Thinking Like Retailers?
With Thanksgiving behind us here in the United States, we move deeper into the holiday season.
Which means … ah, yes. It’s retail season.
While we spend our next several weeks being inundated with sales pitches from our favorite retailers, maybe it’s time that we as healthcare professionals start paying attention. What can we learn from retailers? Should we be learning anything at all?
One of the interesting impacts of all of the changes in the healthcare system is the shift toward more consumer independence. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we already know one thing has changed the way we all operate — our patients are “shopping around” to try to find the best price for their healthcare.
According to a report issued in October by PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, almost 40 percent of adults in the United States contacted more than one doctor or healthcare provider inquiring about pricing. That’s up from just 26 percent the previous year.
As a result of this, consumers are becoming more interested in standalone operations where prices are often cheaper.
It also doesn’t help that some healthcare providers continue to raise prices even when they don’t necessarily have to. Another study — this one conducted by the University of Florida —showed that despite receiving public pressure about price inflation, 20 hospitals in Florida did nothing to lower their pricing … and in some cases, actually continued to raise their prices.
So, it’s no wonder that we see more consumers shifting toward urgent care facilities as opposed to emergency room visits. Faced with high insurance premiums and even higher insurance deductibles, pricing suddenly matters.
Which brings us back to retail. As retail consumers ourselves, we know our habits, right? We shop around until we get the best price for that item we’ve been coveting. We watched as thousands of people flocked to the stores last weekend for Black Friday “doorbusters.”
What makes the difference in these purchasing experiences?
Adding value. If one retailer offers a warranty or a better shopping experience, we tend to go back there. Going the extra mile goes a long way when we’re shopping. So as we move toward value-based care, what extra things can you do for your patients that help them to view you as “going the extra mile” for them? Maybe it’s easier appointment scheduling. Maybe it’s friendly appointment reminders. Whatever that thing is for you — and it doesn’t have to be complex or costly — do it, and do it consistently. Show your patients you care.
Bundling services. If you can get more than one thing at the same time, it makes purchasing much easier. The cable industry has made a fortune operating on this concept. For us in healthcare, this means making it as easy as possible for your patients to connect with all of the services they need. Can you collaborate with a pharmacy to help make your patients’ prescription process as simple as possible? Can you provide simple instructions for finding a particular department at the hospital which feels so overwhelming to a patient heading in for an outpatient procedure?
Going digital. The biggest disruption to the retail industry in the past decade has been the incredible growth of online shopping. Why go to the store when you can order what you need online … have it delivered in two days … and with free shipping? It’s tough for traditional retailers to compete with these online outlets. While yes, it’s true that in most cases for healthcare providers, patients will actually have to leave their houses … what can you turn into a digital process to make things easier for your patients? Check into the functionality of your patient portal. Can you offer online appointment scheduling? An online “ask the doctor” function? A way to request a ride (maybe through a service like Lyft or Uber) to an appointment?
While for many of us, controlling costs is out of our controls … these suggestions are things that we can can control. Helping patients to realize the value that you provide as a healthcare provider will not only lead to them relying on you for their needs, it may also lead to referrals.
So, yes, we can learn something from the retail industry, after all.