Healthcare Web sites are failing to live up to consumers expectations. I talk about this regularly as part of the presentations I give, and I find that the thought resonates more when I provide some context:
“Consumers are managing every major aspect of their lives online today. They book travel online, do their banking online, manage their retirement accounts online…they even use the Web for dating. And then they want to make an appointment with their doctor, requiring a phone call sometime between 9 and 4…”
It resonates better that way. Attendees nod and seem to understand. However, when I talk to some attendees after the presentation, I often find out that they get the concept, but haven’t embraced the Web in that way. And because they’re casual Web users, they don’t feel the pain their consumers feel.
So let’s look at how your consumers might use the Web. And since it’s spring break week – let’s look at travel (ok, it’s because it’s cold and snowy in Iowa and I just need to think of sunny, happy places).
Our virtual trip begins with a flight. Yes, I know we’ve all been buying tickets online for a long time, but for me the process has become increasingly painful. Individual sites have improved, but the sheer number of online options available (and the haphazard variations in price between them) often leaves me searching for hours. Am I better off searching at a traditional travel Web site like Travelocity or Expedia, or do the airlines offer better fares on their own site? Perhaps there is a discount or last minute fair option that would be better?
So, I go to Kayak. Kayak doesn’t actually sell tickets; it’s an aggregator of information, searching across some 140 sites and pulling the data into a single view for me to compare. By focusing on comparison rather than worrying about transaction, Kayak built very elegant interfaces for filtering and sorting data. Kayak also provides other information, such as the best prices others have found for the same destination. The site helps me make a purchase decision I won’t regret.
Information transparency is key for getting the best deals. When sellers control all of the information (in any industry, not just travel), prices stay much higher. The ability to easily price shop has the effect of pushing prices down.
In no situation is this more true than with travel bidding sites like Priceline. You provide an offer — the amount the travel option is worth to you — and Priceline checks its database of travel providers to find a provider that will accept your offer. I don’t personally use Priceline for flights because I like to have control of my departure and arrival times, but I have used it many times for hotels.
The trick for successful bidding when it comes to hotels is to have as much information as you can. Priceline should always allow you to find a hotel more cheaply than another channel, but it also accepts overly generous bids.
This requires the savvy shopper do two things. First, find out what comparable rooms cost through a more traditional travel site (like Kayak). Second, spend some time on BiddingForTravel. BiddingForTravel is nothing more than a message board, but users post their bidding history and successes, giving you valuable information about where to start your bidding. They also have developed sophisticated strategies for making the most of your bidding opportunities.
Once you plan your travel, it’s time to plan your activites at your destination. While many of the traditional travel sites have beefed up their destination content, I still like to go to community sites like IGoUGo for reviews and things to do.
Finally, you need to organize all of this information. My favorite place to pull it all together is TripIt. The thing I love about TripIt is that it’s so darned effortless. How do you assemble your itinerary? Just forward your confirmation emails to TripIt and it assembles them for you. No Wi-Fi connection? In addition to the Web based interface, TripIt has an excellent mobile Web version of the site, or you can retrieve the information using email (with a text messaging in the works). You can also share your travel plans through RSS feeds, blog badges and special apps for LinkedIn, Windows Live Network and others.
So what does this mean to healthcare?
Travel has long been an early mover in their use of the Internet. Some of these models are already making their way into healthcare. Look at some of the trends that will continue to emerge over the next few years:
- The growing availability (and hopefully quality) of provider pricing data and quality metrics. These will be pulled by aggregators that will make it easier to compare.
- Better tools to allow health consumers to collaborate with their care team and other health consumers around the health situations they face.
- Organizations and physicians that are getting rated and discussed online today. That trend will increase over time, not decrease.
- Health consumers that engage more actively in managing their health. They need information. Moreover, they need that information all in one place. He who makes that easy, wins.