Time to use technology, not be used by it: Build trust, relationships

November 7, 2018

The healthcare industry can’t lose sight of its customers as new technologies are brought into hospitals and exam rooms.

For years, the healthcare industry has been scrambling to use new technologies to access consumers, to get closer to us, to secure us as customers. 

Healthcare organizations got on social media, built patient portals and smartphone apps. And guess what? It didn’t really work all that well. The intentions were good, but it turns out it was really all about them and not about us, the healthcare consumers. The focus was in the wrong place.

Today’s technology allows organizations to push out more and more information, useful or not. Conversely, technology enables the consumers of that information to throttle it. Consumers have more control over what they see and when they see it than ever before. Technology for technology’s sake has ceased to be the end game. Healthcare consumers are savvy and, more and more, want control-of everything.  

As Syndrome tells the Parr family in The Incredibles about his plan to sell his inventions and technology to all-comers: “Everyone can be super, and when everyone’s super, no one will be.” And that, essentially, is what’s happening with technology in healthcare. Everyone in the healthcare business has access to more or less the same technology: websites, patient portals, connected devices, wearables, chatbots, artificial intelligence. It’s understanding, fashioning, and empowering the relationships between these technologies and our humanity that will make healthcare organizations super today and in the future.

Online reviews build trust

To some degree, technology has become commoditized because everyone from health systems to healthcare providers to patients has access to it at a very low price. 

There’s an opportunity, however, for healthcare organizations to be super by using technology to serve customers. But they must approach the issue from the healthcare consumer’s point of view. The way to gain trust is by creating long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between healthcare consumers and healthcare organizations. 

The University of Utah hospital gets this relationship-based model. They understand healthcare consumers want to control their treatment destiny. 

Healthcare consumers using the university’s website bypass the marketing hype and go straight to the doctor ratings. That’s right. More than 40,000 patients have ranked and evaluated hundreds of primary care physicians and specialists. By opening its staff to this criticism, the hospital is fostering a long-term bond with anyone who is or may become a patient.

The hospital’s openness builds trust and puts the organization’s emphasis-from the very top to the very bottom-onimproving patient care and interactions.

Temper technology with humanity

The USC Center for Body Computing gets it, too. They recently published fitness research using leading-edge technology, including glasses with a biometric sensor. But the technology was simply the pipeline used to support a relationship built between study participants, digital coaches and an online community of like-minded people. This far-reaching social network, literally and figuratively, was designed to encourage participation in an exercise program.

The researchers learned three things increased engagement:

  • Digital coaching; 
  • Social networks; and
  • Philanthropy (participants who reached a certain involvement goal activated a donation of an eye exam and glasses to a person in need).

"One in every five Americans wears a health tracker but there was no research that took a look at what motivates engagement, until now," according to Leslie Saxon, MD, founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing and the study’s primary investigator.

The engagement described in the study has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with friendships, relationships, andaltruism. This is technology done right. It works for the patient allowing her to engage with others on multiple levels and in doing so creates and builds long-term relationships. 

So the fact that 90 percent of healthcare practices offer a patient portal sounds great, like the healthcare industry’s work is already done. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Through its own studies the MGMA found many patient portals are poorly designed and really nothing more than a secure spot to send and receive messages.          

Poorly designed and clunky. Not a great strategy to build long-term patient relationships nor to keep healthcare consumers coming back to use the portal. Most patients who used these portals were undoubtedly one-time users who found them utterly useless for accomplishing anything that might be related to improving health.

Technology, of course, hasn’t really run its course. And it’s not going away.

But it is critical to temper and separate technology hype and usage with humanity in order to achieve the balance necessary to bring healthcare consumers into the fold even as new functionalities are implemented. The healthcare industry can’t lose sight of its customers as new technologies are brought into hospitals and exam rooms. 

Antonella Bonanni is chief marketing officer of healthcare at Cognizant, a Fortune 200 company. Antonella has an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and a Masters of Communications from the CUOA in Vicenza, Italy.