Omnichannel strategies and their impact on healthcare delivery

Let's discuss how omnichannel strategies in healthcare impact healthcare delivery and how to take advantage of these opportunities.

1. Introduction

There is much talk about how AI gradually replaces many human roles in various industries. The main argument to calm down the spirits is that, despite the many tasks that algorithms will perform, nothing can replace the human experience. If we find new paths and meanings to our professions, we must focus on this.

This brings us to omnichannel strategies, particularly the omnichannel strategy in healthcare. Of course, any marketing strategy needs to focus more on customer experiences, especially nowadays. Still, healthcare is a particularly sensitive domain because of its very personal implications: personal health and well-being and that of our loved ones. 

1.1 Omnichannel strategies in healthcare

Omnichannel strategies are no news. They have been around for about a decade, starting with the omnichannel retail strategies. Online marketing and shopping drove retailers to rethink how they interact with customers and how they can better achieve customer satisfaction.

This required an improved customer journey, consistent across all channels. The retailing strategy adapted to omnichannel experiences combining in-store and online strategies early on. They found ways to reach out to customers bringing together in-store purchases and online channels.

The omnichannel strategy in healthcare, by comparison, has emerged quite recently. It may seem counterintuitive when you think that the healthcare system is the first that should implement customer-centered strategies, where the customer is the patient. And the delay is not the lack of consideration for customer experiences. It has more to do with how the system is organized, with asset-heavy healthcare organizations with high inertia to change. 

But change is inevitable. Patients demand more care and attention to their needs. The technological acceleration in all the other sectors raises their expectations regarding various processes and tasks like payments, appointments, or communication. They expect to be able to perform these seamlessly across multiple channels, online and offline. 

There is also financial pressure to build an omnichannel approach to healthcare services. Due to the restrictions of the COVID pandemic, in 2020, US hospitals lost more than $300 billion in revenue. Given this situation, the possibility of leveraging technological solutions for healthcare delivery became a priority. 

1.2 The importance of healthcare delivery transformation

A report from a few years ago showed that about 91% of patients unhappy with their healthcare experience are determined to change medical providers. The same report exposed that, according to patients, the leading five things influencing customer satisfaction were the waiting times, knowledge of treatment costs, not feeling rushed during appointments, the level of expertise of the care providers, and easy-to-schedule appointments.

These results described the expectations before the pandemic. Imagine them now. Healthcare delivery needs to align with the other sectors in terms of omnichannel strategies to provide customers with better experiences. 

Even in healthcare, brand experience is relevant.

The way customers interact with the care providers leads to customer retention. Meeting the needs of a specific customer segment is no easy task when target audiences are so segmented; omnichannel digital strategy needs to become the new mindset in healthcare.

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2. Omnichannel strategies in healthcare

2.1 What is an omnichannel strategy?

Before diving into omnichannel strategies‘ impact on healthcare delivery, let’s agree on what an omnichannel strategy is.

Usually, the expression makes people think about omnichannel marketing strategy. This is normal, considering omnichannel strategies can incorporate digital marketing and marketing campaigns across multiple channels. Still, this is not all an omnichannel strategy is about. 

An omnichannel approach means delivering a consistent experience to customers, mainly, but also to other categories of stakeholders, across all touchpoints within the customer journey map, with the purpose of boosting customer engagement and improving the brand experience.

2.2 How do omnichannel strategies improve patient engagement?

Now, returning to healthcare, omnichannel strategies have the patient experience in focus. This is no easy task for healthcare providers; the health, even the life of the patients, is at stake, as well as the life of the organization as a business. 

The medical act depends mainly on the medical professionals and the logistics of the medical facility. Still, there is an important, yet often neglected role that patients play in their own treatment and recovery process. Better patient engagement can lead to better results, lower re-admission rates, and fewer complications. 

Here are some advantages that an omnichannel strategy brings to customer engagement:

  • Easier appointments

The earlier report showed how the ease of making an appointment could define the patient experience and customer loyalty. An omnichannel communication strategy can significantly ease how customers interact with care providers.

  • Reduced patient waiting time

By employing an automation tool, many manual tasks and paperwork are gone. This means more time and mental space to focus on the patient. Healthcare will be able to personalize experiences, thus increasing patient engagement.

  • Real-time monitoring and quick responses

When AI and machine learning are part of omnichannel customer engagements, medical professionals can intervene faster and more precisely in treating their patients. 

2.3 Omnichannel care delivery vs. Omnichannel engagement

When we talk about the omnichannel strategy, customer engagement is one of the purposes that come immediately to mind, including the omnichannel healthcare strategy. So why not simply call them omnichannel customer engagement strategies

There is a slight difference, deriving from the two nouns: delivery and engagement. While both strategies rely on technology to deliver seamlessly integrated patient experiences, the outcome or actions make the difference. 

Care delivery involves customer engagement, but it extends beyond it.

Omnichannel care delivery refers to medical services from a healthcare facility using digital tools and technology like virtual or video care, phone interactions, IoT-based wearables, etc. 

Omnichannel engagement encompasses all the channels (where the difference between multichannel vs omnichannel) where the patients can be reached. The purpose is to engage with healthcare customers through journey mapping so that the care provider can inform and communicate with patients and their close ones.

Depending on the customer segment, the engagement between healthcare providers and target audiences can occur over a healthcare omnichannel platform, a social media platform, email or via text messages, and even specific healthcare apps. This is why healthcare app development has sky-rocketed over the past years.

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2.4 The role of technology in omnichannel healthcare delivery

We’ve seen how personalized patient experience is important to patients and healthcare providers if they want to survive in a difficult market. The question is how, in an already under-pressure environment, is it possible to customize customer experiences and still deliver quality care while also taking care of the healthcare personnel?

The answer lies in the smart use of technology combined with an omnichannel digital strategy.

In 2020, according to a McKinsey report, 80 % of MedTech companies turned to digital channels as part of their efforts to develop omnichannel marketing strategies.

So, marketing automation is one line of action where technology can improve healthcare delivery. By 2025, it is expected that almost 2/3 of MedTech companies to invest over 20% of their revenue in online channels.

Social media, virtual calls, AI, and machine learning are some examples of channels and technologies that can enhance patient communications and outreach. Telemedicine and a push notification at the right time can significantly improve patient experience and effectively save a life, especially for chronically ill people or persons in remote areas with difficult physical access to a healthcare facility.

3. The impact of omnichannel strategies on healthcare delivery

The omnichannel retail strategy is focused on customer retention and increasing the lifetime value of clients. Omnichannel marketing is particularly good at this. It is, in the end, the purpose of any business, no matter the industry. 

What about healthcare?

We have, on one side, healthcare organizations that function as businesses: run budgets, have employees, and need the revenue to survive and keep delivering health services. On the other side, the purpose of these entities surpasses mere profit – it is about delivering care and keeping people healthy and alive. 

So how do omnichannel engagement strategies in healthcare impact the relationship with the patients?

3.1 The improvement of patient satisfaction and its outcomes

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that patients are ready to switch medical providers if they are dissatisfied with the current one and how they are treated.

Customer journey mapping plays a vital role in improving patient satisfaction. It is how you discover the important touchpoints and where there is room for improvement, thanks to digital solutions. An app that makes it easier to make appointments will render customers significantly more pleased with your services; an AI system to assess first symptoms online, so the doctor, at the physical visit, can focus on details, further investigations, and line of treatment.

3.2 The increase of efficiency and cost cuttings

One of the omnichannel strategy benefits is increased efficiency and cost-cutting due to the reduction of bureaucracy and human-handled support tasks.

When you empower patients to do some of the administrative work themselves, with the help of technological solutions (like payments and self-service registrations), you take the burden off the shoulders of your personnel, who can focus on more relevant activities.

When you leverage the ability of AI to handle large volumes of customer data, you improve workflows and increase the efficiency of the medical staff in establishing diagnosis and treatment.

3.3 The enhancement in communication and coordination between healthcare providers

Collaboration between various healthcare providers represents a challenge for many healthcare systems worldwide. Even within the same organization, some departments don’t communicate between them, even if they should, for the sake of the patient.

Thus, the responsibility of informing various healthcare professionals about what other medical professionals have diagnosed and recommended is passed to the patient.

Needless to say, this extra effort is hard to bear and sometimes significantly impacts the patient’s health.

An omnichannel data strategy can solve this problem by enhancing communication and coordination between healthcare providers with the help of AI, IoT, and other technologies.

4. Challenges and considerations

Healthcare indeed needs to catch up fast with omnichannel customer-centered strategies. The pressure, however, should not lead healthcare providers to overlook their challenges. A successful omnichannel strategy is built having in mind all possible barriers and the ways to overcome them.

4.1 What are some potential barriers to implementing omnichannel strategies?

  • Logistics

New technologies require equipment; automation fastens the logistic flow and puts pressure on supplies. Hospitals, for instance, are known to be asset-heavy organizations, so making changes to a complex set of logistics and inventory management is no easy task. There are, however, omnichannel logistics strategy approaches that can put processes into place and help healthcare providers overcome the obstacles.

  • Learning curve

One important barrier is the learning curve for new technology adoption. People in the healthcare system are used to a certain way of doing things. Their efficiency relies on repetition and certain protocols. Stepping out of their comfort zone and adopting new behaviors won’t be easy for most. This challenge also needs an omnichannel operations strategy approach.

  • Data sharing

Ironically, one of the main advantages of technology and a major component of omnichannel strategies – data sharing – is also a major concern. The risks are high, especially when dealing with sensitive health data. An omnichannel data strategy must tackle all possible breaches and imagine solutions and backup plans.

4.2 Compliance and data privacy concerns

Data protection is a serious matter. This is why governments and international organizations have created regulations to ensure that entities dealing with people’s data have taken all measures to keep them safe.

When you consider omnichannel communication strategies, regulation compliance needs to be a top priority.

If you operate in the U.S., you must comply with HIPAA. For European organizations, GDPR compliance is the set of regulations that ensures data privacy is respected.

In addition, there may be various national and local sets of laws concerning data collection and management. Make sure you apply these requirements before going further with the omnichannel strategy.

4.3 Future developments and opportunities

There is room for improvement in how healthcare providers tackle the omnichannel customer experience. A McKinsey report showed that 77% of medtech companies face channel conflict. Thus, future developments must focus on cross-channel coordination and on-demand information tailored to the target audiences’ needs. 

Next-generation care models are an opportunity healthcare providers seem to consider increasingly. Non-acute care conducted virtually, remote patient monitoring, incentive-focused, and high-quality care doubled by lowering costs are components of the new care management models. 

5. Conclusion

5.1 Key points to remember

Patients nowadays are more demanding and expect healthcare providers to pay more attention to their needs. An omnichannel strategy in customer service can provide a seamless experience for patients and medical professionals alike.

When adopting an omnichannel strategy, healthcare providers can benefit from important cost reductions due to the automation of administrative and support tasks, even marketing automation. Working with the right healthcare development company, you can implement tech solutions that will make a relevant difference for your company.

Data management and compliance are to be taken seriously from the first stages of building an omnichannel strategy in healthcare.

Flexibility may not be the strongest ability of healthcare providers, but a well-organized strategy considering the adoption inertia increases the chances of success.

5.2 Future outlook on the potential of omnichannel strategies

Healthcare providers must reconsider how they function, looking for ways to become parts of an ecosystem model rather than independent (often competing) entities. The starting point of omnichannel strategies in healthcare needs to be the patient’s well-being. With this purpose in mind, collaboration, efficiency, and speed become tactical objectives beyond individual purposes.

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