Digital platforms and services, customer focus and personalisation, data-driven marketing – to a large extent, this is only progressing slowly and in a fragmented manner in the Swiss healthcare system. One may argue with the complexity and protection of health data, but this falls short. On the one hand, some companies are already very good at collecting customer data, analysing it smartly and using it to design digital customer journeys that are profitable for both sides. However, it is important to note that customer journeys are not always linear and predictable. Instead, a distinction must now be made between the three phases of “incentive & contact”, “messy middle,” i.e. exploration and evaluation, and experience and purchase.
On the other hand, the controversy already begins with the word “customer”. Or is someone who uses a health service a patient, a potential patient, or, as it is often called in the digital context, a health user? For it is precisely on the part of the service providers, i.e. doctors and hospitals, that there are loud opposing voices to patients being called customers. The customer relationship, they say, is fleeting and superficial, a sign of the increasing tendency towards economisation, which does not stop at the health system with cost pressure and flat rates per case. In addition, they do not see themselves as service providers but as committed to the care of the patient.
But does one thing necessarily exclude the other? Firstly, not everyone who uses a health service management is ill, and secondly, chronically ill people, in particular, do not want to be called patients. Being a “client” also has its good points: one expects quality and professionalism in the service and in the communication between the two parties; one feels less at the mercy of this hierarchical relationship. Be it between a family doctor and a sick person, between the customer advisory service of a health insurer and an insured person, but also between a pharmaceutical company and medical professionals.
This controversy alone shows how the doctor-patient relationship and the two role models have changed, along with still-changing expectations.
From doctor to patient
Only a few decades ago, the doctor-patient relationship was characterised by a pronounced hierarchical relationship and an asymmetry of knowledge, which manifested itself in the patient’s strong dependence on the doctor’s judgement. Access to medical knowledge was exclusively reserved for the medically trained professions. Accordingly, the doctor’s position was also different – the doctor had his clientele for sure, and recommendations via word-of-mouth functioned informally and in an unorganised manner.
Today’s patients or health users are more critical, more self-confident, can inform themselves about medical issues and expect a modernised doctor-patient relationship. Whether this is a conversation at eye level, as the subjectively perceived earlier knowledge asymmetry has become smaller, or whether this is in the services around a hospital or doctor’s visit.
Living up to expectations
But how can the customer’s increased expectations of the healthcare system be met? How can you communicate with him or her in a targeted way, and which digital services support personalised customer contact?
The solution is a data-driven approach that enables customers and patients to manage their health in a simple and effective way. Ideally, on digital platforms and services and through a good relationship with the healthcare provider who knows their needs and addresses them in a personalised way. Things that are taken for granted in the areas of e-commerce, e-banking or ride-booking. Because due to the increasing use of smartphones and the therefore easily accessible digital services, the behaviour of customers and patients has changed. Especially in urban areas, where there is a dense supply of health service providers, a professional digital presence is important.
People search online for a doctor, be it a family doctor, paediatrician or specialist. Likewise, people rate online and these ratings are also read. This presents doctors with a whole new set of challenges, depending on their geographical location and speciality. This is especially an issue for those entering the medical profession. On the one hand, the potential clientele already has different demands due to the digital services of the competition; on the other hand, a younger doctor also has a digital affinity himself and is annoyed by complicated systems and too many media disruptions.
The knowledge around the customer
Digitisation is creating huge opportunities here. Because the knowledge that used to consist of an entry in the patient’s address file and a handwritten medical record, for example, has now been distributed across many different channels. Of course, patient data, in particular, cannot be used – but there is nothing to be said against letting customers register for a newsletter who are interested in it.
A well-managed and structured CRM is the basis of everything – and makes it possible, for example, for a dermatologist to inform interested patients that a new doctor is working in the practice, so that more free appointments are available via the new booking tool. Or that, for example, a new medical device has been purchased that makes examinations even more precise and efficient. Then, with a clever call-to-action, customers take this as an opportunity to quickly book an appointment they have perhaps been putting off for a long time, smartphone in hand. Convinced by the professional online presence, the intuitive appointment booking platform and the modern practice.
Focus on the customer/patient and segmentations
What may seem banal is not yet the norm everywhere in the health sector. While health insurers have been allowed to write to customers in a somewhat targeted manner in the supplementary insurance business for some time, segmentation and the corresponding targeted writing is still in its infancy in the rest of the healthcare sector. Based on the customer’s behaviour and the analysis of their preferences and needs, marketing measures can be tailored to them and, ideally, corresponding offers can be realised.
Additional services that create added value
Once again, some health insurers are in the vanguard here and have long offered their policyholders more than “being insured” and receiving bills and the annual policy at regular intervals. Therefore, the scanning of receipts, uploading to the respective customer portal, direct chat functions to the personal customer advisor as well as apps that offer additional services such as digital medical advisors have already become standard in some cases.
Accordingly, customers expect similar convenience from other healthcare providers such as hospitals and doctors, but this is only available in a very fragmented way.
There are already some platforms that offer online appointment scheduling, including calendar entries and reminders, and subsequently, simplify the evaluation of the doctor and the search for further medical services. Reminders to take medication are also widespread, and telemedicine services are also being expanded. The goal here must be to network the data.
The customer loyalty of the future
As described in the introduction, patients’ expectations have risen. With the increasing economisation of the health care system, comparable companies and institutions have come into a competitive relationship, which at the same time opens up interesting choices for the users of health care services. Customer loyalty can thus be shaped in a promising and individual way.
Accordingly, what was once not necessary is now becoming a compulsory exercise – with room for improvement. Providers of health services must stay in contact with their customers in order to stand out from the competition. This is not only interesting for insurers, but also for hospitals and doctors, who are facing increased competition and economic pressure. Digitalisation opens up interesting possibilities here, which are possible on the basis of data. Important: these can of course also be applied by a digital health start-up, a private hospital or a pharmaceutical company that wants to stay in touch with doctors and hospitals, and many others.