The world of healthcare is evolving at a rapid place as we transition from a fee-for-service to a value-based model. Influenced by the Affordable Care Act, consumer-driven (high-deductible) insurance plans, access to information, new competitive forces and more, consumers are going to start shopping for healthcare in ways they never have before. Consulting firm KaufmanHall calls this a Retail Care Imperative, “a consumer-driven approach to care delivery, grounded in retail principals and compelled by market forces that are empowering and incentivizing patients to become consumer of healthcare.” So, what will this shift mean to providers and how will it affect communication with future patients? Following are three key ways we will see the retail care imperative come to life in 2015 and beyond.

Price Transparency

For today’s consumer, price transparency is expected in almost every single purchase. Whether it’s buying a new car or comparing cameras, the ability to compare prices is just a click away. Soon, consumers will have the same set of expectations for their healthcare purchases. Early entrants, such as Healthcare Bluebook and Change Healthcare are taking the first steps towards price transparency, but it isn't close to a retail-like level yet. While delivering pricing information will require coordination between providers, payers, and others, it will soon become a mandatory in order for providers to remain in patients’ consideration set moving forward.

Online Word-of-Mouth and Ratings and Reviews

In this day and age, consumers don’t make many purchases without input from others - whether those others are friends, or strangers from the internet. In fact, while 92% of consumers trust the recommendations of friends and 70% trust online reviews, just 47% trust traditional advertising. As Brian Solis, Principal Analyst of Altimeter Group, says, consumers don’t crave marketing copy – they crave the experiences of others to help them humanize information. While not as prevalent as in retail, providers are starting to see reviews emerge on sites with a healthcare focus like ZocDoc and Vitals.com, as well as traditional review locations like Facebook and Yelp.

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So, how should providers approach online reviews and social conversations moving forward? First, they should proactively monitor all sites possible for conversations around their facility and providers so issues can be solved as soon as they arise – after all, an ignored poor review is a lost opportunity for service recovery. Second, they should embrace the culture of public feedback by encouraging all patients to share their experiences via reviews. Studies have shown that encouraging reviews can lead to increased overall average ratings. Finally, providers should consider publishing reviews on their own web sites. University of Utah Health Care was one of the first organizations to publish physician reviews on their web site. Not only did they find that the majority of comments received were positive, but shortly after implementing the review feature, they saw search traffic to their web site increase by 38%.

Focus on Customer Experience.

According to Forrester Research, we are now in “The Age of the Customer.” This isn’t surprising, as we see leaders in Customer Experience like Zappos, Apple, Starbucks and Disney reap the rewards of focusing on the customer. There are even studies showing that a focus on customer experience correlates highly with strong stock market performances. And, importantly, a poor customer experience negatively affects business – 89% of customers will walk away after a poor customer experience and begin doing business with a competitor.

In healthcare, patient experience has emerged as a key effort for most – 84% of health leaders rank patient experience among their top three priorities. That’s good, because not only do studies show that a positive patient experience can lead to healthier outcomes, but as patients adopt more retail habits as they shop for their healthcare, the patient experience will become one of their key criteria as they choose a provider. This is just the beginning. As patients continue to adopt retail habits in their healthcare experience, we’ll see even more effects on providers. What do you think will be the biggest effect? What other elements of retail are you seeing emerge in healthcare? Let us know in the comments.

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