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The healthcare industry in the United States has long been a dichotomy in its embrace of – and resistance to – technology, but some digital enhancements to healthcare are here to stay. While some of the world’s finest technology is used to diagnose and treat all manner of illness, patients often have to complete paper forms in the waiting room and many doctors still take notes on paper medical charts.

The move to digital has been well under way in most other industries, creating an expectation of a consumer experience in which healthcare has fallen behind. After all, today’s competition is every other experience the customer has had recently.

In the second of a three-part series, I interview several leaders in the healthcare industry who are approaching the digitization of healthcare from different angles. Thomas Swanson is the Head of Industry Strategy and Marketing in the Health and Life Sciences division of AdobeGeeta Wilson is the founder and CEO of Consumer Society, an early-stage tech and experience design company building an enterprise experience management technology platform to connect all of the major industry players – insurance companies, healthcare professionals and consumers. Richard McCreary is the Vice President of Product Development for Consumer Society after working at health insurer Humana for nearly 14 years.

The discussion centers around digital’s expanding role in healthcare and how it is affecting consumer engagement and the perception of customer experience. Part 1 looked at the evolution from passive “patient” to proactive “consumer,” and part 3 examines the aging population and the resulting changes in demand for a healthcare experience.

Dan Gingiss: What is happening within the digital landscape regarding health?

Thomas Swanson: For years “healthcare” has operated on an experiential island – a healthcare consumer relied upon the expertise of the doctor or other healthcare professionals, engagement was episodic or “as needed” and there was little to no transparency within the ecosystem. The expectation on the part of both consumers and healthcare providers that the experience would be as it had been forever resulted in very little need for digital engagement, and very little cross-over of experiential expectations of consumers found in other industries. That is changing, and changing rapidly. Healthcare consumers are comparing digital experiences across platforms and industries, and their expectations of what is a good experience, a bad experience, or an exceptional experience are evolving rapidly.

A significant factor driving this experiential change is the entry of non-traditional healthcare companies into the marketplace, and the introduction of highly-disruptive health technologies like connected wearables, remote monitoring, virtual and augmented reality, AI for diagnostics and personalized pharmaceuticals. Technology companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple are entering the healthcare marketplace at a rapid pace, for they understand that the consumerization of healthcare has left the marketplace wide open for companies that understand customer engagement.

Digital is impacting all aspects of our lives on a daily basis – flooding us with information, entertainment, self-service access to shopping, personal and professional guidance, as well as better fitness and overall wellness. So why shouldn’t healthcare itself be a part of the digital deluge? Everything digital involves greater and personal engagement by the consumer, and consumers of health services are no different from consumers of retail, banking, travel or any other industry. Health and wellness is a topic that can benefit immensely from having a more informed consumer base, one realizing that greater engagement and a higher level of proactive decision-making will yield better health outcomes.

The discovery and application of disruptive technology is the foundation upon which medical devices are developed and marketed to healthcare professionals. However, the consumer marketplace for medical devices is experiencing significant transformation as companies like Apple and Google earn clinical approvals for new devices from the FDA. This segment of the market has seen rapid growth of technology designed for in-home use like portable EKG monitors and blood glucose monitors that connect to a smartphone.

On the insurance side of the industry, the opportunity to provide a better consumer experience, more price transparency, and the ability to use technology to collect and use data for informed real-time decision-making has never been greater. Pharmaceuticals are also not only seeing business model disruption from the likes of Amazon, but the emergence of “beyond the pill” thinking in terms of services and care circles, as well as personalized pharmaceuticals determined by genetic mapping.

Gingiss: How does digital impact the consumer experience in health?

Geeta Wilson: The democratizing of consumer health data in a way that reinforces the consumer’s ownership will pave the way for expanded use of exponential data that is based on purchase behavior. Imagine an interaction with a medical provider that allows the consumer to share their wearable health information — sleep patterns, physical activity, heart rate, etc. New algorithms that summarize and highlight problems will allow the clinician to support a consumer on their health journey, gain insight into habits and routines based on actual data instead of often-rosier consumer reporting, and ultimately provide a better diagnosis. As we move to digital it is important to note that analog experiences will not go away and there are some experiences that lend themselves to being more analog. As entities continue to build trust with consumers, they will be judicious in intentionally providing an analog experience vs. digital in keeping with developing a human connection with them.

Gingiss: Is this likely to be solved with multiple apps (e.g., insurance company, Apple Health, fitness trackers, etc.) or in a single app?

Richard McCreary: The healthcare space is littered with apps and siloed solutions which create a disjointed and confusing experience, especially for the senior population. The looming problems in the healthcare space — physician burnout, fewer nurses and caregivers, increasing complexity — will not be solved by more applications or siloed solutions. The question should not be framed in terms of applications, but in terms of interoperability. There is a lot of technical debt in healthcare today and we need to provide and easier way for health care enterprises to sunset this debt and replace it at a much lower cost structure.

Creating a more robust picture of the consumer, their habits that impact their health, their buying habits, and data from wearables will begin to provide clinicians and healthcare companies data that will lead to personalized consumer insights. The healthcare participant can then provide the consumer with choices supported by personalized and contextual data that will finally enable the consumer to make effective decisions. Interoperability is the key lynchpin in creating a robust Electronic Health Record (EHR) that a consumer can own and engage when leveraging the healthcare system and when making decisions that impact their health.

Related: Why The Healthcare System Is Failing Seniors

Gingiss: Will we ever see the day where consumers have all of their health history digitally stored on their devices?

McCreary: We are moving closer to the dream of the EHR that started in the Obama administration, but HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules, slow adoption by healthcare providers, and a system with little to no interoperability has limited the value of the EHR for the consumer. Security is the primary concern for all consumers, but very few consumers know what is in their EHR. Nor can a consumer easily combine what is available across multiple providers without going back in time and printing records from all providers. Consumers should be able to view electronically across all providers (interoperability), and should also be able to derive value from the EHR for themselves or by opting into larger data pools. Consumers give away significant privacy and rights when using existing technology like Facebook, and yet they do it with limited concern. We should be able to bring the EHR into this new reality while preserving the consumer’s privacy. And eventually, consumers may be able to monetize their information, while retaining their anonymity.

Gingiss: What role does personalization play?

Swanson: Personalization can mean many different things to each consumer, but the bottom line is simple: a 1:1 interaction. If a customer feels like they are your only customer, and you are giving them your undivided attention and providing a one-to-one experience, you are headed in the right direction. Delivering to that customer what they want, when and how they want it, via the online or offline channel they want – THAT is a personalized experience. Easy right? For Amazon, yes. For healthcare and life sciences, not so much – at least not yet. So how can legacy healthcare companies deliver personalized experiences for their customers and compete with the likes of Amazon and Google in an arena where they have never competed before? The answer lies in consumer data.

The notion of personalizing a consumer experience comes down to executing and delivering on what you know about your customer. Do you know what they are looking for? Do you know what drives their decision making? Do you understand where they live, where they are coming from and what pain point (literal or figurative) they are trying to remedy? Do you understand what drives their behaviors, their motivations, and what buying signals and triggers they may have? Do you know how and when they want to be communicated with, and what they want to know? These are all things you can learn if you monitor and listen to their digital behaviors and track their digital footprints. These are all data points that will enable you to create a 360-degree profile of each customer, and deliver to them an experience that looks and feels uniquely tailored to them and their needs.

This can be a frightening and tricky proposition for healthcare companies bound by strict regulations and privacy laws.

To compete on the playing field of consumer personalization, legacy healthcare companies must venture outside their regulatory comfort zones, collect as much anonymized behavior and audience segment data that they can, and then deliver a higher degree of personalization by getting permission from the consumer to use their personal data to tailor experiences specifically for them. Permission and digital authentication is the “golden ticket” where personalized healthcare experiences are concerned.

Related: Why Healthcare Jargon Hurts Patient Experience

Gingiss: How can digital improve healthcare engagement? 

Wilson: The industry must shift from the idea of engaging people as patients to engaging them as discerning and empowered consumers. A consumer is an active participant in making decisions on their health, even if they are being treated for a condition (as a patient). Digital healthcare experiences will simplify and speed up the experience while enabling clinicians to make more accurate diagnoses.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will leverage massive amounts of data to power greater insights, improve diagnosis and treatment, and support consumer health decisions. Digitization of the healthcare experience will simplify the consumer’s experience because the data — whether it be recent test results or heart rate data from a wearable device — will be immediately accessible versus today’s experience of having to answer repetitive questions and get re-tested for things like blood pressure at every visit.

Clearly the linchpin in this transformation is a new way of thinking about health data. It must be cloud-based, owned by the consumer and available for the consumer to share with their healthcare professionals and family members. A centralized, private, and secure cloud-based EHR will open up the ability for healthcare providers to deliver a simple, contextualized and personal experience that supports consumers in maximizing their whole health.

Gingiss: What is Consumer Society doing about this issue?

Wilson: We are an early-stage tech and experience design company building an enterprise experience management technology platform for healthcare from the ground up that is seamless and designed to engage all entities: payers, providers, and consumers. When it comes to health, we recognize the need for preventative and proactive care and starting at the front-end using actionable information to predict or identify health risks before they happen.

Secondly, our technology platform will better enable primary care physicians vs. high-cost specialists from the outset and position in-home and localized care from the community to help to coordinate upstream and solve for unmet needs. Finally, since no two people are alike when it comes to health, our platform enables deeper personalized consumer engagement that is unique to that individual.

Working from the consumer back we are designing this as an ecosystem to support a simpler, contextual, and personalized experience where all entities intersect the most. Our cloud-based technology leverages all that is known within the payer and provider EHR and paired with a unique consumer identifier allows the payor and provider to include information from other sources. This enables our technology to leverage the robust data that a consumer can share from their wearable devices, activity tracking websites, and potentially to include purchasing or search data if the consumer chooses.

While the heart of a big brother environment and potential nefarious uses of a consumer’s EHR are real, our technology is built to leverage the security and permissions that exist across systems that members engage with daily. We will also seek to influence, shape and work with regulatory bodies to modernize existing policies that were created in the pre-digital era.

Our technology will also use more modern interfaces, leveraging new channels such as voice user interface combined with AI and Machine Learning. We also think it is imperative that the consumer and associates who deliver the experience are empowered to make informed decisions at key intervals using our decisioning analytics technology. Due to our background in consumer experience, we will also squarely place the consumer front and center of all that we build.

Gingiss: What is Adobe doing about it? 

Swanson: Adobe is a household name when it comes to creativity and digital documents like PDFs. But what do Photoshop and PDFs have to do with healthcare? The key to digital engagement in healthcare is personalization, and Adobe has been the market leader in building personalized digital experiences for other industries for over a decade. Adobe is the market leader according to analysts like Forrester and McKinsey when it comes to digital marketing, marketing automation, and the creation of connected online and offline experiences. Now add the collection, use and parsing of consumer and behavioral data to the mix and you have the Adobe Experience Platform. The experience platform enables Adobe customers to create and build their consumer profiles from multiple data sources in every consumer channel.

Adobe has also been transforming “products and services” businesses into “experiences” businesses in retail, banking, travel and hospitality, automotive, high tech and manufacturing. The business issues we have been solving for years are now the same business issues healthcare companies are facing: how do we attract, win and keep customers in a highly informed and highly competitive marketplace? The Adobe digital toolset, best practices, and our ecosystem of strategic and implementation partners are perfectly suited to bring the same expertise that has built winning consumer experiences for Coca-Cola and Nike to the likes of St. Jude and GlaxoSmithKline.

Understanding the consumer is the driving imperative in delivering meaningful and differentiating experiences, building loyalty in a marketplace where loyalty is defined by personalization, ease of access, and cost transparency. These are all elements of the consumer experience that healthcare has struggled mightily with, and the window of opportunity for legacy brand healthcare companies to keep their current customers and win new ones via personalized experiences is closing very rapidly.