Being the Amazon of Healthcare: Accelerating Patient Engagement

Depending on who you ask, you may get a different definition of patient engagement. To some, patient engagement is synonymous with having a patient portal (access to their personal medical record). For some, patient engagement requires that people actually use the patient portal. The people that give those answers are likely healthcare IT professionals or physicians responsible for the infrastructure to support medical homes and meaningful use. For others, patient engagement is more about the responsiveness of the nurses, whether patients received discharge instructions, or whether patients would recommend the hospital to friends or family. If you are getting those answers, you are probably talking to staff responsible for HCAHPS scores.

Then there are those who would describe patient engagement as how well patients experience your health system: from their experience on the website, to how they are treated by the staff in a physician’s office (which may or may not be part of your system); from how long they waited in the Emergency Department to whether they could walk in to your outpatient lab for routine blood work. In marketing and PR, we would call this your brand.

In reality, patient engagement is the intersection of all of these things. So just imagine if the IT team, the web developers and the marketing and communications team combined their efforts to create the Amazon of health systems.

In a recent article by Chris Murphy in Information Week, he argued that providers should benchmark their online engagement against other industries. He went on to identify some key questions healthcare providers should be asking themselves. It got me thinking. Some of the most innovative changes that have been made in healthcare over the years are the result of thinking from the outside in, rather than the inside out. The key to enhancing patient engagement is no exception.

As Murphy quipped:

“How come a retailer such as Amazon or Apple can remember I bought an Ace of Bass recording the last time I visited, but the people who help keep me alive or healthy have to ask about my allergies every time I show up at the doctor’s office? Why can I book a flight, hotel and car from three different companies on one website but not schedule doctor appointments online and see all of my upcoming medical visits in one place?”

Yes, Chris….why is that?

HIPAA and safety considerations that make healthcare unique notwithstanding, there is no real barrier to recreating the Amazon experience in healthcare. It will take a few talented people to adapt the model and implement it, and others will follow. It is not a question of whether we have the technology to simplify the patient experience. Nor is it a question that this would enhance patient engagement in their care and build loyal brand advocates for our organizations. So why is there no Amazon in healthcare?

I know dollars are limited and your organizations are investing in electronic health records, supply chain and physician alignment. And I get that you also have one foot in the value-based purchasing  boat and one foot still on the pay for procedure dock. But creating the Amazon of healthcare is not a nice to have, and it is just as important a part of your business strategy as electronic health records, supply chain and physician alignment.

I could simplify your entire 2014 business plan into one sentence “We will become the Amazon of healthcare within X years.” I’ll let you fill in the gaps, but this goal is not only measurable and achievable, it is an imperative to make your health care organization successful. And if you’re not interested, I think I’ll suggest to Amazon that they jump into the healthcare arena by partnering with health systems to improve patient engagement. Crazier industry cross-overs have occurred. And we need some disruptive innovation in healthcare. You Amazon stockholders can thank me later.

What innovations have you implemented that fundamentally differentiate your health system and drive patient engagement?


Image Courtesy of Robert Scoble

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