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5 Lessons For Healthcare Providers From Banks

The highly regulated banking industry has figured out how to put IT at the center of customer service. What are the opportunities for healthcare?

The financial and healthcare business ecosystems are often compared with one another. Both are highly regulated and often siloed and both provide basic but highly important services. As stewards increasingly complex experiences, primary care physicians and financial advisers play similar roles in guiding consumers through a maze of options, trade-offs, and decisions. Chronic debt and disease take a vast toll on individuals, their families, and the overall social ecosystem.

In both industries, regulation that's supposed to protect consumers often ends up making reform and progress more difficult. IT systems have revolutionized financial services, and as a result banks have saved billions of dollars. Consumers first used ATMs, then paid bills and made purchases online and via mobile devices. In healthcare, providing consumers with equally effective self-service tools and services might well represent the fastest-growing market as the Affordable Care Act transforms the industry by rewarding providers for positive outcomes, not doctor visits. Higher deductibles and skyrocketing healthcare costs are also pushing more financial responsibility onto consumers, opening the floodgates to a range of new services aimed at educating and empowering consumers to make better health -- and financial -- decisions.

[Will innovations measure up? Read Wearable Health Tech: Many Promises, Few Facts.]

Health and wealth are becoming explicitly and inextricably linked. The parallels between industries mean new opportunities, particularly for healthcare organizations that can benefit from insights from their financial counterparts, particularly as they relate to user experience. Here are five lessons healthcare providers can learn from banks.

1. It's called low-hanging fruit for a reason. Banks have discovered that sometimes the biggest usability issues are not only the easiest and quickest to fix, but they can give you the most bang for your buck. In healthcare too, small improvements can result in a large and measurable increase in customer satisfaction, completion rates on key processes, and money-saving ways for customers to help themselves.

2. Innovation comes in small steps, not big leaps. Today's pace of change is too rapid to allow for a five-year development cycle. In financial services and healthcare, you must design your process to make rapid, incremental improvements, and include your users in testing their validity.

3. It's about the human, not the device. Even with the current fuss over wearables, you can't forget that it's a human who is using them. The same was true of mobile banking. As more products hit the market, those that succeed will be based on human behavior, human needs, and an understanding of human motivations.

4. Accessibility and literacy aren't afterthoughts. They're guiding principles. Accessibility means more than just font sizes or the contrast between colors and type on a page. It's about having a deep understanding and empathy for customers' ability to read, interact with, and comprehend what's expected of them within your experience. Increasing financial literacy can help improve financial health. The same principle applies to physical health.

5. Don't be scared of startups -- learn from them, partner with them, or buy them.  Both healthcare and financial services have seen the uptick of the innovative startup, with the rise of Square, Pop Money, FitBit, and MyFitnessPal, as well as full-scale services like Simple, Castlight, and Health Tap. These legitimate alternatives have set a new bar for customers and accelerated customer-experience improvements at banks, investment firms, and healthcare providers. Their successes and shortcomings may help you to define your own business roadmap.

Download Healthcare IT in the Obamacare Era, the InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue on the impact of new laws and regulations. Modern technology created the opportunity to restructure the healthcare industry around accountable care organizations, but IT priorities are also being driven by the shift.