Pre-internet, shopping was an endurance sport. It meant spending hours, or days, going from store to store, down aisle after aisle, until finally, maybe, you found what you were looking for. And if you wondered if it was actually cheaper somewhere else, you would have no choice but to summon the energy and start your search all over again.
Online shopping changed everything. Now a world of products—far more than could ever fit on a store shelf—is available at your fingertips. Advanced algorithms make searching for items a breeze. Customer reviews are there to help guide your purchase decisions, and the check-out process is fast and convenient. Best of all, you don’t have to go to the products—they come to you, shipped (often for free) directly to your door.
Not surprisingly, online shopping has exploded in popularity. From an estimated $4 trillion in 2020, the global online shopping industry will likely grow to more than $6.5 trillion by 2023. Also by 2023, 300 million Americans—91% of the population—are expected to be regularly shopping online.
Now, the digital shopping revolution is poised to transform healthcare. But it’s not just a call for convenience that will drive the growth of healthcare e-commerce. As the COVID pandemic takes its toll on the economy, there will be more consumers—healthcare “free agents”—paying out of pocket for their healthcare. That will create a greater demand for care that delivers greater value at lower cost. No longer a nice-to-have, health systems must recognize the business imperative of having an effective online “catalog” or risk losing their business to disruptors.
For digital entrepreneurs, within health systems and at technology companies, this new paradigm presents a huge opportunity to re-shape the healthcare industry. Innovators need to think big about what online shopping in healthcare could look like. Here are just a few examples:
An online marketplace for healthcare. The growing number of self-paying customers will demand a better healthcare e-commerce experience. Today 50% of Millennials already comparison-shop for healthcare services and providers online. As more generations are faced with a greater responsibility for cash payments in healthcare, health systems must learn from what works well on other, non-healthcare online shopping platforms, then adapt it to create a healthcare marketplace in order to win their business. This marketplace will feature predictable, transparent pricing along with a full range of shoppable services, including primary care, self-referred specialty care, and lab and imaging work. Moreover, patients will be able to make virtual care appointments, such as video or chat, or schedule in-person appointments, giving patients control over how and when they receive care.
More home delivery options as consumers seek safety. The rise of the COVID pandemic has led many people to avoid “unnecessary” in-person shopping, like trips to the pharmacy or routine doctor’s appointments. Online shopping allows consumers to send products straight to their door without the risk of contact. Moreover, the kinds of healthcare products available online—such as prescriptions, monitoring devices, specialized tools like crutches or walkers, and telehealth-ready tablets—will only continue to grow as demand for home delivery increases.
Easier access to in-home care support. To avoid infection, both patients and providers are now eager to receive and deliver more care at home. An online shopping platform makes it easier for patients to find and hire the right caregiver—for example, someone who can come to the home to help conduct a telehealth appointment, but an online marketplace can also enable and even “prescribe” digital care, keeping costs low while also reducing risk of infections.
Both technology and consumer demand are in place to make healthcare e-commerce a success. But health systems and entrepreneurs must remember that creating an optimal online experience is no longer just a “nice” service to help acquire patients. Rather, it’s an essential business move in a world where patients are choosing healthcare on their terms.
Providence’s Digital Innovation Group is working on technology solutions designed to support a successful healthcare e-commerce platform—namely, a well-organized, easy-to-navigate catalog in a centralized location, a simple and secure payment process, a scheduling tool, and a trackable delivery system. With the right platform, online shopping in healthcare will be able to achieve its full potential.
More information about opportunities for health systems and digital entrepreneurs in the area of healthcare e-commerce can be found in the Digital Innovation Group’s free report, “Evolution: Business Model Movement Toward Value.” This report is part of the COVID-19 Digital Insight Series. All of the reports in the series are available at no charge in the group’s Resource Center.