Key takeaways

  • Rising, ageing populations are putting pressure on healthcare systems, driving a need for change.
  • ‘Always on’ customers want to be more active and engaged in their healthcare and seek an experience like that of any other service industry.
  • Consumers show a willingness to move to non-traditional technology – if the price, quality or timing is right.

Fashioned by demographics and powered by digital technology, the way we access healthcare is transforming.  From wristwatch heart rate monitors to doctor appointments via video phone, it is the expectations of today’s consumer that are steering the industry’s new direction.

Worldwide, population is rising. By 2025, it is estimated that numbers will have grown by 1 billion to 8 billion living people. At the same time, in many parts of the world including Australia and Europe, healthcare systems are being placed under extra pressure by an ageing population.

Governments are not necessarily equipped or wealthy enough to handle these growing demands, meaning that the cost of treatment is increasingly being passed on to patients – who are looking to make savings where they can without compromising treatment. At the same time, pressure on resources means growing waiting lists for healthcare provision.

These demographic trends have created a need to explore new ways of offering healthcare.

Digital trends in healthcare

The rise in ownership of mobile and internet connected devices has become a defining aspect of today’s customer. ‘Always on’, they are well used to accessing information and services digitally. From banking to booking a holiday – apps have replaced tasks that were once performed in person.

Healthcare, like any other industry, isn’t exempt from this disruption. It’s been slower to catch on, partly because users and potential providers may have come to believe that its often regulated and/or government-run systems simply couldn’t be challenged. But innovation has become so prevalent elsewhere that the customer now expects the same in healthcare – and disruptors are responding.

Who is today’s customer?

There are some defining characteristics of today’s healthcare consumer:

  • Digitally savvy and connected, they seek an experience that mirrors that of other service sectors.
  • They look for speed and convenience in accessing services or products.
  • With peer reviews and star ratings in abundance across the internet, they want a level of transparency in healthcare, too – with the ability to access credible information on performance, costs, licensing and so on.
  • They place emphasis on trust: not just traditionally (in the ability of the practitioner to diagnose and treat) but also digitally – that the provider will ensure adequate privacy and security when it comes to dealing with personal data.
  • They also chase personalised experiences, at a time when the ability to capture and analyse personal data has really hit its stride.
  • The modern consumer seeks to be engaged, informed and active in the management of their healthcare.
  • As with other service sectors, they want choice – and with the rising rate of new entrants into the market, they will soon be faced with plenty of it.

Innovation in health provision

There is no doubting the will of consumers to try out new technologies for healthcare and, enjoying particular appeal at the moment, fitness.

The global market for health solutions that integrate with mobile devices (mHealth) is now estimated to be worth US$13 billion and over 97,000 health and fitness apps can currently be found on Google Play or the iTunes store. Back in May, a healthcare wearable for sufferers of Parkinson’s Disease received Australia’s largest equity crowdfunding to date. The continued popularity of fitness trackers and the rise of other health devices connected to the internet of things are in turn continuously raising the scope for data capture.

Surveys by PwC and the Economist Intelligence Unit show that time savings, equable quality or comparable price may spur patients to try new healthcare options. For example, 43% of German respondents would be willing to accept non-traditional healthcare providers as long as the results are up to standard; in the US 64% would do so if the costs were commensurate.

As healthcare consumers seek to become more hands-on and informed in the process of their health provision, the traditional patient-doctor relationship has given way to digital forums that claim to offer both crowdsourced and professional medical advice. Just one of the ways in which digital is helping to inform and educate the consumer ahead of coming into the system.

Diagnosing customer demand

Although occurring at different rates throughout the world, the healthcare sector is not immune to disruption – therefore the time is ripe to consider strategies to protect from being disrupted and/or capitalise on emerging trends.

With consumer patterns mirroring those of other sectors, service providers now have a unique opportunity to embrace digital technology as a means of delivering a better quality of care at a potentially lower cost. The question is, how well do you know your customer and how best to serve their needs?

Nikhil de Silva is a former partner in PwC’s Customer Consulting practice.


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Nikhil de Silva