Coverage & Commentary

Healthcare: In service of the people

In the age of consumerism, chronic disease, and technological innovation, the future of patient-centered healthcare will be very different from today’s experience. That is a good thing.

Healthcare is a service. Transformative methodologies deployed for decades in other service industries will be adopted, albeit evolved, into healthcare. And by far, the foremost service trend across all sectors is heightened personalization and greater choice — expressions of brand empathy with the customer.

The future of healthcare lies in authentic empathy for the individual patient — healthcare’s ultimate customer — and cultivating long-term relationships with brands based on trust and value.

Customer
At the recent HLTH conference in Las Vegas, there appeared to be some confusion around identifying healthcare’s ultimate customer. Speakers intermixed “consumer” and “patient” throughout their talks. It raises a question, “How about person?” A talented patient engagement leader exclaimed, “Our patients are just like the real people in the community.” News flash: They are the real people in the community.

This muddling reflects the perceptual difficulty healthcare faces as it tries to adapt to a modern continuous engagement model. The old idea that “patients” are event-driven phenomena requiring treatment at a hospital on the hill is fine for acute illness and injury. But it does not work for conditions that individuals live with continuously. Today’s most pressing health issues overwhelmingly skew toward chronic disease prevention and management — which requires a much more cooperative and participatory care and service paradigm. You probably will not need to see an endocrinologist at a big medical center tomorrow if you join your neighborhood diabetes prevention program (DPP) today: People require both kinds of healthcare delivery and they need to be treated as people just like any other industry selling services.

Brand
The future face of healthcare also requires contemplating brand and its role in service delivery. The incentive structures, technologies, and care requirements of our system traditionally encourage shining temples of exemplary care — where glitzy décor, classical statuary, and a hotel-like experience convince you where you should have your surgery.

Beyond the “fanciest building” approach to drawing customers, health systems have not contemplated the lifetime value of the people they engage — preferring, more typically, a distinctly transactional outlook. Our engagement and evaluation tools reflect this, and few large systems have an engagement plan that matches the shine of their new hospital building.

On the other end of the spectrum, a company like BMW can tell you the long-term value of all its customers. This Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a measure that drives the automaker’s decision-making around marketing, sales, product development, service, and more. The underlying logic is to get you started with a 3 Series, upgrade you to a 5 Series, and ultimately shepherd you into an MClass, SUV, or 7 Series. BMW’s goal is to be your preferred car provider through all the stages of your driving life.

Conceptually, CLV traces back to the late ’80s, when marketing had a revolution in data-driven analytical approaches to better business insight. The work helped justify spending early to forge a customer relationship and fostering profit growth over time. CLV heuristics are obviously rooted in general business sentiment — the idea that it’s good to keep a customer is not new. Yet advancement in data-based spending and profitability models supporting long-range customer engagement strategy has transformed our entire retail experience and most service segments. And it should transform future healthcare delivery as well.

This model has further matured as companies like Amazon and Google articulate the value of investing to perpetuate customer loyalty — acceptable losses today incurred as a pathway to steady profits tomorrow. At the core of this analytic mindset is a very simple concept: empathy.