Healthcare delivery has been a reactionary based delivery system. Largely seen as a product-based concept, healthcare delivery has been focused on the prescription of a drug by a doctor and subsequent treatment paradigm for the patient. The best experience in the yesteryears would mean immediate access to a doctor and a nearby medicine store for the availability of the drug. For critical cases, hospitals and nursing homes were the places for treatment without many probes into details of care quality. Delivery of care is like a maze where patient’s access to care depends on the timely availability, affordability, and effectiveness of medical care.
Much has changed in the past decade with the advancement of digital technology in healthcare space and rising consumerism of services. With rapid digital transformation, the importance of a service-based marketing approach to healthcare systems could not be further emphasized. Healthcare delivery through caregivers, providers are now aimed at finer details of customer satisfaction. While customer satisfaction in healthcare continues to be measured by the clinical outcomes, digital health makes a strong case for innovation by service providers with a renewed focus on patient engagements.
Service Marketing in Healthcare
A contemporary approach known as Service Dominant logic states that the demarcation of products and services is artificial and more relevant than ever. Value creation in this context means creating value for the customer by the firm, which in turn enhances a firm’s value. For example, in case of a patient admitted in the hospital for a cardiac arrest, clinical outcomes would remain essential success factor, however, ease of care, shortened administrative formalities, responsive grievance redressal, and simplified payment mechanisms are just a few of the additional services that can contribute to a satisfied customer.
Services management has been practiced for long in industries such as hospitality, tourism, but lately evolved to almost all types such as in financial services, telecommunication, and professional services among others. The democratization of healthcare, internet explosion, and the onset of the digitally active consumers are major contributors to deepen the service aspect in the healthcare delivery value chain. Popularly known as service marketing mix, it comprises of 7Ps, product, pricing, place, promotion, people, process and physical evidence. The healthcare delivery system today offers opportunities at every step to enhance the services offered.
Digital Health and Service Marketing
Advancement of digital interfaces in value delivery starting from information search to post-treatment experience has revolutionized the healthcare system. A comparative study by PwC showed that while it took 75 years for the telephone to reach 50 million users, a gaming app such as Angry Bird did so in mere 35 days. This rapid appetite for consumers to embrace digital technologies is changing the mindset of companies who want to integrate digital offerings to enable new value drivers. The change in the digital landscape in health has also transformed the business models as companies, providers, and caregivers strive to improve the connectivity to the consumer through social media, mobile platforms, etc. This ensures the opportunity to explore healthcare services such as screening, diagnosis, and care to be more commonplace through digital mediums than it is currently. With the emergence of digital technologies that engulf the healthcare services, a connected care paradigm for patients is the next step in healthcare innovation practices.
Healthcare Delivery and Innovation in Services
Traditional Patient Journey starts with a symptom identification leading the patient to a nearby physician. Lab tests are done at the recommendation of the physician post which the treatment phase begins. If the disease recedes, the loop is closed with the patient returning only if there are further symptoms. In the case of complexities, the patient is referred to as specialists’ treatment. Digitally enabled patient journey is where multiple stakeholders get added as touch-points to the patient. It is here the digital players such as apps for online consultation, online medicine purchase, lab tests, online appointment booking, etc. come into the picture. Digitally enabled patient journey creates immense opportunities for service marketers in terms of consumer outreach. Service excellence for the providers, caregivers, points of delivery and innovative players would evolve even further with the adoption of digital technologies. Providers/ Caregivers – Hospitals such as multi-specialty, super-specialty, and other providers both public and private have seen many barriers for the patients starting from the point of entry till the billing stage. Beginning from administrative procedures, waiting times, medicine procurement, etc. there exist many points where value creation for the customer by the firm could be improved in the current context of digital health.
One of the classic examples is Mayo Clinic. Counted as one of the best hospitals in the world, Mayo Clinic has an extreme focus on patient needs through high levels of data integration in terms of patients’ medical records, and seamless information flow among various points of delivery. For instance, a patient with cystic breast disease suspected a lump. She turned up at the breast clinic in Mayo to the specialists who took her medical history and performed an exam, which was immediately followed by a mammogram in the nearby breast imaging center. The breast ultrasound followed next and the results confirmed the lump was a cyst and not cancer. The radiologist communicated the findings to the specialist and recorded it in the patient EMR. The patient returned to the specialist who discussed the findings with her, wrapped up the visit and recommended follow-up care. This entire exercise which could have taken days, if not weeks, was completed in a few hours in Mayo Clinic.
This is one instance where digitization of healthcare is playing a significant role in improving customer services in the context of institutions that provide care. Other potential areas in digital connected care include faster payment systems (claim processing) where insurance provider pre-empts the patient whether the hospital is in-network before admission, reduced hospital days due to seamless information flow among nurses, physicians and other caregivers for quick turnaround, early screening and diagnosis for patients and so on. Enhanced patient experience contributes to service excellence and digital transformation could act as a significant enabler for providers and caregivers reducing barriers inpatient care.
Points of Delivery – In the healthcare value chain, points of delivery such as pharmacies, diagnostic centers also act as major areas where value creation for a customer is imperative. Traditionally the pharmacy has been a place for product promotions by the pharmaceutical firms. However, with the expansion of chain pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Apollo, and the use of digital systems, the effect has gradually become more towards patient engagement and convenience-driven access to care.
From discount coupons on drugs to provide additional services such as immunization and vaccination, digital transformation is aiding the pharmacies to spend more time with patients. Along with improving operational efficiency to quickly fill prescriptions, pharmacies focus on patient support programs such as health screening, improving patient adherence using customized programs for patients where patients could register using apps, get regular updates regarding prescription filling, vaccination reminders, and other such services. As the role of the pharmacies evolves more from a product-based approach to a more service-oriented one, digital enablers would assist in marketing approaches to improve customer experience.
Innovative Digital Solutions – Digital transformation in patient buying behavior has chartered a new territory for innovative digital solution providers in healthcare. This ranges from the beginning of the patient entry to the identification of symptoms to the end of a patient journey which is post-treatment experience. Customized apps for information or symptom search, smart medical devices that track physical activity, remote monitoring solutions, and telehealth are just a few players in the fast-increasing segment of healthcare that adds to the consumerism of services. From a service marketing perspective, these digital devices serve as means for the firms to acquire customers, retain them and add more services to the solutions which would result in a one-stop-shop for the patient in its journey. As patient centricity becomes further positioned, the next steps could be connected solutions through which the consumer could make an appointment, order lab tests, purchase medicines on prescription, integrate its health insurance plan for payments, register in disease-specific adherence program and get updated about the next prescription fill and nearby available pharmacies.
In a nutshell, a key aspect of service marketing is the people-orientation and with the onset of digital health platforms, value creation is focused on patient engagement strategies and personalized care. The healthcare industry is poised to expand its reach from just treating the patient with a drug to the more wholesome patient experience. Thus, an evolving digital landscape creates immense opportunities for existing and novel players to enhance patient centricity and service excellence in healthcare delivery.
Satyam Mishra, Principal Author, is a healthcare enthusiast and has been in the profession for around 6 years. He is currently working as a Consultant in Digital health in one of the global management consulting firms in Gurgaon. An MBA in Marketing and an undergraduate in engineering, he loves to read and explore about health.
Pranjal Joshi, Co-Author, is an avid writer and passionate about communication. He is leading a venture into professional talks and is based out of Jaipur.