It’s encouraging that healthcare providers are looking to invest in transforming their digital experience. But, in a classic case of ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ not many practitioners believe they’re really excelling. In fact, more than half (53%) state they’re only keeping pace with customer expectations and more than a third (35%) are actually lagging behind (see Figure 3).

This is no misplaced humility: elsewhere in our survey 77% of healthcare respondents either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that as far as the importance of virtual care to their organisation (e.g., video-based, telehealth) is concerned, their patients’ and customers’ expectations are further ahead than their organisations’ digital capabilities.

Figure 3: How would you describe your organisation’s digital customer experience?

Sample size = 352
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

Healthcare regulations have not made it easy. For compelling digital experiences, healthcare providers need to delve into the data and create unified views of individual patient journeys. The American Health Information Privacy or HIPAA laws determine what is and is not lawful use of patient data. Being able to use clinical data for marketing purposes has always been a challenge, limiting engagement to acquisition. Adobe’s new HIPAA-ready platform, Experience Cloud for Healthcare, is the first industry-specific solution that will help providers complete those journeys while remaining compliant.

It’s a gnarly problem that healthcare must tackle. Even if it is a sector-wide challenge, it’s important to remember that patients judge their experience not just by comparing it to other healthcare providers but to their grocery delivery and banking apps.

I think consumers are getting smarter and smarter. And they’re getting pretty savvy as to what products are available in the market, and they know that they want to have access to all those products.”

Phillip Morelock
SVP, Chief Digital Officer – eHealth, Inc.

Analysts suggest that start-ups are ideally placed to grow and proliferate into the emerging targeted healthcare space. According to one report, personalised medicine start-ups that use artificial intelligence (AI) are expected to attract record levels of venture capital investment in 2022.14 This constitutes yet another threat to legacy providers.

Healthily creates personalised treatment recommendations through its Smart Symptom Checker, using AI to search medical journals covering more than 1,000 different conditions. A bot then guides the patient through questions about symptoms to arrive at a potential diagnosis. The patient is then routed to the best ‘live’ (human) specialist who can deal with that particular condition.15

Even without boundary-pushing technologies, it is possible to bring personalisation and added value at scale. For example, Orlando Health aggregates large volumes of patient data to advise new mothers. The email newsletter is personalised and contains information on either caring for a newborn or how to manage family life.16

Nor should the value of an offline healthcare interaction be forgotten. Nearly a third of our survey respondents (29%, Figure 2 in the previous section) indicate they will be investing in expanding their services to physical locations. But how that looks in an omnichannel age is different from the doctors’ offices of old. Now, patients are as likely to have standard lab tests and monitor their diabetes while picking up photo prints and a shampoo bottle in a pharmacy. But it’s in bringing the on and offline journeys together where the magic happens.

Patients’ expectations now are that they can interact with Walgreens in many ways. Obviously, they’re used to coming into our stores and interacting physically with the pharmacist. More and more, they’re expecting to either start or even complete their entire experience with Walgreens in a digital format. This might be through our app or online or in some combination where they might initiate in the app, but then they go and pick up their prescription at the store.”

Matt Harker
VP, Global Marketing Strategy and Transformation, Walgreens Boots

Understanding Off-the-chart Performance

To understand what separates leading companies from static or lagging organisations, we have created a Performance Scorecard that helps us understand what drives companies’ performance in their digital customer experience.

We first asked respondents how they would describe their company’s digital customer experience: lagging customer expectations, keeping pace, or ahead. We then asked them to gauge the overall health of their business by rating it on a 10-point scale on each of five criteria:

  • Agility in responding to opportunities and disruptions that may arise
  • Innovation
  • Collaboration from the technology/IT group
  • Talent development and education
  • Ensuring a diversity of backgrounds and opinions

Finally, we cross-tabulated the responses to these two questions and the results are displayed in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4: Customer experience proficiency versus organisational performance against key dimensions including agility, innovation, collaboration, talent, and diversity

Note: The numbers in the cells represent the average scores on each of the five dimensions, separately for the three levels of customer experience, with 10 being the highest possible score. Sample size = 290
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

Figure 4 clearly shows that companies that exceed their customers’ expectations regarding their digital experience have universally higher scores across all five criteria from Agility to Diversity than those that lag those expectations. There are no outliers. The message is clear – if you excel in digital experience, your marketing performance is as likely to thrive and vice versa. Improve one, and the others may well follow.

It’s also clear why start-ups in healthcare can bring new ideas to the table, seemingly effortlessly. They’re often helmed by executives from the more advanced consumer or ecommerce worlds, such as 98point6, or staffed by natural technologists rather than healthcare professionals. And if you were to apply the five criteria to disruptors, they would certainly tick every box.

When presented with a ‘status update’ like this, legacy providers would often be forgiven for a sense of futility – ‘where are we going wrong,’ followed by ‘where do we start.’ By breaking the performance indicators into specific sections, it is possible to see where improvements need to be made and how much work is required to close the leaders’ gap.

Work in Progress

If COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation for healthcare providers, particularly in the legacy segment, it certainly didn’t signal the end of the job. In fact, for many, where they go from here doesn’t just involve boosting current activity, it means fundamentally rethinking their people, process and product.

Figure 5: Where is your organisation on the digital health provision journey?

Sample size = 387
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

There is evidence across our survey that there is still quite some way to go. In Figure 5, nearly half (48%) of all healthcare respondents – including 55% of the senior executives and 46% of the practitioners – claimed to be at an intermediate stage of their digital health provision journey; they’ve built new capabilities but still need help. Senior executives are slightly more optimistic than practitioners that their organisation has reached the advanced stage of their digital health provision journey (27% vs. 21%); they have extensive and fully operational digital capabilities.

Focusing on the responses of senior executives, we see in Figure 6 that, more often than not, their organisations are still working on various issues (e.g., improving collaboration across teams, reducing silos) and are not quite there yet today. Reassuringly, with very few exceptions, they are at least aware of issues that can affect the success of their organisations and are not ignoring them.

“[The] financial industry is a good example of getting it right. To get it right, backend processes and data must be well-connected so that a seamless customer experience is provided. As healthcare systems add or acquire services, it is essential to have strong governance, effective processes, and sufficient connectivity to provide customers a seamless experience. […] structures, processes, and team members must be adaptable to rapidly changing environments […] Strong partnerships with vendors are important.”17 Christen Castellano, Vice President of Customer Experience Channels at Banner Health.

Figure 6: How would you describe your organisation?

Sample size = 97, Senior Executives
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

Many healthcare providers in our survey feel they’re still some way off the optimal digital experience outlined by Castellano. Nearly three-quarters of healthcare respondents (73%) feel their organisation has a fragmented approach to marketing and customer experience technology; many will have to go back to basics.

If that weren’t challenging enough, Castellano adds in the article that the principle of customer choice is paramount, and so healthcare providers don’t just have to consider today’s channel mix but also how the patient wants to interact tomorrow. It’s a view echoed by others:

It’s not getting simpler, there’s more channels emerging, there’s more expectations from the customer, you have to be quicker, smoother, more seamless and integrated and you’re trying to do that with a large-scale company. At the same time, you can’t just pick a business model and stick with it because the world keeps changing. It takes constant investment in not only tech but in people sharpening their skills and thinking new ways.”

Matt Harker
VP, Global Marketing Strategy and Transformation, Walgreens Boots