Following the trajectory of many industries, ambulatory care is fundamentally transforming its delivery strategy to meet changing consumer (or patient) expectations and behaviors. Convenience, efficient service and a thoughtfully designed experience are basic asks of today’s outpatient consumer—and are on par with their daily interactions with retailers.
So how should healthcare providers embrace and respond to this growing trend of consumerism? Below are five strategies that are worth exploring in order to succeed in the highly competitive ambulatory care market.
First Things First: Select the Best Location for Care
Taking cues from the retail world, understanding the buying patterns of today’s outpatient consumers will help providers optimize the location and distribution of their ambulatory network and assets. Data points and local market information—including demographics, drive times and utilization patterns—are especially important to establishing a location and care delivery approach.
A thorough utilization and real estate assessment should be conducted prior to settling on a location. Ultimately, the investment in real estate and new practice locations must fit with the overall vision and goals of the health system’s ambulatory care strategy.
Design a Well-Built Experience
More healthcare facilities are being designed, built and renovated to offer better patient experiences as a competitive differentiator. Design is now viewed as more of an experience, and is increasingly centered around the patient rather than the patient care team.
Popular trends include:
- Constructing modern spaces that look and feel less clinical, while still exuding confidence that high-quality care is being delivered. Hotel- or retail-like environments have become commonplace, offering amenities such as gourmet food, massages, and even business services.
- Incorporating wellness-inspired elements such as increased natural light and positive distractions like artwork and music.
- Dispersing “ambient scents” that have been proven to boost moods and perceptions in lounges and other common areas, while at the same time masking anti-septic smells.
Simplify Appointment Booking and Arrivals
In the age of Uber and DoorDash, consumers are used to booking services online. Preferences for ease and fast service are driving providers to offer apps that enable patients to schedule and reschedule appointments from the convenience of their smartphones. Health centers that provide this capability experience low no-show rates which translates to cost savings over time. Additionally, the digital experience boosts both patient retention and new patient acquisition.
Relative to arrivals, healthcare has taken a cue from other industries, and is increasingly encouraging pre-arrival registration and completion of all digital forms via patient portals or email. In some cases, the patient receives a bar code via email or text message, scans it at a kiosk upon arrival, and is then guided through various stages of care much like an airline boarding pass.
The bottom line: as one of the first opportunities to deliver an exceptional patient experience, bookings and arrivals will set the tone for the overall patient journey. Make the process as efficient, engaging and effective as possible.
Provide Concierge Wayfinding
Making patient service a priority, many ambulatory care facilities are stationing patient care concierges at key waypoints (e.g., main lobbies, elevator lobbies, check-in areas) to immediately assist patients and visitors. These patient care representatives are trained to help no matter the need—whether it’s providing directions inside and around the building, checking bags or simply listening and offering words of comfort. They serve as an extension of the “brand” of the provider by making the patient experience more comfortable and positive.
Consider the Impacts of Telehealth
The implementation of digitized care is still in its infancy. Telehealth is positioned to change the ambulatory care landscape, according to research presented by KaufmanHall:
- 33% of ambulatory care visits are addressable through telehealth
- 80% of behavioral health visits are addressable through telehealth
- The country’s largest telehealth company says it has only reached 1% of its total addressable market
It is no secret that providers are investing in telehealth to keep and attract patients and create additional access points to care and revenue streams. But does this signal the end of office-based medicine? No. While many consumers are willing to pay out-of-pocket for convenience, Medicare/CMS is reimbursing certain telehealth encounters under specific conditions, and the Medicare fee schedule could grow. Telehealth could become less out-of-pocket and more third-party-payor friendly.
Convenience and quality experiences for consumers will continue to define ambulatory care in the future. These “must haves” are driving major changes to the care environment, impacting location selection, facility layout and design, mobility and access, technological adoption and brand. The success of practitioners and ambulatory care systems will depend on their ability to think forward and listen to the voice of the consumer.