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Healthcare customer service goes high-tech with immersive technology

Posted September 12, 2017

Consumers expect a lot from the companies they interact with — so imagine the standard of care they demand from the organizations tasked with helping them manage their health.

Welcome to the healthcare industry, where the pressure to deliver superior customer service is reaching new heights. Patients engaging with healthcare organizations are looking for guidance, coupled with convenience and discretion. The personal and private nature of healthcare-related conversations obliges companies and their agents to employ a high level of sensitivity, while also administering top-notch service and customer care – all while controlling cost and reducing waste.

In the United States alone, health expenditures accounted for$3.2 trillion in 2015— nearly 18 percent of the country’s total GDP, according to a 2016 report by the Obama Administration published in the journal Health Affairs. Many healthcare economists estimate that up to 30 percent of that spend is wasted.

Increasingly, healthcare companies are attempting to improve care and reduce waste through a high-tech, high-touch approach to customer service. Whether a caller is uncertain about how to upload a bill from a healthcare provider or needs help navigating their online medical history, this strategy combines technology with a human component to provide effective yet personal interactions.

A high-tech, high-touch approach is ideally suited to today’s unique healthcare customer service journey. According toresearch from Cisco, 70 percent of consumers are comfortable communicating with doctors using technology rather than seeing them in person. That says a lot about patients’ evolving preferences and priorities.

The increased use of technology means an increased production of data — data that holds the key to the personalization of healthcare. However, doing personalization effectively—and in compliance with privacy laws—requires a concerted effort and additional innovation across medical centers, billing companies, insurance firms and other players.

The following four technologies are gaining traction as companies merge a functional, high-quality experience with the empathy consumers are looking for.

1. Mobile-first

According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone. With its ability to deliver ease and convenience, it’s no wonder mobile-first design has become a go-to strategy for healthcare companies.

The “one-to-one” conversations that mobile allows means consumers can reach medical professionals or customer care agents wherever, whenever. And while a patient may not feel entirely comfortable making a health care-related phone call from work, sending a text message is often quick and confidential.

In 2015, the Kaiser Permanente nonprofit hospital chain conducted more interactions between patients and healthcare providers virtually than through in-person visits, according to CEO Bernard J. Tyson, adding that 52 percent of them were done via smartphone, videoconferencing, kiosks, and other technology tools.

As an example, the secure messaging platform, PingMD, allows doctors to follow up with patients and staff to inquire about symptom progression, provide pre-and post-op checklists, or even secure an electronic signature on medical documents. The app encourages patients to interact with their doctor through text message and image sharing, similar to how they might communicate with a friend or colleague.

2. Screen sharing

The complexity of the healthcare industry requires that companies constantly work to help their customers navigate plan-related information. Enter screen sharing, in which an agent views a customer’s screen from a remote location to guide them through their issues.

According to Tom Martin, CEO of customer-experience technology company Glance Networks, his clients report that a customer enrolling in a new healthcare plan will call their new provider an average of six to seven times, and that each of those calls can last 20 to 30 minutes. “Reducing the average handle time and number of callbacks takes technology,” Martin says.

While consumers want the human component to be high-value, Martin explains that screen sharing creates a rich high-tech, high-touch experience that can also speed up the customer service process. “It helps businesses connect with clients online or on any device with a single click,” he says.

3. Online comments and forums

They’ve long been an integral part of online shopping, but comments and reviews are now enhancing the healthcare patient experience as well. By measuring ratings from sites in the healthcare vertical, patient-experience and reputation-management company Binary Fountain has found comments are a key component of the new “experience economy.”

Today’s healthcare companies are paying closer attention to the patient experience, and investing in technology that puts the power to pick the right provider directly into patients’ hands. “Clinical outcomes like ‘I got better’ are now augmented with more information about the_experience_of getting a hip replaced, from the nursing staff to the medications a patient had to take,” says Aaron Clifford, Binary Fountain’s VP of marketing. “While those clinical outcomes are still the most important component, other touchpoints along the patient journey are being measured, too.”

Clifford adds that he’s seen conversion rates go up when companies have implemented star ratings on their hospital and physical websites. “Many top healthcare systems now have chief patient-experience officers who are using data from surveys and customer feedback to improve the experience overall.”

4. Agent video

Along with video-based telemedicine, where patients connect remotely with doctors, nurses and other caregivers through secured video lines, healthcare providers are also experimenting with agent video. In essence, agent video combines an intimate call center experience with video technology to show customers that agents are available, present and eager to help.

As agent video integrates a human component into the patient experience, Tom Martin notes the critical importance of high agent empathy quotients. Connecting with consumers and patients on a deeper level also serves to de-escalate calls. “There’s a lot of self-service being pushed in the healthcare industry right now, but when a customer actually reaches a human being, you need to be able to connect with them where they are in the journey,” Martin says. “And also meet them wherever they happen to be — whether that’s on a desktop application, or browser on a mobile device.”

With the help of technology, healthcare organizations are better able to resolve customers’ issues and answer their healthcare-related questions. But tech needs to be balanced with touch. In other words, if your goal is to effectively produce positive patient outcomes, a human element is always a must.

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