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Customer Centricity Will Define the Future of Senior Care

An aging population combined with a significant supply-demand healthcare imbalance threatens the ability to deliver quality, convenient care to seniors. The fact that more seniors than ever prefer to age in place further strains an already challenged healthcare system.

Part 1 of this series explored the many factors that make it increasingly difficult for seniors to receive the quality of care they need, through an experience that aligns with their preferences and expectations. Reimagining senior care will require a patient-centric approach, modeling innovative strategies employed by the world’s most successful consumer companies—from viewing senior patients as recipients of healthcare, to mapping their holistic customer journey.

The Patient as Consumer

Just as consumer expectations for a seamless, customized service experience are transforming industries like retail and hospitality, healthcare leaders recognize that patients bring those same expectations to their healthcare experiences. In a McKinsey study, every chief marketing officer and 90 percent of healthcare provider executives surveyed said healthcare consumerism is their organization’s top priority.(1) KMPG documented a similar trend, with two-thirds of healthcare industry CEOs noting they believe consumers will bring the same service expectations to healthcare organizations as they already apply to industries like retail and banking.(2)

The fact is, senior patients are consumers of healthcare. Yet their healthcare journey often doesn’t bear much resemblance to the experience they’re accustomed to when making a retail purchase or completing a banking transaction.

Successful consumer companies seek to understand the customer journey, especially the moments that really matter and the buyer’s pain points. The priority then becomes to find ways to remove the friction and maximize customer satisfaction at those moments of truth, delivering an experience that better aligns with expectations. Amazon Prime customers know they can order products with one click, receive them as soon as the next day, avoid shipping costs, and get responsive service and a satisfactory resolution in the event of a problem—all with no hassle. This type of experience builds trust and loyalty, while reshaping the consumer’s broader expectations of their experiences with all businesses.

All healthcare consumers are beginning to bring those same expectations to the healthcare journey, including seniors and their caregivers. The first crucial step in meeting that expectation is to develop a shared understanding of what the customer journey looks like currently for seniors, mapping every touchpoint involved. It starts with placing a phone call or completing a form online to schedule an appointment and progresses through pre-appointment communication, being seen by a technician, aide, or healthcare provider, receiving a medication prescription or procedure referral, and receiving follow-up care.

As in any consumer-facing business, a positive experience will drive loyalty, while an experience fraught with friction will turn them away. The more “moments of satisfaction” they have along their care journey, the more likely they will continue to give their business to the same healthcare organizations.

Outside of healthcare, consumer businesses are highly dependent on the success of this customer journey; it’s central to their entire business model and monetization approach. Though healthcare wasn’t traditionally built around or compensated for improving the customer experience, healthcare providers, payers, and platforms alike can learn much from this model. Consider how successful consumer businesses serve their customers at points in the journey that provide parallels with a senior patient’s expectations.  

For example, think about the proactive communication at key touchpoints you experience when you buy from online sellers like Etsy, ensuring a positive experience that builds loyalty. Travel and leisure companies like Expedia provide strong connectivity when they connect you with options for the entire travel journey, keeping you informed at every step of the experience by phone, text, and email, particularly when something goes wrong. Financial institutions like Chase Bank will notify you across multiple channels if their data indicates strange spending habits to prevent fraud, while giving you numerous payment options that suit your situation, providing strong preventative and follow-up service. Liberty Mutual Insurance is also a prime example of a company that understands the consumer’s need for upfront clarity on service and cost. If a pipe bursts in your home, you need to know what the insurance covers, whether any deductibles apply, the process, and the total cost of repair before moving ahead.

Only when a healthcare organization understands what its senior patients encounter at every touchpoint can they begin to connect, improve, and enhance the customer experience and the resulting outcomes. While this isn’t the norm yet, some organizations seem to be leading the way in transforming the senior care experience. The Mayo Clinic is often cited as a model of patient-centricity, providing a seamless and cohesive experience, and Kaiser Permanente operates a Care At Home division designed to centralize all home care services for a better patient experience.


Four Pillars Will Define Customer-Centric Senior Care 

For the healthcare industry to become truly patient-centric when it comes to providing quality, convenient senior care, there must be a concerted effort and significant innovation across four pillars that provide an essential foundation to the ideal customer journey.

  • Technology. Wearables and sensory technologies, along with AI, are serving as predictive tools of a patient’s need for assistance, based on data and behavior patterns. Mobile apps will become increasingly useful in helping seniors manage their care in conjunction with wider-spread telehealth services, improving care access for seniors who don’t drive and can’t easily secure transportation. There is an immense amount of technology that exists today, but it’s simply not connected. Tighter integration will be critical to smoothing out pain points and delivering a satisfactory experience.
  • Services. Though the home care sector is growing rapidly, there is much room for improving these services for seniors, including more efficient delivery of low-acuity support for daily living activities. For example, creating a pool of qualified aides within a defined geographic area can improve access for the patient and efficiency for the service provider, keeping costs more reasonable. Delivering more medical procedures at home can keep patients out of already-stretched hospitals and clinics while reducing care costs for patients and payers. Also, providing self-guided, affordable resources such as Mosaic Caregiving Solutions, which serve as the “connective tissue” in a senior’s care journey, will go a long way toward improving the experience.
  • Leadership. Leading healthcare organizations as they evolve to become more inclusive of a senior patient care journey approach will require every leader to embrace a focus on skillsets typically reserved to just one individual or a small team. Pivoting to this approach will require greater flexibility, agility, and openness to embracing ideas outside the boundaries of the industry. Recruiting and developing future leaders will increasingly mean taking a fresh perspective on the necessary competencies and securing top talent from other consumer industries, especially those where understanding the customer population is a relentless effort involving competitive research, interviews, and other methods. It can even mean copying a common strategy of most retail and consumer companies: “Shopping” and experiencing your own healthcare services, as well as your competitors’, to understand real areas of opportunity.
  • Partnerships. To meet seniors where they are in their care journey and provide the customer-centric experience they expect will require healthcare organizations to think creatively about how to deliver high-demand services. Increasingly, that is likely to involve developing new partnerships that make care delivery more cohesive and frictionless.

By stepping outside traditional boundaries and moving beyond long-held norms, the healthcare industry can reimagine what the senior care journey could look like for this rapidly growing segment of the population. Just as the leading consumer companies have determined how to deliver a superior service experience at every touchpoint, healthcare organizations will need to do the same in order to gain and keep loyal senior patients. The challenge may be formidable, but the opportunity and the need will propel innovative healthcare organizations to apply new ways of thinking as they craft the high-quality, convenient care experience today’s seniors expect.

John McFarland is a partner and head of the US Healthcare Practice at Odgers Berndtson, which helps companies across the healthcare ecosystem find the executive talent to achieve their goals. 

Lauren Cody is the co-founder of Mosaic Caregiving Solutions, an online navigation tool and holistic resource to support caregivers of older adults who live with cognitive impairment. After 25+ years serving iconic brands in customer-facing roles in the restaurant and hospitality industry globally, she moved into the aging services space to apply the principles of customer journey mapping and understanding to evolve patient experiences and drive different outcomes.

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