Part 1: How digital innovation is influencing patient interactions and experiences

Rich Tremonte, EVP & President, Customer Operations, Animal Health, and Community & Specialty Pharmacy

Part 1: The consumer trends driving digital innovation across sites of care

Evolving attitudes and preferences are shaping the way human and animal health practices deliver care

It’s no secret that digital innovation has become table stakes for today’s most successful businesses. By 2023, digitally transformed organizations are projected to account for 53.3 trillion U.S. dollars—more than half of global gross domestic product (GDP). Companies of all sizes are embarking on digital transformation journeys to keep pace with innovation, and it’s no different for the healthcare industry.

Rooted in those changes is the desire to connect more meaningfully with customers and ultimately provide a better patient experience. But, what does this look like in practice? What types of innovations will generate the most value for patients today and in the future? 

Below, we dive into three key consumer trends that are driving digital transformation across sites of care.

I.  The ‘Amazon Effect’ is shaping consumers’ desire for convenience and ease of access across all industries, including healthcare.

Major e-commerce companies have fostered a new set of consumer expectations regarding convenience and near-instant gratification. Over the years, those expectations progressively trickled into other industries—from banking to entertainment and everything in between. Within the healthcare space, younger demographics (also known as “digital natives”) are primarily leading the shift to digital with a focus on quick and easy interactions under their terms.   

According to Gartner, when asked for the reasoning behind forgoing medical care in the past, Millennials & Gen Z were most likely to cite a lack of time or flexibility in their schedules to fit in an appointment. These age groups are comprised of students, young professionals, and busy parents who want their provider interactions to cause as little disruption to their daily lives as possible. They tend to favor the “set it and forget it” mentality, which can translate to healthcare in the form of automated script refills from their pharmacy delivered directly to their home, for example.

Though significantly accelerated by the pandemic, digital preferences were already steadily rising pre-COVID. Back in 2019, 70 percent of patients were more likely to choose a provider that offered reminders for follow-up care via email or text, compared to 57 percent in 2016. Today, it’s clear that consumers value many of the changes the pandemic brought to healthcare and expect them to continue. E-commerce penetration in retail pharmacy has historically been low compared to most other categories but has been growing consistently since 2020. Meanwhile, digital disrupters continue to gain traction in the market, requiring traditional providers to do more to stay ahead. The use of telehealth also increased from less than one percent of outpatient visits pre-COVID to 13 percent in the first 6 months of the pandemic. Today, telehealth use remains elevated compared to pre-COVID levels, indicating that patients value the choice and flexibility it provides.

In addition to enabling remote interactions, investments in digital tools position sites of care to meet patient expectations with greater efficiency during in-person visits. As consumers become more tech-savvy they expect their healthcare providers to follow suit, and seeing providers effectively leveraging technology builds patient confidence. A recent survey found that 77 percent of patients felt positive about their clinician using a mobile device in their care. What’s more, patients are increasingly bringing their data with them to the hospital, and 95 percent of patients surveyed are willing to share electronic health metrics. Moving forward, sites of care that lack digital tools and clinical mobility may struggle to attract and retain patients who expect technology to be a central part of the care process.

II.  While some consumers favor convenience, others desire more personalized guidance and support to manage their overall health and wellness.

On the other end of the spectrum, some consumers are leaning on community care providers for education and clinical support more than ever. This is especially true among patients managing chronic conditions and/or multiple prescriptions. When surveyed on how the pandemic affected their prescription behavior, 27 percent of patients said they relied more on their pharmacist for information about their condition and medication, and 18 percent said they relied more on their pharmacist to explain benefit and payment options.

More than half of retail pharmacy patients have used health and wellness services in the last year, according to the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Pharmacy Study. Offerings like adherence counseling, medication therapy management programs, and compliance packaging, which can be implemented and managed using digital tools, help strengthen patient trust and loyalty. Consumers are also increasingly turning to pharmacies for services like point-of-care testing and preventive care, especially in rural areas where health systems and primary care providers may be few and far between. As pharmacies’ role in patient care continues to expand, pharmacists will need technology solutions to help them understand their patients’ needs, connect them with the right services, and foster long-term relationships.

Across other sites of care, the growing use of remote patient monitoring (RPM) and home healthcare technology is strengthening the patient-provider relationship and driving more personalized care. RPM technology delivers a continuous stream of real-time health data and enables clinicians to adjust treatment plans throughout the patient journey to improve outcomes. Insider Intelligence estimates that 70.6 million U.S. patients (approx. 26 percent of the population) will use RPM tools by 2025, making it an increasingly valuable capability.

These ever-growing patient expectations are requiring providers to do more within their already busy schedules, which makes their time more valuable than ever. Seventy percent of pharmacists reported having taken on new job responsibilities in the wake of the pandemic. To deliver in these expanded roles long-term, providers must continue to automate workflows where possible to create more time for personalized patient care.

III.  Trust and transparency are increasingly influencing how (and how often) consumers interact with sites of care.

Financial pressures and price transparency continue to be top areas of concern for patients. A Gartner survey found that 80 percent of consumers say cost is the primary factor when making healthcare decisions, including 56 percent of insured consumers. Roughly a third of those surveyed reported fear of incurring medical costs has caused them to forgo elements of healthcare to save money—for example, choosing not to do recommended testing. Cost-centered avoidances were most pronounced among the younger generations surveyed. Nearly half of Millennials and Gen Z say they have forgone elements of their healthcare to save money, and over 40 percent say they’ve avoided seeking medical attention out of fear of incurring medical costs.

Digging deeper, Gartner found that 89 percent of consumers believe the healthcare industry should more clearly communicate out-of-pocket (OOP) costs, and they put that responsibility on providers more so than payers. The price transparency rule for hospitals went into effect back in January 2021, but providers are still a long way from meeting its mandate. And it’s not until they arrive at the pharmacy counter that many patients learn if a medication will be covered by insurance or how much the OOP cost will be. 

Challenges with price transparency threaten overall patient trust, which has become a prevalent topic of conversation in the wake of the pandemic. Thirteen percent of all consumers and 18 percent of Boomers say they have forgone medical care because they do not trust medical professionals to have their best interests at heart; a substantial rise from May 2020 when only 5 percent of Boomers cited a lack of trust as a reason for forgoing care. To build trust through transparency, providers of all kinds should be investing in prescription decision support solutions, such as real-time prescription benefit (RTPB) tools, to provide clear and actionable cost information to potential patients earlier in their journey.

At the pharmacy counter, direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, which allow Part D plans to charge a per-prescription fee to pharmacies, continue to impede price transparency efforts. When DIR fees are applied post point‐of‐sale, they are not reflected in the negotiated price at the pharmacy counter. The result is higher OOP costs for patients and reimbursement uncertainty for pharmacies. AmerisourceBergen continues to advocate for DIR fee reform to reduce patient costs and enable accurate, timely reimbursement for pharmacies.

In part 2, we discuss key considerations to ensure the promise of digital innovation is met by a better patient experience. Continue reading.