Shopping for healthcare online? Why health systems should care about commodities

Just as Americans shop online for the holidays, patients should be able to have the same convenience in finding the care they need.

Consumers today are experts in online shopping.

Whether you’re buying clothes, electronics, furniture, or just about anything else, online stores let you sort items and apply filters to find the exact products you’re looking for, delivered right when you need them. The site can even recommend items it thinks you’ll like based on your purchase history or other criteria. Once you find what you want, you can add it to your cart and pay in just a few clicks.

If online shopping can be so streamlined and simple yet personalized to individual preferences, why can’t finding care be? By improving e-commerce capabilities in healthcare, it can.

Why Healthcare Needs E-Commerce

The last time you tried to schedule a doctor’s appointment, what was your experience like?

It most likely wasn’t as simple as the last time you tried to buy a new shirt online.

Maybe you had to visit multiple different sites before finding the right one to schedule, or you were directed to call the office and were inevitably put on a long hold. You may even have found a provider you wanted to see, only to find out there are no appointments available.

This is the current state of meeting planning, and it’s incredibly frustrating. To simplify this process and optimize access to care, health systems must market care—making care options, providers, and appointment times more discoverable, just like your favorite online retailer.

Merchandising is the next frontier in healthcare, and healthcare systems must embrace it to compete with the industry’s growing threats.

Introducing e-commerce in healthcare

Using the same technology as online retailers, finding care will be as easy as browsing your favorite store, and scheduling appointments will look like a digital storefront.

A patient can begin their journey by searching a search engine or website, including the health system’s digital gateway. If you search on Google, for example, the e-commerce technology will direct patients and drive traffic to the health system’s booking site.

The platform then automatically filters search results based on patient-entered intent and needs and displays real-time availability for the care options best suited to their needs. The interface also displays additional information, such as vendor specialties – just as you might see details about a product you’re considering buying. Providers that aren’t a good fit or aren’t available aren’t shown at all, so patients don’t waste time searching for options that aren’t a good fit.

With all of this information personalized to the individual, patients can feel confident that they are finding the best possible care option for them. Once the patient has identified the best provider, location and time, they can book an appointment with just a few clicks. The whole process is so intuitive that ideally the care finds the patient instead of the patient having to find the care.

An internal study found that 80% of patients who start the appointment booking process give up before completing it – missing out on critical and potentially life-saving care. By simplifying the process, health systems can significantly reduce this alarming number and ensure that all patients receive the care they need.

Why Health System Leaders Should Embrace E-Commerce

Healthcare merchandising can seem counterintuitive. You might worry that taking an e-commerce approach will make the experience more impersonal and transactional, but that’s not the case.

Merchandising can make care more accessible and personalized by allowing patients to find exactly what they want and need. Healthcare is undergoing a massive transformation, and patients now expect to find and receive care with ease and convenience. Merchandising is the best way to deliver those experiences that will lead to the greatest patient satisfaction.

Healthcare systems will also benefit enormously from merchandising. Turning care discovery into a shop will allow systems to better capture, convert and retain patients, leading to greater revenue in the future. One health system that implemented improved e-commerce saw a 121% increase in conversions, a 39% increase in bookings and 30% more net new patients, while significantly reducing the cost of providing care.

Our current appointment scheduling platforms are no longer sufficient. It’s time for health systems to join the e-commerce model that has made online retailers so successful.

Merchandising is nothing to be afraid of—it’s just about getting things to consumers smarter and more efficiently—and both healthcare systems and patients can benefit from it.

Derek Street is the founder, CEO and chairman of DexCare, a data-driven intelligence company focused on healthcare access.

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