Now, having an empty waiting room seems to be the least worrying issue for many doctors. Although the number of outpatient visits dropped sharply at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, emergency care clinics rebounded particularly rapidly as testing services sent long queues of patients to their homes. Primary and specialty nursing practices have experienced a longer downturn, but now chronically ill patients have a pent-up demand for counseling, health check-ups, and treatment.
But practitioners should not be fooled by this illusion of good business performance. None of these short-term trends represent sustainable income. The demand for testing has waned, and patients are catching up with deferred treatment. In fact, with the return of normalcy, many practices may find that their business performance stagnates in the next few years due to the long-standing but recent acceleration of patient preferences and care delivery models. What doctors need to pay attention to now is these hockey stick trends-because the new generation of competitors are already paying attention.
Today’s patients expect that the offices of traditional healthcare providers cannot satisfy. They want faster access to care, more convenience, and better control of their care delivery through price and experience transparency. In short, they want to buy their care. This is not just an empty wish-it is a positive choice they are making. As the digital first model redefines the patient experience, traditional medical practices need to evolve quickly to avoid losing patients for a long time.
Patients lose patience with traditional medical institutions
In this Amazon era of instant gratification, what we want and need is within reach not only applies to how we order from Starbucks, or how we travel to the airport by car. It is now part of our on-demand social structure. The method of following money can clearly show what is happening. Over the past three years, investment in digital-first companies that lack physical assets has doubled every year. This year, we are expected to exceed 28 billion U.S. dollars in investment capital to promote the development of digital-first healthcare companies. No matter where you are in the outpatient continuum, whether it is a primary care, a specialist or an emergency care operator, you will face the challenge of a new digital-first competitor.
Traditionally, primary and specialty nursing practices are based on loyalty to the doctor-patient relationship, and patients are willing to wait weeks or even months to see their regular doctors. This model may have worked earlier, but it is seriously out of touch with the digital age defined by instant gratification and consumer-centric services. One survey after another shows that compared with the continuity of provider and practice loyalty, patients prefer convenient access and cost and experience transparency. People who can deliver almost any consumer product to their door in a day or two want to respond faster when their health is threatened. They may try their usual doctors first, but they will quickly turn to the person who can see them the fastest, whether it is urgent care clinics, online providers, or digital advertisements that pop up next to web search results to learn about their symptoms . That is the moment when you lose the patient to the competition. Recent data shows that the most important features in medical practice are related to access and convenience-late business hours, transparent prices, availability of appointments on the same day, and weekend time. Only when these basic needs are met, they will turn to the most important things in the past, such as the pedigree of the provider and the reputation of the community.
Decades ago, in response to the wave of consumerism in healthcare, emergency care centers began to receive attention. These centers provide appointment-free services, a wider range of services, and cash pricing, take off and make up for the “gap” in primary care, while providing an alternative to the emergency department. Although emergency care centers are more suitable for today’s convenience-oriented patients and incorporate more active marketing and customer acquisition into their operations, their fragile patient loyalty makes them extremely vulnerable to interference. If they cannot retain existing patients and cannot compete for new patients, their business may disappear quickly. Many urgent care operators have not felt the economic impact of the rise of consumerism driven by our growing on-demand culture. Covid testing, the rapid closure of primary and professional practices to face-to-face visits, all of these provide a sustained number of patients for emergency care companies that are actively involved in testing as early as possible. The remaining outpatient and outpatient services are now catching up. How they deal with this problem will determine their survival in today’s new world of consumerism in healthcare.
The patient experience in a typical outpatient care office—junior, specialist, laboratory, or imaging center—is hardly a compelling competitive proposition. Once upon a time, patients just accepted that they had to endure a long wait in a crowded waiting room, where there were outdated magazines and noisy TVs, which made them feel worse. In fact, strategies around patient retention usually include optimizing the choice of TV channels to suit a stress-free theme—there is no news station. But they are still given the same clipboard every time to fill out the same form, writing their names over and over at the top of each page. They find it difficult to understand their insurance, explore the copays that are usually different for each type of visit, and arrive at the examination room in frustration and low morale long before the doctor is ready to see them. Why don’t patients seize the opportunity to get a better model and eliminate friction?
Once you no longer take patient loyalty for granted, they will desperately need a better way to access medical services. Digital priority providers are ready to provide it.
Redefining nursing in the digital age
The essence of traditional medical practice is to be the first point of contact for every disease, every stage of life, and every type of patient, and to make referrals as needed. The new generation of digital-first companies is taking a more surgical approach. They do not have the entire health range, but target a specific subset-a specific population with a specific disease type, such as migraine, diabetes, or sexual dysfunction. They don’t want to own only part of this business-they want to manage the entire continuum from initial diagnosis to management of complications. This business model may not seem like a direct threat, but over time, its impact should be of deep concern.
These are exactly the types of long-term relationships established by traditional primary care and expert practice, but now they will be established by digital competitors-and the areas of health that are most important to these patients. These companies have incredible influence and advanced technology to stop your patients from seeking care. Early data suggests that they may also provide better results. Little by little, as patients usually choose these digital-first delivery models through online membership programs, traditional physical primary and specialty care will eventually operate in the “last mile” of care—digital providers tell patients they really need it Hospitalization. At that time, patients were “on their own”. The providers of these national digital priority platforms are rarely (if any) local and have a good understanding of referral opportunities, the reputation of the local health system, etc. This is a bad situation for both patients and doctors.
Provide a digital-first experience in the primary care office
With a slight recalibration of the business model, the traditional physical medical office is indeed in the best position to help patients. There is no doubt that there is great value in the medical care provided locally, rather than the medical services provided through the national digital platform. Knowledge of local industry and history is essential for quality care in a specific geographic area. Through the local office and the referral base of the patient’s community, doctors can provide a higher level of care for all aspects of the patient’s health. But to achieve this, doctors must prevent digital-first providers from picking their patients at the top of the funnel and place them on a different track away from traditional care offices. This means finding a way in your business model to meet the expectations of consumers in the digital age, so that patients have no reason to look elsewhere. Fundamentally speaking, it is easier for traditional physical healthcare companies to turn to the digital “front door” rather than the first digital organization to provide face-to-face services and cover the “last mile” of care.
In order to achieve this evolution, doctors need to embrace a consumerized mentality—designing all aspects of the experience they provide around the needs and preferences of patients. People seeking care should not sit in the waiting room and fill out forms, wondering how many other patients have used the same pen. Instead, ask them to provide this information online at home before they come in—and figure out their insurance benefits for them so they don’t have to do so. Let them relax in their car until their examination room is ready, and then send them a text message telling them that the provider is ready to visit them. Allow more time in your schedule for appointments so that you can provide same-day care. By mixing remote and face-to-face arrangements, more consultations will be transferred to telemedicine. Don’t just tinker with updated waiting room magazines-work with trusted business partners to completely modernize your practice and patient experience.
It is important to remember that most patients are satisfied with their doctor. They are not looking for a reason to leave-under all equal circumstances, they are more willing to stay. By providing the same patient-centered experience as digital-first providers, plus the additional benefits of local hands-on practice, doctors can give their patients a good reason to stay.
Photo: Simon Kerr, Getty Images