Healthcare labors to provide digital experiences without complexity

Medical staff and patients want digital experiences, but providers are struggling to keep up with their expectations

Healthcare providers are struggling to keep up with digital experience expectations.

For many businesses, the past year has been characterized by rapid digitization. As the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies began offering more options for remote and hybrid work and pivoting to digital products and services for customers. Recent studies show that many Americans want to continue working and shopping remotely after the pandemic. Digitizing customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) has become imperative for every industry.

New research from ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab suggests that the most successful companies approach CX and EX holistically, working to improve both in tandem. According to a survey of 900 C-level executives across 13 countries, businesses that embrace such “total experience” (TX) see greater—and faster—benefits across both CX and EX.

Compared to other industries, however, healthcare is behind on digitizing, streamlining, and improving both CX and EX, and business leaders are not yet working to improve them in tandem. Only 25% of healthcare providers report having made progress in digitizing CX over the past year, and about half say they plan to make progress over the next one to two years. To put that in perspective, 84% of business leaders from the financial services industry, 67% from telecoms, and 67% from the public sector plan to make progress on digitizing CX over the next two years.

Healthcare has made even less progress on digitizing EX. Only 19% of leaders from that industry say they’ve taken steps to digitize EX in the past year, while more than half say they plan to make progress over the next two years. In contrast, 71% of business leaders from the public sector, 69% from telecoms, and 56% from manufacturing plan to take steps to digitize EX over the next one to two years.

What explains this unwillingness to digitize? According to the survey data, 50% of business leaders in the healthcare industry say they’re having a hard time keeping up with customer expectations, while 37% say they’re struggling with employee resistance to change.

These findings are surprising, since 88% of Americans want to continue using telehealth even after the pandemic. Digital healthcare experiences have proven popular among healthcare providers, as well. A recent survey of 1,600 healthcare providers found that around 70% are motivated to use more telehealth options, and more than three-quarters said telehealth helped them provide quality care for their patients.

If patients want digital experiences, and healthcare workers are on board, then why do business leaders cite changing customer expectations and employee resistance as obstacles to digitization?

According to industry experts, the answer has to do with the relationship between digital experiences and complexity. While both customers and employees crave the convenience of digital experiences, they’re wary of layering increasingly complex technical tools and solutions on an already complicated system.

An evolving healthcare market

The healthcare industry is at an inflection point. In response to pandemic-driven changes in customer and employee expectations, the industry and the market are evolving quickly. Customers have come to expect the convenience and safety of digital experiences, while employees now expect the flexibility that allows them to treat patients remotely. In 2020, the use of telehealth, wearables, and digital health tracking shot up by more than 10 percentage points.

As employers and consumers struggle with the rising costs of healthcare, agile disruptors are seeking out ways to deliver cheaper services. Startups like Heal, DispatchHealth, One Medical, and Medically Home are delivering on-demand house calls to patients, while others like Babylon Health, Current Health, and Pear Therapeutics are blazing new trails in telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and digital therapies.

19%

Healthcare industry leaders who say they’ve taken steps to digitize EX in the past year

“Whether it’s Amazon or DoorDash, it’s all convenient and consistent,” says Connie Schiefer, head of product, healthcare, and life sciences at ServiceNow. “So people are starting to think ‘Why isn’t my healthcare experience like that?’”

As more consumers invest in wearables and other medtech, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Facebook are capitalizing on this explosion of accessible data. Tech companies are marketing themselves as uniquely positioned to deliver smarter, more convenient care.

“There’s a competitive shift going on in the market,” says Mike Luessi, general manager of ServiceNow’s global healthcare and life sciences industry. “[It’s] an imperative to transform. If you look at how much investment has been going on in this space, clearly the venture capital groups and private equity firms believe this is an inflection point [that might] change how everything works.”

Medtech startups raised more than $15 billion in 2020, up from slightly more than $10 billion in 2019, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s latest Healthcare Investments and Exits report. The legacy healthcare industry—old-school primary care providers and hospital giants—are taking note. To keep pace with the disruptors, legacy healthcare providers are exploring digital options, both for CX and EX.

“Before COVID, healthcare was behind. When COVID struck, new care delivery models came to light by necessity,” says Schiefer. “How can we deliver care beyond the four walls of a hospital?”

[Read also: The COVID dividend]

However, for healthcare, digitization is more complex than simply investing in new tools. Schiefer says that legacy healthcare providers are already buckling under the weight of their systems, platforms, and tools. As an example, she points out that healthcare providers’ latticework of tools is so complicated that it takes about six months and hundreds of steps to onboard a new doctor. “That’s true at places like Stanford or at smaller hospitals, and regardless of how experienced the doctor is,” she says.

The rapid evolution of healthcare, which encompasses on-site care, medical wearables, on-demand services, and remote tools, is only making it more difficult to digitize. To digitize in a way that doesn’t tax already-stretched healthcare employees, Luessi says providers must invest in platforms that streamline workflows.

Yet many healthcare providers were focused solely on beating the pandemic during the past year, so they didn’t have the bandwidth to streamline. As a result, they’ve been slow to digitize EX and CX. To catch up with healthcare startups and other agile disruptors, they must figure out how to digitize without overburdening already taxed systems, processes, and people.

Medical providers struggle to adopt new models of care

Healthcare providers have received a resounding message from both customers and employees: people want the convenience of digital systems but not more complexity.

Given the growing popularity of on-demand services, customers seem more than willing to try out telehealth. At the same time, however, Schiefer says healthcare consumers are not very technically savvy. While they enjoy the convenience of telehealth, they crave experiences that don’t require a lot of technical acumen. They want digital experiences, but they don’t want overly technical experiences.

This is equally true for medical staff. “There’s administrative overhead and there’s delivering care,” says Schiefer. “Employees want to do the latter, not the former, and the systems are not set up well to do that. And so they’re frustrated that they have to add another system, another platform, to do the things they’ve done before.”

While hospital employees are skeptical of change, they are receptive to adopting new technologies that deliver tangible benefits. Like patients, they’re willing to try out digital tools that can actually make their lives easier. With the on-going global pandemic firmly in everyone’s mind, Schiefer says healthcare employees are willing to move more quickly to solve problems.

Given the growing popularity of on-demand services, customers seem more than willing to try out telehealth.

“COVID shows us that whatever you thought you were going to fix later, you have to fix now because who knows what your next challenge might be or when it’s coming?” she says.

Medicine, healing, and healthcare

Although the legacy healthcare industry is struggling, Luessi says there’s room for optimism.

“There’s a quote I’ve heard a few times,” he says. “‘Medicine is a science, healing is an art, and healthcare is a business.’ If you really want to make transformation happen in this space, then you have to find a way to do all three: to improve the art of healing and give [patients and providers] more time back, to bring more insight into the science so that this time is used more effectively, and to understand the cost structures of healthcare so you’re not adding [unnecessary] cost.”

Luessi says that the healthcare industry has previously worked on one of those three elements at the exclusion of the others. “If you’re solving for one,” he says, “it comes at the consequence of the other things, and it’s hard to get adoption.”

However, healthcare providers now have the tools, a crisis spurring interest, and the buy-in from customers and employees to invest in all three. All that remains is for them to reconcile the goal of providing effective care with the desire for easy access.