools that will deliver better and more timely care to patients. As part of that evolution, we expect staff shortages and burnout to level out and patient journeys to become more personalized and concise. 

We look forward to being a part of this future and working to help organizations establish and nurture better relationships with their consumers and patients. 

Digital Tracking and Collection: See, Store, Share Wisely

laptop with a secure cloud which highlight the security needed for digital tracking

Online tracking is nothing new. For years, companies have tracked users’ behavior using codes and scripts placed on a website or mobile app. The goal of digital tracking has always been to make more informed marketing and communication decisions that will benefit the specific user. When properly implemented and used to provide that custom experience unique to that particular consumer, it’s great for both parties. However, when executed poorly, or when data collected is sold to third parties without consent, it becomes a serious issue on many levels.

In the healthcare space, providers have implemented tracking on consumer-facing products to improve the digital care journey. But tracking for a healthcare organization is more complex than that of an e-commerce store, for example. In the healthcare industry, the data collected often contains sensitive information, or Protected Health Information (PHI). The nature of this data complicates how and when tracking can be used, regardless of the intent.

The constant evolution of consumer needs, how they use and trust digital devices, and the privacy they seek continue to drive change in the rules and regulations around tracking data in healthcare. This is precisely why HIPAA was created in the first place back in 1996, along with the subsequent addition of the Privacy and Security Rules in 2003. As technology usage has increased and the amount of data shared and collected online continues to grow, we are seeing a heightened concern around PHI collection and usage not to mention concerns exacerbated by recent data breaches.

A newly released bulletin from the Department of Health and Human Services outlines the Use of Online Tracking Technologies by HIPAA Covered Entities and Business Associates, governing how healthcare organizations (or, as HIPAA refers to healthcare organizations: ‘regulated entities’) should manage digital tracking and measurement.

What do the new guidelines mean for your organization?

The HHS decisively spells out that a ‘regulated entity’ cannot improperly share PHI with a third party:

Regulated entities (note: healthcare organizations = ‘regulated entities’) disclose a variety of information to tracking technology vendors through tracking technologies placed on a regulated entity’s website or mobile app, including individually identifiable health information (IIHI)19 that the individual provides when they use regulated entities’ websites or mobile apps. This information might include an individual’s medical record number, home or email address, or dates of appointments, as well as an individual’s IP address or geographic location, medical device IDs, or any unique identifying code.20 All such IIHI collected on a regulated entity’s website or mobile app generally is PHI, even if the individual does not have an existing relationship with the regulated entity and even if the IIHI, such as IP address or geographic location, does not include specific treatment or billing information like dates and types of health care services.21 This is because, when a regulated entity collects the individual’s IIHI through its website or mobile app, the information connects the individual to the regulated entity (i.e., it is indicative that the individual has received or will receive health care services or benefits from the covered entity), and thus relates to the individual’s past, present, or future health or health care or payment for care.22

In simpler terms, the above excerpt emphasizes that you want to ensure that the ‘regulated entity’ (your healthcare organization) passes information “only in the right way” to third-party vendors or systems. Basically, don’t pass identifiable PHI to a third-party vendor. 

Okay, but what about IIHI?

In addition to stating guidelines on PHI collection, the HHS also outlines a wide range of IIHI (Individually Identifiable Health Information) that you should avoid collecting on your digital properties. Someone clicking on a provider profile on your organization’s website, by itself, doesn’t guarantee a problem and is fine to collect. 

However, there are two ways that information becomes a problem  – in other words, becomes “individually identifiable” – and should not be collected or passed along to a third party: first, if an individual can be reasonably identified (by collecting commonly identifiable information like names, phone numbers, or even IP addresses), and second if that information is passed to third parties. 

Want to avoid problems? Avoid collecting IIHI as much as possible. 

There are three primary offenders of personal information tracking that make it individually identifiable:

  1. Precise geolocation
  2. IP Address or other unique identifiers (think advertising)
  3. Personal information is entered in text input fields (think a form or login)

What is the best way to ensure we’re not passing identifiable data to third-party vendors?

The bulletin, helpfully, distinguishes three broad categories of digital properties: 

  1. User-Authenticated web pages (requires a user to login, such as MyChart)
  2. Mobile Applications (delivered by and on behalf of a healthcare organization)
  3. Unauthenticated web pages (does not require a login, like your standard consumer-facing website)

Let’s break each of these down a bit more with the important information you should know.

User-authenticated web pages: 

A user-authenticated web page is something a user must log into with identifiable information to access. In healthcare, MyChart (or other patient portals) instances are the primary example of this kind of property. The easiest way to solve this is simply don’t put third-party tracking on your MyChart or patient portal instance, especially any kind of pixel or session-recording software. 

If you do need to get meaningful user behavior tracking from a MyChart instance, consider a secure way to send information within your systems, like an on-premise server using Matomo or similar tool, or a custom tracking implementation (though these are expensive). You can use the free suite of Google Analytics tools, but be sure to talk to an implementation expert to ensure it’s set up in a secure and safe way.

Mobile applications: 

mobile app which help manage non-identifiable data for tracking

Mobile applications, especially those listed with EPIC or Cerner integrations, have a higher likelihood of exposing PHI. For example: if you are using biometrics to let a user access the application, that is personal health information. 

It is important to take the necessary steps to ensure that data cannot be identified BEFORE collection. Cleaning post-collection is not good enough as the third-party vendor can’t filter the field in their database after collection and be able to say ‘great! we’re done!’ De-identification must be done before the point of collection.

How to manage this: 

  • For mobile applications, GA4 automatically masks IP addresses by default. 
  • Most mobile applications for healthcare do not log the precise location of a user, but those with wayfinding built-in may be at risk — especially if that wayfinding data is passed to or stored with any third parties.
  • Additionally: Advertising should be disabled for mobile applications.  
  • The guidance mentions DEVICE ID, but to clarify: our understanding is that “device ID” is assigned to the individual phone/laptop/tablet by the manufacturer, not the value reported by Google Analytics. That refers to a unique app installation ID, and one device or individual could have multiple app installation IDs.

If these conditions are met, you can prevent most PHI from being collected as well as prevent identifiable PHI from being passed to third parties.

Unauthenticated web pages:

Unauthenticated web pages are ones that don’t require the user to log in. In other words, your standard-issue, publicly available internet web page. The majority of health system digital properties fall under this category. As the HHS guidance states, as tracking technologies on these unauthenticated webpages generally do not access PHI, HIPAA regulations generally do not apply. 

However, HHS does indicate two instances in which IIHI could be exposed or collected: 

  1. The login page of a patient portal, linked to from the main unauthenticated website
  2. A search for symptoms or an appointment request form that doesn’t require authentication, but does require a user to enter personal information

How to manage these risks:

  1. Do not allow third parties to collect keystrokes or any information entered on a form, whether via tracking or session recording. (Many organizations use tools like HotJar, CrazyEgg or Inspectlet to record sessions and better understand user behavior. Be extremely mindful of using these tools on healthcare websites. Read the fineprint and understand what these tools do and do not collect – and what they can and cannot be configured to do.)
  1. Do not collect individual IP addresses. GA4 automatically masks IP addresses by default. If you haven’t upgraded to GA4, develop a plan to do so very soon. Also, once more, turn off the advertising ID for Google Analytics.

Managing these areas can help mitigate risk to avoid collecting IIHI on your digital properties.

keeping your marketing data de-identified which helps with digital tracking

Keep your marketing data de-identified.

There is one additional area of considerable risk: your Google Tag Manager account.

Many GTM accounts have years of old and little-examined marketing pixels, custom html tags for specific landing pages for specific campaigns, and other third-party insertions. Look through your existing GTM account and audit your marketing pixels and their configuration. Remove any that are unnecessary, and make sure you understand what they are collecting. 

Pixels come with their own configuration and can send information to a third-party vendor that the vendor then controls. Once a third party receives data from a pixel, that third party will do whatever it wants with that data, including reselling it to others. Be extremely mindful of what information these marketing pixels are collecting.

With those points in mind, you should be well set-up to keep your data de-identified.

In conclusion

Use this article as your guide to ensuring your organization is in compliance with the HHS and HIPAA’s latest guidelines surrounding PHI and IIHI. 

If you want the TL; DR version or need to share key takeaways with others in your organization, here you go:

  1. Turn off advertising ID to prevent unique advertising ID sharing. 
  2. Upgrade to GA4. (We recommend this for many reasons, not least of all that older versions of Google Analytics are being sunset July 2023. In this case, the upgrade to GA4 is critical to ensure automatic IP address masking).
  3. Be extremely mindful of collecting user-entered text or login credentials. If you are using session-recording software, thoroughly review the documentation and configuration of your software to ensure no text or keystroke inputs are being collected, stored, or shared.
  4. Make sure that third-party tags and pixels in your Google Tag Manager account are in place only to collect the most critical information, and nothing more.

Price Transparency Rule: First Penalties Issued

hospital and clipboard with money sign

Almost 18 months after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) new price transparency rule went into effect, the organization issued its first of many fines.

Hospitals are now required to provide a comprehensive machine-readable list of services as well as prices listed on their websites. This recent ruling affirms the government’s commitment to making it easier for consumers to shop and compare prices across health systems. Now, a consumer should be able to estimate the cost of care before going to a specific hospital for services.

Who was fined and how much?

An Atlanta-based hospital system was fined close to $1 million. CMS stated that neither a “consumer-friendly list of standard charges was found”, nor a machine-readable file.

CMS set a minimum CMP (Civil Monetary Penalty) of $300 a day for smaller hospitals with less than 30 beds. As well as a penalty of $10/bed a day for hospitals with 30+ beds. These are not to exceed a maximum daily dollar amount of $5,500. For a full year of noncompliance, the minimum to the max range for total penalties is $109,500 – $2,007,500 per hospital.

You can learn more by viewing this document for frequently asked questions from CMS’ website.

What does that mean for you?

images of price transparency

A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that only about 14% of hospitals are fully complying with this new federal law.

If CMS concludes that your hospital is non-compliant it may take any of the following actions and stated that “generally but not necessarily will occur in the following order”.

  • Provide a written warning notice to the hospital of the specific violations
  • Request a Corrective Action Plan (CAP)
  • Impose a Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP)

If CMS issues a request for a hospital to submit a CAP, it must be submitted by the date specified in the request and must also…

  1. Specify the process the hospital will take to fix the issues
  2. List the timeframe by which the above will be completed

If a hospital fails to respond to CMS’ request to submit a CAP or comply with requirements, the organization may impose a CMP. 

CMS has already issued around 350 warning notices to hospitals that violate the ruling. If you did not receive a notice, but know that your system does not accurately display price information we suggest that your team, whether internally or with your digital partner, implement amendments to your digital properties as soon as possible. 

The Challenge

So, if this is such a big issue, why are only 14% of hospitals following the rule?

From a patient’s perspective, it’s simple, “quickly show me how much I’ll pay for x, y, and z”. However, it’s not so easy for a hospital to implement.

There are a handful of reasons why organizations may not be posting pricing fast enough. The biggest we see is discrepancies and variations in costs for patient A versus patient B, even if they both receive the same treatment.

In order to protect the hospital, each service will factor in a certain amount of risk (depending on the situation), and therefore, the “price tag” of a particular service could be elevated. Prices for services can also change frequently depending on when agreements with each payor start and end as well as factors like who is incurring the cost (employer, insurer, patient, etc). This requires consistent updating in order to keep the list up to par with CMS’ ruling.

How to follow the ruling?

Two ways to post standard charges:

1. ) Machine Readable File

A single machine-readable digital file that contains: gross charges, discounted cash prices, payer-specific negotiated charges, and de-identified minimum and maximum negotiated charges.

2.) Consumer-friendly Display of Shoppable Services

Display all “shoppable services” with ancillary services and provide discounted cash prices, payer-specific negotiated charges, and de-identified minimum and maximum negotiated charges. It’s crucial to note, that each of these services must also contain a plain language description.

To learn more about what exactly your hospital needs to provide, visit CMS’  help or resources page.

An ending note

In summary, many organizations are not investing beyond the bare minimum in price transparency requirements. 

If your team does not already have pricing listed on your website you’ll need to act quickly.

Cost of Healthcare Drives Industry Transformation

the cost of healthcare drives industry transformation

Early in the new year, it’s customary to take some time to reflect on the past, set goals for the present, and plan for the future.  

Our team spent time reflecting on the significant changes we’ve seen over the last decade in healthcare that have directly impacted the landscape today. One of the most prominent and the main catalyst that we’ll cover is the cost of care

In this article, we’ll review the 3 major trends that have materialized from the continued rise in the cost of healthcare and how they’re directly shaping the industry.

Healthcare costs continue to climb

In the past decade, consumers paid more for healthcare than ever before. In fact, Americans spent nearly twice as much in 2019 as they did in 1980. And yes, this data does account for inflation. The observed dollar amount was adjusted appropriately in order to compare apples to apples. It may not surprise you that the cost of healthcare has increased year after year. After all, we have more advanced technology, treatment plans, drug production, and consumer engagement platforms. But all of those niceties are not the main driver of the cost influx. Instead, insurance is the primary offender.

The shocking fact is that…

“insurance costs have grown by 740% since 1984”

CNBC stated that the average American paid about $3,400 for insurance alone in 2018. While a household spent nearly $5,000 per person on healthcare in the same year.

It is truly no wonder that medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcies in the U.S.A. This alone helps to contribute to the lack of trust in healthcare systems, a colossal issue today.

It’s also worth noting that in 2020, annual spending on healthcare was estimated to be around $3.65 trillion or $11,172 per person in the U.S.A. This total is larger than the gross domestic product of Mexico, Canada, and Spain combined. It is also, by a wide margin, the highest annual healthcare spending in the developed world

USA healthcare spending

This climb in cost over the past 40 years laid fertile ground for change and new entrants to quickly grow.

#1 Bigger is better; mergers and acquisitions

Over the past decade, we’ve seen large healthcare systems, drug makers, and insurers begin and close mergers. 

In 2018, CVS Health and Aetna closed a $70 billion deal. The nation’s largest pharmacy chain and health insurer combined to instill their towering goal of ”transforming healthcare delivery for the better”.

Locally, we’ve seen Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance come together to form, client, Ballad Health. Intermountain Healthcare and SCL Health are planning to merge in early 2022 to form an $11 billion health system. As well as two of Michigan’s largest providers Spectrum and Beaumont Health will combine forces and create a $12.9 billionmega-merger”.

This trend of healthcare system consolidation is not only an act to gain new efficiencies but also to reduce the cost of operation. Let’s hope that we see these mergers translate to cost savings for the consumer. 

#2 Digital front door comes to stage

The buzzword “digital front door” started circulating in healthcare circles in 2017. Around this time the industry started to understand the importance of creating and implementing strategies that leverage the use of technology to create better and more connected customer experiences. 

Often a digitally connected healthcare customer experience will include tools such as:

  • Well-designed and transparent appointment scheduling.
  • Access to scheduled or on-demand telehealth visits.
  • Digital service channels via live and AI-based chat.
  • Easy access to the information a patient or their family needs.

The digital front door strategy is all about taking the time to truly understand what your customers need most and taking the steps to meet those needs. One big need, you might have guessed, is cost. 

We’ve seen healthcare systems combat rising costs by offering more channels for consumers to interact with their brand and where most convenient. For example, AI-based chat can help concerned patients quickly find the information they need at less cost and 24/7.

#3 New players enter the healthcare space

Companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon set a new standard when they created and launched revolutionary digital customer experiences. Now consumers have high expectations for optimal user experience and seamless functionality with any product or brand, no matter the industry. 

Over the past decade, we’ve seen the deities of digital enter the healthcare space to disrupt the industry. In 2018, healthcare experienced a “wild-west” style shoot-out for who would partner up and enter the market. Many large tech companies accomplished their goals by quickly merging with strategic elites.

Google hired a healthcare CEO to organize its health initiatives. Apple began testing the market with wearables and EHRs. In addition, companies like Lemonaid empowered patients by “treating you better”.

Never before have consumers had such a strong voice or choice. These new entrants are offering consumers new and engaging ways to manage their healthcare.

For example:

  • Scheduling a quick telehealth appointment with Amazon.
  • Seeking dietary advice from a NutriSense glucose-monitoring skin patch.
  • Getting a physical while grocery shopping at Walmart.

Fortunately, these companies are offering affordable services and tackling the rising cost of healthcare head-on.

new players in the healthcare space

What’s to come?

It’s no big surprise that healthcare consumers are fed up with paying outrageous prices and struggling to manage care. We’ve seen some movement to correct the pressing pain points but more must be done. 

On the bright side, there’s no time like the present. The sooner that health systems can…

…the sooner they can captivate consumers and increase lifetime value.

HMPS 2021 Takeaways

Earlier this month, our team sponsored, exhibited, and presented at the Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit in Miami. It was refreshing to be back in person and see familiar faces. 

There were many noteworthy speakers and trending topics covered throughout the week. We decided to put together a list of major HMPS 2021 takeaways and themes from the content presented for those who were unable to attend this year.

#1 Communication is “key”

The importance of communication was brought to light last year. Consumers and the general public were constantly looking for answers. Yesterday’s news was no longer relevant and we spent hours sifting through articles only to find outdated information.

HMPS dedicates one out of its five tracks strictly to communication. We attended numerous sessions that provided suggestions on how to do so efficiently and effectively without inundating an audience. Overall the presenters advised that you take a natural, authentic approach to content creation and delivery. Do not make the consumption of news more complicated than it needs to be. Make the best use of the systems you have.

Some organizations took a unique approach to communication that was very notable.

LCMC Health, took a celebratory and welcoming approach to combat the cold, impersonal lines during the vaccine rollout. The Louisiana-based organization made the vaccination process fun for all. Their team added Mardi-Gras-themed floor stickers, photobooths, and free concerts to liven spirits.

Hunterdon Healthcare had a member from the C-Suite team provide quick and personal updates for patients via daily Facebook videos.

#2 Consumers expect more from healthcare

This should come as no surprise. We know that consumers are expecting healthcare to deliver experiences as the big tech companies do. 

You’re falling behind if your organization cannot deliver a customer-centric experience that delivers real value and a lasting impression.

Two ways your organization can get started:

#1. Create a customer journey map

We surveyed several nationally ranked hospitals and found that only 18% indicated that they had completed a customer journey map. Problems arise when digital content is created from the inside out, without data and input from the end-user. Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consumer-facing product that does not meet the needs of the customer? 

Journey mapping can help you strategically set goals and expectations as well as more accurately understand what your customers need. Understanding the importance of customer journey mapping and how your consumers can directly benefit should be a critical step in your digital road mapping strategy.

HMPS 2021 takeaway: consumers expect more from healthcare - customer journey mapping screenshots

It’s fair to say that the experience of living through a pandemic has forever changed consumer behavior, especially in healthcare. Your patients demand quality, affordability, but what else?

From our research, our team uncovered 3 top trends that can help your team prioritize customers’ needs on the web.

Time is precious

We found that the pandemic has exacerbated an interesting trend. Customers are more likely to be transactional, and they want transactions to happen immediately

Perfect the details

Did you know that today’s customers are more likely to have shorter sessions—specifically, sessions of 1-3 pageviews? Therefore, your customers are likely to miss important content that is 1-3+ clicks from your product page content.

bar chart graphic showing that the percentage of sessions with 1-3 pageviews are increasing

Connection is key

If a customer enters your site on a non-product page, such as an informational coronavirus page that has updates and relevant information, and is able to navigate to another area of the site within 3 page views, they are roughly 30-40 times more likely to convert.

So even as your customer’s willingness to hunt for information continues to decrease, how well you connect the disparate areas of your site can increase overall conversions for the site

HMPS 2021 takeaway about connection - Example of connecting a physicians profile to other parts of the site (ie locations)

#3 The future of telehealth

Since the major onset of telehealth, we’ve seen countless direct benefits. In fact, Becker’s Hospital Review reported that 85.5% of Americans said telehealth has “made it easier to get the care they need.”

However, as we emerge from the pandemic, telehealth should not go to the wayside, rather organizations need to expand beyond virtual urgent care. McKinsey & Company reported that around 40% of consumers stated that they will continue to use telehealth going forward—up from 11% prior to COVID-19.

 graphic that says "40% of consumers stated they will continue to use telehealth"

In addition, research shows that between 40-60% of consumers are interested in broader virtual health solutions i.e. “digital front door” as well as lower-cost health plans.

But how should healthcare systems plan for the next chapter of virtual healthcare? 

Our team suggests that any digital plan forward should be rooted in data by firstly understanding your consumers and their needs. This can be done through customer journey mapping exercises, user interviews, persona development, and more. The collected data should then be used to drive the creation of seamless consumer experiences across the board and will help to optimize the future of your organization’s virtual care longevity.

#4 Chatbots are here to stay

Why not aim for a patient-oriented approach to reduce the strain on your limited resources?

All sounds fantastic! But, have you and your team thoroughly thought through your organization’s specific needs?

A well-thought-out and implemented chatbot can seamlessly integrate into an organization’s digital consumer experience. However, a not-so-great one can lead to serious consumer discontent. That’s why our UX team advises that before getting too excited about a chatbot, your team first answers…

“What is the main problem we’re trying to solve for the consumer?”

In order to create a proper chatbot, you will need to be very clear and upfront about its capabilities. Otherwise, some patients will automatically expect to “chat” and have a full range of flexibility. However, when the chatbot is unable to do so, will become frustrated. We suggest that your team plans to complete an in-depth UX exercise prior to implementation. This includes:

  • Settling on a goal
  • Mapping out personas
  • Crafting user flows
  • Teasing out the language (and possibly synonyms your chatbot will use)

Quick tip: if you’re trying to help a patient find specific content you may be better off investing in content strategy and internal search. 

Example of what an in-depth user experience exercise can look like, chatbot discussion

What’s next?

COVID has helped to accelerate digital transformation and consumer experiences for healthcare. As we emerge from the pandemic it’s imperative that organizations continue to forge stronger connections with patients.

Our team can help.

We help healthcare organizations identify the right digital strategies and create products that …

  • infuse control
  • transparency
  • and choice

… into the consumer healthcare experience.

Contact us to learn how our clients are tackling some of healthcare’s biggest challenges.