Distribution channel strategy design : Application and implementation in healthcare
Healthcare is a very important and intimate service virtually all people use at least at some occasion in a lifetime. It is also highly complex and variable with heterogeneous patients requiring individualised attention in order to be effectively treated. This requires large resources in terms of labour, knowledge, skill, and time which is why in the past, improving productivity has been difficult. Information and communications technology, ICT, has been seen to have potential to improve productivity in e.g. diagnosing, devising treatment plans, communicating with patients and clinical staff, and record-keeping if applied correctly. During mainly the 1990s, the banking sector changed its distribution channel strategy to focus increasingly on Internet banking rather than local branches. If parallels are drawn between the two, such as comparing local branches to clinics, what can a rheumatology department learn?
A case study was conducted at Karolinska University Hospital's Department of Rheumatology. Existing communication pathways associated with the clinic-patient communication were identified, theory and knowledge of the banking sector change was compiled and some current efforts of ICT integration in healthcare were briefly reviewed. Finally, the project sought to provide a future vision for communications in rheumatology. Examples of risks and difficulties considered were legal issues, patient safety and the current compensation for the clinics, which today represent a major limitation for strategy formulation.
The study identified several key issue areas to consider when implementing ICT in healthcare and the importance of aligning ICT with workflow. Parts of the banks strategic choices are also applicable in healthcare, e.g. using a multi-channel strategy where different customer segments are targeted with different channels. Further, a unified customer management system containing input from patient as well as provider is highly recommended, together with an online portal increasing accessibility for patients. Most importantly, all distribution channels and ICT systems considered for use should be thoroughly integrated with day-to-day workflow.
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