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Digital divide: the power of tech natives

February 06, 2017
Will Hinde
From the January 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
With the rise of medical tech innovations such as wearable devices and digital therapies, the health care industry is growing increasingly sophisticated on digital platforms. This remains true when it comes to patient-to-provider communication. A recent industry study indicates that 80 percent of customers prefer digital interactions over traditional office visits to conduct their health and wellness affairs.

Medical providers and insurers are at a communications crossroads with their customers and one another. They can continue to run their business as usual or adopt an omni-channel communications approach to accommodate today’s tech-savvy customers. Consumers crave connectedness, personalization, frequent feedback loops and a more in depth patient-provider relationship that most current health care brands don’t offer. As the age of the traditional doctor’s visit comes to a close, the health care industry will need to shift its focus to create data-driven, customer-centric experiences across digital platforms.

Customer demand for more digital health services is closely linked to the growing millennial population. Millennials, having grown up with tablets and smart-phones, are four times as likely to use mobile apps to access their health care needs compared to baby boomers. These tech natives make up the largest living population in the U.S., and their mobile habits suggest an emerging pattern for the future of patient-provider relationships. Almost half of millennials use email to manage their health and wellness affairs compared to the 30 percent of baby boomers.

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Twenty-two percent of millennials also use mobile apps to interact with their medical providers, while just 5 percent of older patients connect to physicians via an app. Some of this discrepancy in mobile app use can be attributed to a lack of awareness: 60 percent of baby boomers are unaware mobile channels exist. But given the option, most patients will choose digital interactions as the preferred method of communication with their health care provider. Two-thirds of surveyed consumers whose health care providers don’t offer online portals say they would like one.

A multi-channel approach gives health care providers an opportunity to align with a growing base of consumers that is used to connecting with friends, family and brands from anywhere and on any device. Given the positive correlation between customer satisfaction and the availability of digital channels, technology is quickly becoming a must-have, rather than a nice to have, for health care businesses. One obstacle health care providers inevitably face as they embrace digital channels is protecting consumers’ personally identifiable information (PII). Cyberattacks against health care providers have more than doubled since 2010 and the average data breach costs a hospital roughly $2.1 million. Given how susceptible the health care industry is to cybercrime, only 48 percent of consumers trust their providers with their personal information. The lack of consumer trust also creates problems for the 70 percent of insurance companies offering rewards based on a customer’s shared personal data.

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