From Discovery to Post-Care: How Is Technology Facilitating the Customer Journey in Healthcare?
Ask the Expert with Andrei Zimiles
// By Jane Weber Brubaker //
Andrei Zimiles is co-founder and CEO of Doctor.com. The company’s marketing automation platform incorporates provider solutions for directory listings and reputation management, and in August 2017, Doctor.com launched a universal online scheduling capability.
In December, Doctor.com merged with Connect Healthcare, and the combined entity now powers third-party physician directories as well as health system websites. The company was recognized by Google My Business as a “Featured Business Partner,” and is the only healthcare-exclusive organization with this designation.
In the interview that follows, Zimiles shares Doctor.com’s vision for a fully optimized, data-driven customer journey. What does it look like for patients and providers when the top of the funnel — discovery and selection — connects the bottom of the funnel: managing an ongoing relationship?
eHST: What does the fully optimized customer journey look like from your perspective?
AZ: Internally, when we map out how we want to partner with hospitals and health systems we base it around our vision of the patient journey. Imagine a drawing of a funnel on a whiteboard:
- Discovery — You have an injury, or a diagnosis and you need care.
- Selection — You need to find a doctor. You base your decision on online information, reviews, word of mouth, or referrals.
- Transaction — You contact your selected provider to actually make an appointment.
- Experience — You receive a consultation or treatment.
- Post-treatment — You need to coordinate and communicate with the provider for next steps, such as a follow-up appointment.
Our objective is to have really phenomenal solutions for each step of that journey, and then to have them all tied together in one platform with unified reporting and the ability to look downstream. What are all the touchpoints along the patient journey that matter? If you’re more discoverable and you’re telling the story of each individual doctor effectively, what’s the impact on your business? How can you continuously improve this process, analyzing and incorporating patient feedback to inform organizational improvements?
So that’s the very high-level vision. Within that we can unpack each step of that patient journey quite a bit.
eHST: Is this journey already built? Or is it aspirational?
AZ: The marketplace is full of solutions that target very siloed and specific aspects of the patient journey, which not only creates a fragmented experience for patients, it can be a nightmare for organizations to manage. Our aspiration is to provide an end-to-end and holistic solution to help healthcare organizations manage the customer experience at each step of the journey. At the beginning of the patient journey — discovery and selection — we provide online listings and review management across an organization’s owned domains as well as third-party sites web-wide.
A newer aspect for us, working down the funnel, is universal appointment booking, which allows patients to seamlessly request an appointment from all of the major healthcare sites and directories, while also enabling providers and organizations to manage all of these transactions from a single interface.
Our area of greatest focus at the moment is patient communications and ongoing coordination of the relationship with the patient. How can we really bring business intelligence to bear to inform those conversations and improve the patient experience?
For example, how can we better understand patients and the larger addressable market in a given area and then get really smart about segmenting and targeting those users, whether it’s people who are already patients, or prospective customers that the hospital wants to reach for the first time?
eHST: Do you envision connecting up with CRM functionality?
AZ: We’ve begun to work with other companies that have started from that end. There’s a lot of mutual excitement around what we’ve done on the top of the funnel with the patient journey and what CRM does at the bottom of the funnel. Put those two things together and you have a pretty impressive level of intelligence into the entire patient journey.
eHST: Let’s go back for a minute and talk about the upper part of the funnel — directory listings — and how that part works.
AZ: Sure. The Provider Data Warehouse (PDW) is that one source of truth for all the provider information. The PDW is focused on consolidating, cleansing, and consumerizing data from many different sources where it currently lives within a health system, and making it actionable for patients and consumers who are looking for care.
Then it pushes it out to all the consumer endpoints. We have access to third-party endpoints like Google, Healthgrades, and Vitals — the whole ecosystem of places where people might find a doctor listing. We also power more than 150 different Find a Doctor provider directories for different hospitals and health systems.
eHST: How does the appointment booking piece work?
AZ: If you go to the profile of one of our clients’ listings, you can actually book an appointment directly from that profile, and our platform facilitates the integration. Patients can request appointments either from an organization’s own website, or from over 40 major consumer sites and social media platforms like Google, Yelp, Facebook, Healthgrades, and Vitals. The scheduler on the client side can then accept and confirm the appointment with just a few clicks from their desktop.
eHST: And you also manage customer ratings and reviews through the platform?
AZ: Yes. Patients use our interface called ReviewHub to rate their experience while they are still in a provider’s office. Before the reviews go live, we run them through our filters and moderation team. Once they’re approved, the reviews are automatically published to high-traffic health sites like Healthgrades and Vitals, as well as the provider’s own website and social media channels.
We are trying to increase the overall amount of data about quality of service, and we’re in favor of proliferating transparency wherever possible. Some companies send a follow-up survey and ask, how was your experience — good or bad? If you say bad, they’ll say, here’s a form where you can tell us what we could have done better. That goes to the doctor. If you say good, they say leave a review on Yelp. That’s called review gating. We have never been fans of that. And now Yelp and Google guidelines prohibit the practice.
eHST: So all along the journey, you are gathering data from people’s search and selection behavior before they have identified themselves, and then once they interact by scheduling an appointment or filling out an inquiry form, you can tie it all together.
AZ: Yes. At the top of the funnel, we have aggregated, de-identified information. We know that someone on a third-party site is looking at a profile, or is on a hospital’s Find A Doctor. We know what area they’re searching in, what specialty they’re interested in, where they’re located when they’re doing their search — all the standard data that you can collect when you have a user engaging with a website and doing searches.
We don’t actually get into the one-to-one personalized relationship with the patient until they’ve transacted in some way — they made an appointment online, filled out an inquiry form, or called in. At that point things go to a whole maximum level of understanding that person, their behavior, what they’re looking for, the quality of the experience they’ve had thus far, and being able to tailor things for them.
eHST: Are you integrating with call centers? A lot of patients search online, but then end up calling the call center to close the deal, so to speak.
AZ: We have a platform that tracks, records, transcribes, and semantically analyzes phone calls. I think we’re going to get to a place where anyone who has a call center is going to have the capability to perform keyword searches of all the transcribed phone conversations. We also use natural language processing to analyze sentiment in reviews. Our clients can login to a dashboard and say, “I want to see all the reviews that talked about wayfinding that are from people visiting the orthopedics department. Show me all that had a positive sentiment,” and boom, they’re going to get the filtered list.
eHST: How does all this data help to inform business strategy for healthcare organizations? What can they do with it?
AZ: There are probably 100 different things like that that can be surfaced. Here are a couple of examples:
- We know that based on mashing up all this data that people in these five zip codes are looking for this type of service more than people in these other zip codes, so it makes sense to focus there.
- We could tell a health system that they have a proportionately large number of providers who are getting negative reviews in one department across all the third-party sites and the impact is that patients are selecting them less often than a competing health system in their area with better reviews.
eHST: If you could connect it all together into an integrated journey, what do you think that would it look like?
AZ: Technology holds such promise to accelerate the pace, and eventually even automate decision-making. There’s a lot there that can be utilized to inform downstream actions whether through an outreach campaign or an internal quality improvement initiative — whatever action we want to drive from those insights.
Level 1 is providing these insights in real time. Level 2 would be to actually use that data in an automated way to trigger actions. At this level, the machine is getting smart enough to know what to do with the information. So for example, if negative sentiment around a particular service area rises above a certain threshold, it would automatically alert these three people in a department.
I think the future is data-driven, intelligence-enabled software that’s going to allow organizations to be really smart about how they’re connecting their patients all the way through the journey.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
Jane Weber Brubaker is executive editor of Plain-English Health Care, a division of Plain-English Media. She directs editorial content for eHealthcare Strategy & Trends and Strategic Health Care Marketing, and is past chair of the eHealthcare Leadership Awards. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.