In recent years, healthcare organizations have worked to use new technologies to get closer to consumers and secure them as customers. They got on social media and built patient portals and smartphone apps, but guess what:  Most of these efforts didn’t really work all that well. The intentions were good, but the focus was often on the organization itself, not on the healthcare consumer.

Lesson learned: While today’s technology allows organizations to push out more and more information, useful or not, consumers want – and have – more control than ever before over what they see and when they see it. Providing consumers with that sense of control – and not technology for technology’s sake – is now the end game for healthcare businesses.   

The situation reminds me of the 2004 movie The Incredibles, in which the character Syndrome relays the thinking behind his plan to sell his superhero inventions and technology to the masses: “Everyone can be “super,” and when everyone’s super, no one will be.”

Similarly, everyone in the healthcare business has access to more or less the same technology: websites, patient portals, connected devices, wearables, chatbots, artificial intelligence. But it’s not the technology that’s the differentiator – 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.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Simply put, healthcare organizations need to use technology as a conduit for creating long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with healthcare consumers. 

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

Healthcare consumers using the university’s website bypass marketing hype and go straight to the doctor ratings. More than 40,000 patients have ranked and evaluated hundreds of PCPs and specialists. By opening its staff to patient reviews, 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—on improving patient care and interactions.

Temper Technology with Humanity

The USC Center for Body Computing gets it, too. The organization recently published fitness research using leading-edge technology, including glasses with a biometric sensor. But the technology was simply the pipeline for supporting a relationship 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 key elements increased engagement:

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

As the study’s primary investigator said, “One in every five Americans wears a health tracker, but there was no research that took a look at what motivates engagement, until now.”

The engagement described in the study has less to do with technology and more to do with friendships, relationships and altruism. 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.

The Work Ahead

So the fact that 90% of healthcare practices offer a patient portal sounds great – until you also hear that many patient portals are considered “clunky and offer nothing more than secure message exchanges.”            

Clunky. Not a great strategy for building long-term patient relationships nor for ensuring healthcare consumers will come back to use the portal. Most patients who used these portals were undoubtedly one-time users who found them useless for accomplishing anything that might be related to improving health.

Technology, of course, has an important role to play in building relationships with healthcare consumers. But it’s 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. Healthcare organizations that will lead the industry will focus on customers as new technologies are brought into hospitals and exam rooms.

Antonella Bonanni

Antonella Bonanni

Antonella Bonanni is AVP and Chief Marketing Officer of Healthcare at Cognizant. She has an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and... Read more