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A curious phenomenon has taken place in healthcare in the past several years: Patients turned into consumers. This evolution was, actually, a little more gradual, driven in part by patients' increasing out-of-pocket spending and the rise of digital platforms that gave them quick and easy access to healthcare information—as well as a voice for sharing their opinions.

Healthcare consumers have come to the realization that they have options. They don't have to settle for poor service, long wait times, limited hours, or confusing bills. Customer loyalty has to be earned—as in any other business. And consumers make it perfectly clear that if a provider can't deliver a better and more personalized experience, then they will switch to one that can. Moreover, the shift in mentality demands that providers be transparent and personal as much as possible. And from generation to generation, consumers are demanding clear communication and a trusted connection with their providers.

According to the Solutionreach Patient-Provider Relationship Study: The Ripple Effect Starts with Boomers, 43% of millennials are likely to switch practices in the next few years, 44% of Generation X are likely to switch primary care physicians in the three years and 20% of Baby Boomers are likely to switch in the next three years. Also, 70% of patients desire the ability to text the doctor's office, and 70% would like to receive text messages from their doctor, especially about appointments.

Overall, the patient's ideal doctor includes greater connectivity, online tools, convenience via text, and more time with the doctor.

A personalized experience, enabled through honest and relevant communication and information-sharing, engenders trust, which is both harder to maintain and more important for all companies than ever before.

Communication Drives Experience

Although this consumer mindset is somewhat new to healthcare, the lessons that doctors and hospitals are learning now about customer experience apply to most other industries as well.

Retail and hospitality, for example, were earlier adopters in recognizing the importance of how experience and honest communication build trust. The growth of the Internet and smartphones meant consumers could easily compare prices and customer reviews, which decreased their loyalty to any particular brand. As a response, retail and hospitality companies transformed the customer buying experience. They launched savings and members' programs that offered lower prices or perks for registered customers, expanded free shipping on purchases, and blurred the line between online and brick-and-mortar. Accordingly, they redesigned their websites and email marketing programs with an emphasis on personalization. Social media platforms became engagement tools, too. Brands started to quickly respond with empathy when customers would post a complaint on Twitter or Facebook—and with gratitude when customers shared praise.

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image of Brad Dodge

Brad Dodge is the president of Dodge Communications, a full-service integrated public relations and marketing agency helping healthcare and technology companies build strong brands, demonstrate thought leadership, and drive sales.

Twitter: @BradDodge