[VIDEO] Matt Hummel of Paragon Consulting on Consumerism, the Digital Front Door & How the Pandemic Will Change How Hospitals Manage and Design Portals

What Did You Learn? Episode 18

These past 7 months have accelerated consumerism in healthcare in a shorter period than ever before. People expect more out of what they can do online, from making appointments, accessing health records and continuing with the telehealth they experienced during the pandemic.

“Once we get over mental or attitudinal barriers to adopting something, the floodgates open up, and then the whole market starts to pivot that way,” says Matt Hummel, Chief Experience Officer of Paragon Consulting. “Healthcare has to look at that and realize people see value in being able to manage their health, see their providers and find trusted content all through digital channels.”

He explains why people are demanding more of their healthcare experiences, why e-commerce giants like Amazon, Walmart and Apple will help accelerate the change, and why the health systems that lean into technology and consumerism will prevail during this episode of “What Did You Learn?”

 

Ahava: Hi. Welcome back to “What Did You Learn?” I’m Ahava Leibtag, and I’m very excited to have you here with me today with my good friend and colleague, Matt Hummel, who is the Chief Experience Officer at Paragon Consulting. Matt, welcome.

Matt: Hi Ahava.

Ahava: Great to have you. So before we start off with how you spent your time in the last 7000 years since we’ve been in lockdown, would you like to tell people about the time I pitched a mutual client on writing content with soul?

Matt: So, I had a client in, it was in desperate need of some new copy on a website redesign project we were doing, and I invited Ahava to come in and meet with their leadership team, including their CMO, and Ahava comes in with her full “Ahavaness” to the conference room, and through a long parade of  “Ahavaness” gets to telling them what they really need is content with soul. And I looked at the executive team sitting across the table, and they were in love and Ahava won the business.

Ahava: I did, it was fun. It was a fun project. So with that “Ahavaness” let’s jump in to you, Matt the “Mattness” of the day.  So tell me, did you pick up any new hobbies during the pandemic?

Matt: New hobbies? I don’t know if new hobbies. I think I’ve expanded on existing hobbies. I feel like I have cooked more meals in the last six months than I did in the preceding six years. And I’ve always liked to cook but I’ve got to admit cooking 21 meals a day, or a week, has gotten old, but I have refined some of my chops, no pun intended and doing some gardening. I actually canned some pickles this fall, which was the first time I’ve ever done any canning. So, yeah, I guess I’ve been a home body like everyone else but trying to find ways to keep myself entertained.

Ahava: That’s very cool. That’s very cool. I’ve always wanted to garden, but I just haven’t had the energy or the time. And I don’t even know where I’d put it in my house. But my kids have started to show interest in it. Maybe next year, next spring, we’ll consider doing it, maybe in pots instead of just on the ground. So okay, do you want to describe a little bit about what you do at Paragon, just to set the stage for people in terms of the breadth and the width of the kinds of clients you interact with from a healthcare perspective, and just so that we understand what it is that you do on a daily basis?

Matt: Sure. My team is part of a larger team at Paragon. Paragon is a full-service web marketing web technology firm, and my team is really the team that focuses on everything that is consumer-facing. We do digital strategy work, a lot of in-depth consumer research work, understanding personas, the journeys those personas go on with your brand, and then how do we design a product or service so that it actually meets them where they are. What do they value? How do they how do they want to interact with you, and really focusing on that user experience side of things.

Ahava: That’s a fascinating place to be in now with the pandemic. Have you, what major consumer sentiments have you seen change over the last, I don’t even know how long this has been going on, six years?

Matt: Well, it’s funny. I think that when I first got into this business a long time ago, I would have said that, consumer research in general had staying power because consumer behaviors did not change very quickly. But over the last maybe 15 years, 12 years, I mean specifically, I think since the introduction of the iPhone, we’ve seen a much more rapid change in what people are willing to do online and on a mobile device, and how much of their business and lives they’re willing to manage that way. And I think what we’ve seen throughout the pandemic in the last six months is just an incredible acceleration of that. As people’s values have changed, so have their subsequent behaviors. And no place more than in telehealth, where here we have seen a notion that’s been around for years, go from something people weren’t even quite sure it was, I remember doing a study just a couple years ago when we were asking people about telehealth and we had to describe it as FaceTiming with your doctor or they wouldn’t understand what we meant, to now, many consumers having experienced a telehealth visit in the last six months. And I think many people finding it was a compelling experience. It was less hassle. Yeah, I mean, for even someone like myself, right? I can sit here and work until my doctor’s ready, I don’t lose all that time. But for a senior in particular, who’s less mobile, and I live here in the Northeast as do you and the winter, it gets hard to get outside and not safe to get outside. It’s opening I think the whole set of market segments who are going to be very interested in continuing to manage their healthcare that way. So I think we’ll see that it’s gonna be interesting to see when this finally comes to a conclusion, what behaviors revert back to the old way and what behaviors continue to drive forward with what we’ve seen during this time. But certainly I think many of the things we’ve seen, in e-commerce, once people find it is safe, they find it is valuable, they find there is a convenience factor or some other rewarding factor to them, in that digital experience, they stick with it and just do it more and more as their prevalent behavior.

Ahava:  Yeah, so we’ve been talking about in healthcare that front door consumerism attitude about how you can book a flight a lot more easily than you can get your health records or you can, you know. And so everybody moved towards this portal approach where you were able to go in and see everything but a lot of times they were clunky and they weren’t well designed, and do you think that there will be that continued push into consumerism because of the pandemic? Or do you think it’s going to sort of tell hospitals, “well we can do the business that we need to do without being smart about this because healthcare is something that everybody needs and therefore we don’t need to invest in those kind of tools.”

Matt: Well, as you well know, Ahava, in healthcare, there’s a long tail on how fast people adopting technologies and how innovative health systems are. Forrester Research describes it as “Leaders versus Laggards.”  And I think we are already seeing the leaders recognizing that the tools, the digital tools they have in place today really are foundational. They’re not going to meet the needs and the expectations of an ever-evolving population who has expectations for digital experiences that are really, really high quality. And so we are seeing more activity in that way. We’re seeing more people talking about having conversations about virtual waiting rooms. And we’ve been talking to people about building on top of the electronic health record rather than just using the out of the box functionality. And we did some work a couple years ago with MyChart in particular, where we really saw the spectrum of the current electronic health record is really just that. It’s your health record. It used to be the files that were behind the receptionist when you went into the doctor’s office just made electronic. It was your health data. And we believe there’s a spectrum we’re moving towards, where we’re going to go from managing your health data to managing your healthcare and then ultimately, to managing your health. I think that is going to continue to evolve. And I think the leaders in healthcare are going to be investing more and more into it for two reasons. One of which is that consumers are now have tasted it and they want more of it, and two of which is the competitive threats from the Google Healths, the Apples, the Amazons, the Walmarts who are going to put the pressure on them externally to have those kinds of experiences.

Ahava: So what do you wish you had known if I had been able to tell you in November, Matt, get ready. What do you wish? What was one thing you really wish you had known?

Matt: Well, I think I wish I had better respect for how lucky we were that we already have experience working as a virtual team. Paragon, about 30 percent of our workforce, was distributed already because we had made the decision to hire for talent, not for location quite a few years ago. So we were set up for it. We have the tooling in place, we have the processes in place, the practices in place that allowed us to work remotely pretty effectively, which in some ways should be surprising because even on large projects with clients, a lot of the work is remote. We would typically visit a client site a handful of times throughout a project. We were very accustomed to working remote and with ourselves and with our clients. But what we’ve seen now is our piece coming out where they are asking you to describe how you’re gonna be able to function as a team in a COVID environment. And we’ve been doing remote consumer research for years, remote usability testing. So we’ve, it’s a practice we’ve developed sort of out of necessity over the years that I never really thought of as a marketable attribute to our business.

Ahava: What do you think you’ve really seen? What have you learned that you didn’t know before? Because you’ve really had this research focus in your work, and you really depend on data to prove a point, and what I think is so fascinating about this whole thing and what we’ve all learned together is that this whole thing is a communications game. If we don’t communicate clearly with people, they’re gonna make poor decisions. And we’ve known that in healthcare forever. And yet with a constantly evolving situation, it’s become it’s incredibly challenging. So with your handle on, well this is what we know about people, oh, my gosh we don’t know this about people anymore, what have you learned about that part of the pandemic and that part of what it is that we do?

Matt: Well, I think one important thing is this how resilient digital channels have proven to be.  People are not putting down their phones, they’re not putting down their tablets. They continue to be even more so, they’re interfacing all the time now with everyone via these platforms. And from a marketing standpoint and from a customer experience standpoint, those channels continue to be really big opportunities I think that a lot of companies really haven’t exploited fully in terms of their use just like we’ve been talking about. Things that were sort of nascent or formative ways of doing business with you have now started to mature very, very quickly. And I think that what we’ve learned is technology is going to continue to be a, and digital channels, in particular, are going to continue to be these ways that people are interfacing with your brand, whether that’s what you want them to do, expect them to do, or not. And I mean and also the fact that the technology platforms have stood up to the challenge, as well. Zoom meetings weren’t going down when all of a sudden everyone jumped on. Most residential bandwidth was enough to keep people working. So, the infrastructure was surprisingly better I think than a lot of us thought and the platforms held up. And I think we just will continue to adapt, and now we have kids who are learning that way, maybe poorly and to the frustration of a lot of parents. But it’s changing and our attitudes are changing. People are learning. It’s also an incredible experiment. You can look at this time period. You’re under stress and we’re reactive, but we’re also running all these experiments as a researcher. We’re running all these A/B tests, we’re running all these things to see what works, what doesn’t. So it’s actually a great time of innovation, I think. And it’s going to be interesting to see as we come out of the need to be this way, will business realize what an opportunity gave them to learn about their customer, to learn about their own business, to learn about the products and services they offer the market. And will they continue to be willing to make those all those little bets and all those experiments to see what drives their business forward in an innovative way.

Ahava: What do you think healthcare communicators and people in the technology field, the experience people like you should be thinking about? Where are we going to be in a year from now, in terms of what are the projects that we should be getting ready and telling our clients, “Let’s think about this.”

Matt: First, I think we have to really get our finger on the pulse of the consumer. As you were mentioning, Ahava, we’ve seen significant change out of necessity and how people behave, and it’s driven by a value of staying safe or keeping my family safe. We need to, we need to be, what we need to be doing is monitoring as circumstances change, are our behaviors continuing to change or are people staying the course? Have they found this new way of doing business, this new way of living this new way of interacting with others? You and I are interacting in a different way. My friends and I are interacting in different ways, but I think you could go all the way back to early days of e-commerce when everybody was happy to buy books and DVDs from Amazon, but when e-retailers started trying to sell clothing, people said, “Well, I can’t buy clothing, I need to touch it. I need to try it on. I need to feel what the fabrics like.” Of course, we’ve moved past that, and not long before the pandemic started, you hear people say, “I’m never going to grocery shop online because I want to pick out my fruit and I want to pick out my produce,” now we see everybody doing curbside pickup or home delivery on their grocery stores. It’s like once we get over these mental barriers or these attitudinal barriers to adopting something, the floodgates open up, and then the whole market starts to pivot that way. And I think healthcare has to really look at that and say, as we’ve been discussing, people are going, are seeing a value in being able to manage their health and see their providers, and get consultation, and learn and find what they see is trusted content and advice all through digital channels. And I think that there may be some population of people who revert back to wanting face-to-face interactions, but I think you’re going to see a demand for better telehealth solutions, for much more significant digital front door and portal experiences. The other types of monitoring devices so that my doctor can see my blood pressure. My doctor can see my blood sugar level and other home monitoring tools that allow telehealth to work in a more sophisticated fashion. There’s been people for years talking about why aren’t we bundling services together so that, for example, Ahava could come in and she could get her dermatology visit, her annual visit her OBGYN visit, her mammogram all in one convenient service rather than having… And what will we have learned that especially if people don’t want to be, have that physical contact as often, but just people want the convenience, and people want their busy lives. And you live outside D.C. the traffic is terrible, I don’t want to have to spend that much time away from my business or my family to do all those things. I think we have to see innovation in service delivery as well.

Ahava: Okay, so our drinks have come in a year from now. We’re at a conference. We’re totally hanging out, having a blast, as we usually do, you’re making fun of me. And I say to you, what’s the one thing that you learned, that you saw, that you experienced that really hasn’t changed? That you’re going to take with you no matter what for the rest of your career in healthcare.

Matt: Well, I think you have to expect the unexpected. I don’t know if it’s shocking or not, but I don’t think healthcare saw this coming. Healthcare, I think, has done an incredible job of reacting to the incredible demand that’s been put on providers and frontline staff and all aspects of the organization and the system. But we have to be more prepared for what our blind spot is. We were, I mean, imagine we at least had the I guess, the advantage of having seen what happened in China, and what was happening in Europe, that we could, had we been ground zero for this, it would have been, I think, really very hard on healthcare. So I think when we look at healthcare, we all have to be thinking about that. And that’s across the entire, every discipline, whether you’re a marketer, or you’re an IT, or you’re a provider, or you’re working to keep the buildings running great like that. Everyone’s going to have to start, really, I think, think through what are these emergency plans and that what we have expected in the past is going to get trumped.

Ahava: This is not a drill.

Matt: Right, it’s not a drill. The fact of the matter is we have to share some of these dimensions, and we always have been good about that with research and other things, it’s just we need to be smarter about it in other aspects of the business as well.

Ahava: Absolutely. It was wonderful to have you. Where can people find you?

Matt: You can find me on LinkedIn at Matt Hummel, /Matt Hummel and Paragon is  www.paragon-inc.com. And I am on Twitter, @HummelMatt.

Ahava: Awesome. Thank you so much for joining me today with Matt. You should definitely reach out to him if you’re in need of research, consumer experience, he’s the best. A lot of fun to work with us, I’m sure you saw in this interview, and we’ll see you next time on “What Did You Learn?” Thank you so much for joining us today.

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About Ahava Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag, MA

Ahava R. Leibtag has more than 20 years of experience in writing, messaging and marketing. She is a well-recognized content expert and writes thought leadership about content strategy and content marketing. Ahava is the President and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She... More >