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  • Brad Herrick

Health Providers Beware: When Your Access Engine Epically Fails Your Customers Wail

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

We have become accustomed to convenience in our hyper-digital world. With a few points and clicks, a gray Amazon van with the arrow smile is in our driveway. During these pandemic times, we have become used to Door Dashing our food to our front porch in minutes.


So why in this era of ordering everything online is it so hard to find a doctor? After all, isn't finding a doc more important than ordering Taco Bell or bling jeans?


Consider my latest experience with a major health system. I changed insurance providers, so I looked up and old colleague in their online portal to be my primary care physician. Yep, he was in there. But when I clicked out to the health system provider directory there was a broken link in the portal. Dead end one. Fine, I'll go right to the hospital directory and there he was again, albeit with different information than the insurance portal. I tried to schedule an appointment online, but the link didn't work. Dead end two. Okay, I called the physician referral line and was transferred two times. When I finally reached his office administrator 10 minutes later she informed my that my chosen doctor is not taking new patients and that his office will be moving in the next month. Could I call back then, she asked? Dead end three, and no I would not call back.


Unfortunately, this experience is far too common for healthcare consumers. For more than a decade, healthcare has been championing expanding Access at a primary goal. That means making it easier for customers to get care when and where they need it, from urgent care and outpatient services to primary care and virtual visits. However, it seems that the ultimate customer experience is more elusive than ever.


I have worked with enough healthcare providers to know that this is no easy task. Data discrepancies from different credentialing systems, lack of data standardization and real-time updates, and simply obtaining physician buy-in for the latest information and open scheduling can all be barriers to a superior user experience. However, if healthcare organizations are to improve Access, they must start with what I call the Access Engine - the people, processes and technology that enable customers to easily find the doctor and care they need via clicks or bricks.


The Access Engine is an essential component of a Digital Front Door strategy that unifies the customer experience online and at the point of care. To achieve this, it’s important to step back and apply the principles of User Experience Design across the spectrum of customer touch-points. I favor expert Peter Boersma’s definition of UX. He uses a T-model diagram that illustrates the interrelationship of eight disciplines that form the foundation of UX, from interaction design to marketing to information architecture. 


But let’s face it. Applying each of these disciplines across the spectrum of care is no simple task for hospitals and health systems facing an array of challenges and budget constraints. That why I always say, if the engine’s broke, don’t put more gas in the car. Healthcare marketers should apply their efforts and investment first and foremost to improving the digital user experience before they ever consider throwing money to branding or marketing campaigns. It was ironic that I received an expensive printed piece in my mailbox from the same provider asking me to find a doctor. Shifting resources from marketing to improving the customer experience might sound like heresy coming from a healthcare marketer, but it’s common sense coming from a consumer who just wants to find a doctor.

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