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Digital Pulse

in·no·va·tion – A creation resulting from study and/or experimentation. The act of starting something new.

dis·rup·tion – An act of delaying or interrupting continuity. An event that results in displacement or discontinuity. The act of causing disorder.

Digital change is a journey, not a destination.
It requires agility and flexibility to underpin a continually evolving business environment.

Industry Change – The ongoing economic, technological and social development of commercial business and market sectors.

What health services can learn from retail

Healthcare providers are certain of one thing: there will always be patients. They don’t suffer much competition, either. So where’s the incentive to offer a better service? John Riccio looks at how the status quo could change.

I should caveat this article by pointing out that I’m not a health specialist. My background is in the retail industry: a far more simple business of buy and sell.

I’ve also been very fortunate to have not experienced the health industry too much beyond an annual medical and a few GP visits. But I do have a fairly strong view around experience, and what needs to change in many industries, not just health. It is quite significant and it’s difficult to do.

Digital transformation isn’t about technology. In fact, technology is the easy bit: we can get that up and running, no issue. What transformation is really about is mindset. That needs to evolve. There has to be momentum and force behind addressing the way we work and the way we deliver services and products. Progress without this change is impossible.

The health industry is on a burning platform – and it can learn some valuable lessons from what happened to retail.

Challenging the way stores work

I’ll start with Amazon Go. This is Amazon’s new retail store. It has all the products you’d expect to see in a supermarket but it’s also tech enabled. You set up an account, you walk in, you pick up the goods you want, and you walk out. Amazon has essentially eliminated the need for a checkout or service staff. Could you imagine a traditional retailer thinking of that?

Now consider Apple, a tech company that’s moved into retail. Apple went totally against what retailers are trying to do, which is to get people in and out of stores as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The people at Apple want you to come to their stores and sit. They want you to play. They actually want you to engage and be an advocate for the brand. That’s a critical element for the experience: how do you ensure that people are advocates of the brand and have a positive experience?

A timeline of disruption in retail

In the retail space, there are three significant shifts or disruptions that took place. From about the 1790s, manufacturers were in control. They had the product and they decided where they sold it.

Around the 1970s, retailers grew wiser. They had the real estate, they had the foot traffic, and they wanted control. So retailers started to vertically integrate their businesses. They began to manufacture, and to create advocacy for the retail brand as well as the consumer brand.

Timeline: three shifts in the retail sector

A timeline of major disruptions in the retail sector. Click to enlarge.

With retailers gaining control, the likes of Walmart began to appear. In fact, Walmart actually pitted suppliers against each other, telling them whoever performed best would get more shelf space. This was the big shift from manufacturer to retailer.

In the third phase, from about 2005, the shift has moved from retail to consumer. There’s been lots of hype proclaiming that the high street is dead. Not true. Over 90% of sales in Australia still go through a store. About 80% of those sales start with the online experience: the engagement, the advocacy. The more seamless you make that experience, the larger your basket size and the more valuable your customer is.

Why? Because the customer has choice. Stores were built to sell products. You don’t need a store any more to sell products; you can go anywhere, any time, in any country, and get anything you want. Therefore the role of the store has to change in order to deal with that customer, which leads to this seamless blend of online and offline customer experience.

Health services versus customer service

Now, let me bring that back to health. I have a good friend who’s an oncologist and we talk about the health industry a lot. He’s a smart guy, but he’ll be the first to admit that he doesn’t know about administration or running a business. They’re not business trained, yet clinicians are probably the most influential people in deciding how we run hospitals, aged care centres or clinics.

You may argue that a positive experience for a patient means that they walk out alive. I don’t disagree with that, but that’s not exclusively the answer. My father recently passed away and leading up to that we had a lot of hospital appointments and medical engagements. One of the things I wondered was, what’s so hard about being on time for a 2pm appointment? If you went to the hairdresser and the hairdresser said: “Take a seat, I’ll be with you shortly” and then returned at 4pm, would you go back? Why is that acceptable in healthcare?

I don’t think there’s anyone reading this that would expect anything less from organisations where you have a choice. Unfortunately, health is one of those industries where the customer doesn’t usually have choice – but that’s not a reason for it not to evolve or innovate.

I read a newspaper article recently that declared Australia’s hospitals to be in a ‘constant state of emergency’¹. It’s pretty clear that the current model isn’t sustainable. Knowing this, why is there so much resistance to shifting to different models or ways of working?

Let’s look at a business that has a fundamentally different way of doing things: Uber. Many of its customers no longer use regular taxis. (I suspect some will probably give up owning a car.) Uber totally transformed the way people move around cities. It’s now also disrupting the food industry, with UberEATS challenging delivery services such as Menulog.

Uber, Apple, Amazon… these technology-based companies are out to disrupt. Their first priority is: what is the simplest, most clean and frictionless experience that I can give my customer? How do I make them engage with me, rather than anyone else? In a space where transformation and change is necessary, such as health, whoever make a significant impact on customer experience will lead the way.

A single perspective means a blind spot

When my team is tasked with applying transformational change in any industry – whether that’s banking, airlines, health or other – we look at it through three lenses: business, experience and technology.

Pulling those three elements together is when you gain a new perspective. It’s not about looking at the business model on its own. Nor is it about replumbing the organisation with new technology. It’s about combining business, the experience that you actually want to deliver, and the technology to underpin it.

Put a technologist or a strategist in a room on their own, and you won’t get perspective. You need to get health professionals, change specialists, operational specialists, technologists, designers and creatives in a room together, working collaboratively, to create transformation. Different mindsets coming together is how you reimagine business – and healthcare – in today’s age.

Every patient or customer has an expectation that is based on their best experience anywhere in the world, in any industry. The benchmark is no longer the best experience in health. What’s the best experience from retail, or transport, for example? Transformation should enable you to deliver that to customers, and learn from other industries rather than from within.

Remember the beautiful basics: keep it simple, make sure it’s an effortless experience for the patient or the consumer. Make sure that every time they engage with you, you exceed – not just meet – their expectations. They need those ‘Wow!’ moments, and they need to walk away with something they didn’t know before. And hopefully, that’s not a two-hour wait for their next appointment.


To learn more about the challenges facing the health industry, visit our Digital Health hub on PwC.

1  www.theage.com.au/victoria/hospitals-in-constant-state-of-emergency-says-australian-medical-association-20170217-gufcid.html

One Comment

  1. avatar
    Ross Hardy says:

    Consumer experience is high on the priority list in both primary and acute healthcare sectors. The challenges with delivering retail like experience and choice will only eventuate when the information asymmetry levels out. That’s happening more and more and in Australia, we are at an embryonic stage of health consumerisation; resistance lies ahead with those that hold the information and control the marketplace.

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