By Angela Klinske, Senior Director

When it comes to restoring and maintaining optimal health and wellbeing, health systems can and should play a critical role for patients and communities seeking healthcare education, justice and innovation. All too often, health systems are seen as epicenters of sick care, bundled in red tape and steeped in outdated traditions that no longer serve the changing populations in their own communities.

In the meantime, major retailers and tech companies continue to innovate and deliver their way past the bricks-and-mortar of old-fashioned healthcare models as patients – actually, consumers – circumvent the doctor’s office and seek vaccines, primary care and pharmaceuticals from nearby chain retailers that deliver healthcare.

There’s no doubt that healthcare is complicated, and there is too little space in this post to discuss dismantling and rebuilding the industry. However, just tweaking a few thought processes and communications strategies can help healthcare leaders remain competitive and relevant. Health systems can separate themselves from their healthcare counterparts as deeply committed to their communities, through health and wellness in engaging and innovative ways.

What should today’s health systems look like as pillars in the community, promoting and advocating for the wellbeing of those they serve? How can health systems see patients as consumers with choices that expand beyond the traditional hospital or patient room settings? How quickly would innovation occur, and how much more economies of scale would be achieved if health systems acted like tech companies or major retailers? While external forces such as reimbursement models and staffing challenges may threaten this notion, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us there are things healthcare leaders can and must do now if they are going to remain relevant in the future of healthcare delivery models.

1. Healthcare is digital-first. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems were investing in electronic health records, online scheduling and remote patient monitoring. The pandemic only exacerbated the need for digital healthcare and opened the door to digital health being more accepted – by patients, providers and payers alike. Digital health is utilized across the continuum of care – from the hospital room to the workplace and across all populations. Helping patients access healthcare from wherever they are is not a nicety – it’s a reality. They are not seeking doctors; they are seeking care, where it’s convenient, affordable and accessible on their terms.

2. Healthcare includes diverse forms of communication. One-size-fits-all communications tactics will not work as populations become more diverse and healthcare needs span across generations and cultures. It is estimated that as many as 90 million Americans are health illiterate. Socioeconomic factors play a significant role in this discrepancy, as well as cultural and language differences. It’s up to the health system to ensure care is delivered in a way that every patient fully understands and engages in their healthcare experience. Consider communication methods that help your patients read medical directions, incorporate wellness into their everyday lives, and understand who to call during an emergency. Create accessible communications methods that educate, inform and engage your entire healthcare population, considering their level of education, understanding of the U.S. health system, and complexities of navigating health systems, especially when new to the community or purchasing healthcare.

3. Build bridges for your patients. Ideally, everything works together for the greater good. Health systems provide a fundamental need in the community; they cannot and should not do this alone. Build relationships and allyships with other organizations in the community that offer complementary healthcare and medical services. Your healthcare offering is only as strong as your network. Who does mental health well? Where can you close gaps and be a resource for your patient to help find additional help? Rather than focusing on episodic treatment and sending the patient home with a list of complicated instructions, how can your healthcare providers better connect patients with community resources for continued care?

4. Treat your patients like consumers who have choices. Because they do. When major retailers and tech companies deliver innovative healthcare solutions effectively and economically – sometimes better than their local health systems – it’s time for traditional health systems to take note. Service, convenience, cost and quality are all attributes that drive and keep consumers engaged. Healthcare is no exception. But health systems have the advantage over retail in that they’ve had more experience, focusing on quality and healthcare delivery in general. Listen to your patients, continue to invest in innovation that improves the healthcare experience, and be open to trying new ways to be there for your patients.

Lambert has served healthcare companies – from hospitals and health systems to health tech and life sciences companies and life planning organizations – for over two decades. Learn more about how Lambert’s health team can help you develop communications and content for your patient communities.