Having just returned from my first HIMSS Conference in Orlando this past week, I believe the biggest takeaway was this: Customer empathy is essential to succeeding in our industry. In particular, I walked away from the event better understanding the enormity of the challenges that healthcare systems face as well as the complexity of the patient journey.

Patient Access and Retention

The healthcare professionals at HIMSS helped me appreciate just how complicated patient access and retention are in healthcare. Outside the healthcare industry, even in heavily regulated industries such as financial services, the marketing department can manage the consumer experience from the moment the consumer becomes aware of the brand to when they are interacting with the brand in a physical location. But many obstacles ranging from HIPPA requirements to technology limitations prevent healthcare systems from providing an end-to-end customer experience. From a patient acquisition standpoint, healthcare systems are trying to get smarter in their outreach using social media, paid search, retargeting, and platforms such as SIM Partners Velocity Health. But the industry lacks a way to manage the patient experience the way the best retailers provide complete customer relationship management. There is too much of a disconnect between CRM systems and internal patient electronic medical records inside a typical healthcare client.

And yet, as difficult as it is to provide a complete patient experience, a technology firm like ours can support patient access and retention by providing pieces of the solution — for instance, online scheduling widgets to improve patient access and mobile wallets to support wellness care after a patient is treated. But our industry has a very long way to go.

The Provider/Patient Experience

I also got a better appreciation for the many variables that affect the way patients find providers in their moment of need. In an industry like retail, the search for a product is simple compared to healthcare. If I need a new pair of Clarks shoes, I can enter a “Clarks shoes near me” on my phone and find what I want within seconds. But patients seeking care, especially serious care, need to take into account a number of variables. Someone looking for a cardiologist needs to understand details such as insurance covered, hours of operation, and specialty care provided, just for starters. And even doing a “near me” search is complicated by the fact that providers often maintain multiple locations and hours.

At SIM Partners, we know that healthcare systems need to share accurate provider and facility data to help patients find the care they need. Our Velocity Health platform helps healthcare systems do just that. But my challenge to the technology industry is to be more empathetic to the needs of providers as they attempt to improve patient access. Having a technology platform is essential, but not sufficient, to providing an effective client experience. People who are empathetic are the key to a successful client experience. Empathy comes in many forms. Empathy can mean taking a client out for lunch just to give them a chance to vent about their challenges, not to sell them anything. Empathy can mean sending an unexpected note just to let them know you care about them. Empathy certainly means being extra responsive and understanding when your client has a problem that needs fixing immediately. As an industry, we need to continue providing great technology that makes healthcare more effective and resilient. But we also need the human element to provide a more empathetic experience.