Leveraging Loyalty to Improve Patient Care

This article first appeared in Loyalty360 on June 1, 2015.

 

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Loyalty programs have flourished in many consumer-facing industries (e.g., Retail, Financial Services, Travel & Hospitality, etc.) for many years and the many benefits are quite obvious, including: increased long-term customer value, consumer satisfaction, and brand advocacy. The healthcare industry, on the other hand, has barely scratched the surface in this arena; even though healthcare providers can leverage patient loyalty platforms to forge stronger ties with patients and lead local communities towards healthier lifestyles.

At initial glance, patient loyalty may seem counterintuitive; “isn’t the primary objective of healthcare services to prevent patients from returning?”  This ideology makes sense for diagnostic care; but as healthcare costs and demand increase, especially from the newly insured patient influx, preventative care is increasingly important. Additionally, chronic illness management often requires frequent patient-physician interaction, while patients attempt to live as normal lives as possible. The opportunity to reduce hospital visit frequency for patients managing chronic illnesses is a welcome change to patients and their families.

Preventative care and chronic illness management, for which ongoing patient interaction is critical, require patients to become partners in their own care. Historically, it has been difficult for physicians and healthcare providers to actively support patients on an ongoing basis, which often leads patients to slip into poor habits. Patient loyalty and consumer technologies give healthcare providers an unprecedented ability to work with patients towards mutual benefit.

Integrating the platform with wearable technologies (e.g., step counters, heart rate monitors, etc.), meal calorie tracking applications, and other tools, helps track and reward patient preventative care / illness management performance. These integrations also generate more patient data, with which physicians can make more informed diagnoses. Data analytics capabilities within the platform enable physicians to analyze aggregated / segmented patient data and identify illness, treatment, and recovery trends with far more detail than previously possible, without compromising patient privacy.

Healthcare providers have seen poor adoption of existing patient portals, because these solutions lack valuable consumer features, provide a poor user experience, and do not reward short-term patient accomplishments. Rewarding patients for completing healthy lifestyle activities (e.g., reviewing health-education materials, getting regular checkups, leveraging alcohol / tobacco counseling services, etc.) and for reaching health objectives (e.g., getting BMI / cholesterol to target level, etc.) promotes preventative care, manages healthcare demand, and generates brand affinity. People often fail to maintain healthy habits because personal health management has few immediate / short-term rewards. Gamifying personal health management and providing immediate and short-term recognition helps patients maintain good habits. An effective and well thought out loyalty program can incentivize desirable behaviors and lead to sustainable improvements in patient care.

Finally, patient loyalty platforms can also be used as centralized data repositories to store / share patient data to enable physicians to seamlessly review and circulate patient files with colleagues. Using the loyalty platform as a centralized patient portal, which is integrated with other hospital technologies, allows healthcare providers to offer modern patient services (e.g., educational content, electronic health coaching / evaluation, e-bookings, televisits, etc.), which patients today demand, but have historically been difficult to implement.

In the coming years, patient loyalty will revolutionize healthcare and help shift the sector towards a more unified, efficient, and transparent system that demands accountability from all participants. Like all innovation, this transformation will require bold, forward thinking organizations to lead the charge, but the change itself is inevitable. 

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