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What Hospital Systems Can Learn from the Retail World: A Fresh Take

Global Copywriter

August 24, 2022

While the pandemic isn’t behind us, it has gone on long enough that many of us now know how to make homemade bread. And in this post-pandemic-ish world, staff shortages as well as technological innovations are at an all-time high. Patients are less loyal than ever and drawn in by lower quality, high convenience retail medicine options. The search for a total healthcare experience that emulates consumer expectations in retail is sky-high.

Retail and Health: different stakes

The consumer expectations, however, are incredibly similar. Effective retail strategies can be translated into actionable blueprints for hospital programs. The goal is to improve systems and approaches currently used in hospitals to be more efficient and personalized, tactics that many retailers know inside and out. And while the truism “hospitals have a lot to learn from retail” is a tired one, we think it bears repeating with a fresh, contextual view.

Customer retention: the biggest hurdle for hospitals to overcome

Customer retention is a cornerstone of retail strategies. Major retail brands retain customers through loyalty programs, as well as marketing automation and personalization – all this in an omnichannel approach. Hospitals, on the other hand, while they are dedicated to patient retention, often lack clear strategies and repeatable processes to change the overall patient experience.

What hospitals have to learn: Omnichannel platforms can give hospitals a full view of the patient using a multi-channel approach that unifies patient information across channels and facilitates some of the tactics that most modern hospital systems are now using for marketing automation and personalization. Retail approaches align overall customer experience to how consumers think. The right technology delivers contextual experiences related to predicted user journeys. Hospitals can personalize interactions in low-risk ways, the same way retail does, to build loyalty and enable greater engagement.

Some hospitals are clearly at the forefront

Christus Health, an international not-for-profit health system, developed a highly customized EPIC integration that is the epitome of personalized convenience. They created an online platform that facilitates the use of several of their services, used in 4 states and Latin America. It has custom solutions based on each location’s specific needs, aligning geolocative personalization with complex user journeys. The platform allows for several patient actions, including finding a doctor and booking an ER visit.

The Children’s Hospital in Eastern Ontario (CHEO) offers a food services program that perfectly encapsulates a personalized omnichannel approach. The program is app-based, with a made-to-order service (think Uber Eats). Patients can order food at any time. The food service department has access to the patients’ records to ensure that their order complies with the doctor’s notes on what they can eat. If they have surgery the following day, for example, they may need to fast in preparation. This feature of cross-sharing information between platforms was also applied to the app, filtering the options shown to the patients based on their chart – foods that they cannot consume are not shown on the app until the notes in the chart are updated.

This program, the only one of its kind in Canada, makes the case for how a hospital setting can benefit from an omnichannel, personalized patient-centric approach in a mobile experience form. It presents advantages to the patient as well as all the caregivers (nurses, doctors, food staff, etc).

At Johns Hopkins, they decided to focus on serving patrons in common vernacular. Hopkins’ content strategy centered around personalization, automation and effective communication with patients as well as potential patients. “Aging” and “teen mental health”, for example, were more intuitive for website visitors than “rheumatology” or “cardiovascular department”. Colloquial delivery of medical content generated greater customer engagement and more accessible positioning.

The challenges specific to the hospital setting are not blockers but differentiators.

The logistics of technological innovation in a hospital setting are unique, with plenty of players and stakeholders involved. Many hospitals have several systems already in place that run simultaneously but separately. The focus of a retail-inspired strategy in a hospital setting would be to unify systems to connect information for patients.

The expectation of an Amazon-type experience, with personalization and convenience in the user journey, can be tricky to execute in a hospital setting but it is indeed possible. 

CHEO’s food services program is a great example of a personalized experience, and a testament to a hospital’s ability to connect patient information across platforms, regardless of the many challenges hospital systems face. Christus Health also unified its service offerings into one platform, allowing patients – and potential patients – to access a variety of services on a single platform.

The lessons learned in retail cannot be replicated exactly in the hospital setting but they can inspire a similar approach, focused on personalization, convenience and efficiency.

The hospital-specific challenges are important to keep in mind, but they are not blockers. Instead, they simply showcase the differences between the retail and healthcare industries. When applying a retail-inspired approach, these challenges are the factors to be considered in a plan made for a hospital setting.

This approach would reduce redundant paperwork interactions, making the digital and office experiences more aligned. It would also create greater strategy consistency across all experiences, paralleling the thinking applied in retail.

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