How Consumers Shape Modern Laboratory Outreach

Hospital labs must consider generational preferences when offering outreach services

CEO SUMMARY: Each of the different generations engaging with clinical laboratory outreach programs brings their own set of expectations to a blood draw. Innovative hospital lab outreach programs should serve these differences by offering multiple options to provide appointment convenience, testing price transparency, and encouraging customer feedback.

CATERING TO THE CURRENT DEMANDS OF HEALTHCARE CONSUMERS, especially those in younger generations, may spell the difference between a hospital or health system’s successful clinical laboratory outreach program and a faltering one. 

This theme repeats itself throughout the medical industry. By paying attention to how and where different patients want to access their laboratory services—whether it be at a traditional draw station, local retail pharmacy, or at home with the assistance of telehealth—forward-looking lab outreach managers can stay ahead of competitors in the community.

“Community outreach is a tremendously strong activity for any hospital laboratory,” stated Jane Hermansen, MBA, Manager of Outreach and Network Development at Mayo Clinic Laboratories in Rochester, Minnesota. “Lab managers should think about their patient populations and direct their laboratory services accordingly.”

Hermansen spoke during the 2022 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management. Her session was titled, “Achieving the Patient/Consumer Centric Laboratory Outreach Service: Trends and Access Points, Ensuring Easy Access and Scoring Patient Satisfaction.” 

Anyone who went to school after the internet became available likely has different healthcare habits than their parents or grandparents. (See TDR, “New Players May Alter Who Buys and Who Orders Lab Tests,” June 14, 2021.)

Preferences Across Ages

Hermansen, however, noted that generations do consistently agree on the following broad factors when seeking services from clinical laboratories, as follows: 

  • Brand reputation and loyalty.
  • Insurance coverage.
  • Costs.
  • Lab wait times.
Jane Hermansen, Mayo Clinic Laboratories
Jane Hermansen, MBA

“Brand loyalty is a commitment between a customer and a brand that causes the customer to make repeat purchases,” she said. “Clinical laboratories should consider their own brand and how they are perceived in the community.”

An organization’s website can be a beneficial tool in attracting new customers, as well as maintaining the loyalty of existing customers. 

“It’s important for labs to have a strong online presence and this isn’t only for the young kids who always have computers in their hands,” Hermansen stated. “It’s also for older generations who are looking for a good service provider. They search online for information as well. Having good, accurate information is key to helping people understand what services are available from that healthcare organization.

“Clinical laboratories can use websites to provide content that helps customers know how the lab can be accessed, whether the customer is a physician or a patient,” she added.

“An accurate search function on a laboratory webpage or a side-column directory of services are helpful tools for directing patients to content they need,” she said. “Clearly noting lab locations and hours is also effective.”

Scrutinize Lab Wait Times

Wait times are critical components of customer satisfaction. Hermansen acknowledged that some in the clinical laboratory industry believe it is acceptable for patients to wait 15 to 20 minutes to have their blood drawn. She instead champions a shorter window of five minutes.

“I want to park my car, get poked, and get out. It’s a five-minute park and poke. Make that your slogan,” Hermansen joked. “It comes down to helping patients manage their expectations and giving them more control over their experience.” 

Consumers are also increasingly price-sensitive when it comes to utilizing lab testing services. They consider cost and insurance coverage when selecting a lab. 

In her presentation at the Executive War College, Hermansen referred to Kaiser Family Foundation survey results from 2015 that indicated 75% of patients cited out-of-pocket expenses as either “extremely important” or “very important” in weighing health plan options.

Reporting on survey data from TransUnion Healthcare (now owned by FinThrive), PatientEngagementHIT further noted in 2019 that 75% of patients were researching the cost of healthcare services online. The survey showed smart patients will balance out-of-pocket expenses with quality-of-care metrics to determine whom they seek out for services.

“It is important for laboratories to ensure that fees are accessible for customers so they know what they are going to pay,” Hermansen said. “Prices don’t need to be rock bottom, but they need to be viewed as competitive.”

An online patient cost-estimator tool is a good feature to help consumers track their potential laboratory-related costs. And some lab service preferences skew by generation, she observed. 

“For example, laboratory locations and hours of operation are Generations X, Y, and Z,” Hermansen noted. “Gen X consumers may be trying to care not only for themselves, but also for young children and aging parents.”

Appointment Scheduling 

She suggested that labs provide various ways for patients to schedule appointments, such as online, via phone calls, or with a QR code they can scan with their phones to make an appointment. She advised laboratories to also offer walk-in appointments for patient convenience. 

Additionally, some patients want blood-draw options available at their homes or workplaces. (See TDR, “Telemedicine Firms Offer Home Phlebotomy Service,” Sept. 19, 2022.)

“Lab managers should consider ways to change policies and procedures that make them more patient focused,” Hermansen said. 

Telehealth options are also becoming increasingly important to certain customers, particularly younger individuals. “Laboratories must connect their capabilities to telemedicine and telehealth initiatives because those options are not going away,” Hermansen stated. “Younger generations are going to continue to want on-demand services. They want healthcare access on their terms.”

Conversely, patient satisfaction scores and overall quality of care rank higher to older generations. For example, Baby Boomers will seek out opinions of other customers of a facility when selecting where to obtain medical testing and treatments, according to revenue cycle management firm Etactics.

Patient Acquisition Costs 

Laboratory outreach managers should remain alert to how quickly a poor experience can sour a patient’s view of a clinical laboratory. Looking at unsatisfied customers in terms of patient acquisition costs can be useful.

Say, for example, an organization spends $100 per patient in acquisition costs, which includes advertising, marketing, and sales expenses. If things go poorly for a newly-acquired patient during a lab visit, the money spent to bring in that person could be wasted, and his or her lifetime value as a customer drops.

“It takes about 10 seconds to annoy and lose a customer, and 10 years for bad word of mouth to go away,” Hermanson explained. “We have to understand that it’s not only formal patient satisfaction surveys that are important, but informal patient feedback as well.”

With social media apps such as Facebook or Snapchat, users can spread a good or bad message about a lab’s service within hours or even minutes. To offset this possibility, Hermansen suggests laboratories use simple, quick surveys to obtain meaningful feedback from customers. The surveys should be available in a variety of formats—such as hardcopy, online, text, or at a kiosk in the lab or hospital—to encourage participation from all age groups.

“Parents who experience good outcomes with their children at hospitals can become patients for life,” Hermansen said. “Strong loyalty to a healthcare organization—resulting from good patient experiences—can make or break the process, especially in markets where consumers have multiple choices among providers. It makes a big difference.”

Three Takeaways 

Hermansen suggests that clinical laboratory outreach managers develop a consumer-centric program centered on these major efforts:

  • Maintaining multiple ways to communicate and engage with all the different generations.
  • Establishing clear, accurate pricing for lab services across all age groups.
  • Meeting customers when, where, and how they need laboratory services.

“Clinical quality differentiates a lab from the competition as well,” Hermansen concluded. “Clinical quality leads the way to building patient loyalty.”

Contact Jane Hermansen at hermansen.jane@mayo.edu.

Multiple Generations Engaging in Healthcare

CONSUMER PREFERENCES INFLUENCE HEALTHCARE and clinical laboratories must consider generational differences when interacting with various patient populations. 

Five primary groups of patients are recognized by generational categories:

    • Silent Generation or Traditionalists—born before 1946.
    • Baby Boomers—born from 1946 to 1964.
    • Generation X—born from 1965 to 1980.
    • Generation Y or Millennials—born from 1981 to 1996.
    • Generation Z—born from 1997 to 2012.

The youngest patients, who are not yet buying healthcare services on their own, comprise Generation Alpha, whose members were born after 2012. 

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