How Lessons From E-commerce Can Boost Patient Engagement In Healthcare

In recent years, patient engagement has become a central tenet of healthcare policy and practice. As recent studies show, emphasizing the role of patients as “co-producers of health” and empowering them to use digital tools to manage their health can have far-reaching benefits, including significant reductions in hospital readmissions, length of stay, and the number of ER visits a patient requires[¹].

As many healthcare organizations and providers recognize, patient engagement is not something that arises from patients alone. In a 2019 study, medical researchers highlighted the role of provider encouragement in significantly boosting patient engagement in healthcare via online portals, suggesting that targeted patient engagement strategies from providers are crucial in empowering patient populations[²].

While some patients may have a natural tendency to be active drivers of their own care, the majority will need to be offered the tools, knowledge, and motivation necessary to set them on the path to greater engagement. However, until recently, healthcare patient engagement solutions were far from empowering, with clunky interfaces, fragmented apps and portals, and hard-to-locate services discouraging users from booking their own appointments or seeking out health information from their providers.

For healthcare organizations to be effective in their goals of raising patient engagement, it can be helpful to learn from the example of industries such as E-commerce that have, until now, poured a great deal more time and energy into learning about consumer behaviors and habits and implementing those into their digital services.

In contrast with many digital healthcare services, modern developers in E-commerce are taught to put user experience at the heart of their design, ensuring that their online shops are attractive, intuitive, and easily navigable for the end-consumer. In addition, E-commerce has fully embraced the “mobile-first” trend, ensuring that all applications are designed for prime usability on smartphone devices. This, ultimately, drives higher engagement, encouraging repeat visits from users who return not only for the products but also the shopping experience.

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What healthcare can learn from E-commerce

In highly consumer-centered industries such as E-commerce, concepts such as the ‘customer journey’ formalize aspects of usability to ensure that the customer journey is as simple, intuitive, and truncated as possible. Online shopping brands spend huge swathes of their marketing budgets on analyzing consumer data and shaping best practices for the customer journey in order to boost engagement (measured in purchases) and encourage repeat visits to their sites[³].

While in brick-and-mortar retail, the customer journey would be a physical one, these days, the term often refers to a consumer’s trajectory to and through an E-commerce site[⁴]. Digital analysts measure how the customer arrived at the site in the first place (through paid or organic traffic); at what moments, and how often they are asked to click, and whether they face unnecessary hurdles when attempting to reach the checkout due to a poor user interface on the website or app.

While the aims may be different, the principle of making the online patient journey as smooth and quick as possible – with as few clicks as possible – can be applied in the fight to improve the take-up of digital services and, with them, patient engagement in healthcare.

Drawing on lessons from e-commerce, offering attractive and easily navigable UI/UX design for ehealth services will draw patients back to these services and encourage them to take ownership of their own care through booking their own consultations, reading up on health information, or speaking to a health practitioner online.

Adopting digital trends to improve the patient journey

Much like in E-commerce, understanding modern consumer habits and trends is key to offering the best experience to patients and encouraging the adoption of new types of online services.

The daily usage of mobile phones has been growing over the past five years, and consumers now often reach for their mobile phone if they want to interact with brands online. In 2021, US consumers will spend almost four hours every day on their phone and the mobile share of E-commerce sales, with smartphone transactions accounting for one in every four dollars[⁵] spent online.

E-commerce has been quick to adapt to this fast-growing channel, adopting “mobile-first” design principles to ensure that customers accessing their sites on mobile can enjoy the best possible experience. Taking a mobile-first approach doesn’t necessarily mean offering a mobile app, but it does mean making sites easily readable on mobile, simplifying navigation, eliminating pop-up ads for mobile users, and paying close attention to loading speeds for mobile users.

In 2019, Google adopted mobile-first indexing[⁶] on its search engine, so ensuring that your site is as mobile-friendly as possible can also impact your search engine ranking and how easy it is for patients to find you online.

Beyond the trend toward mobile, healthcare providers can learn from E-commerce by offering an easily navigable and usable interface for all users, with clear signposting of available services, so patients don’t have to spend ages looking for what they need. Adopting the rules of the consumer journey that dictate that actions should be carried out with as few clicks as possible, key services like appointment scheduling or online patient payment solutions can be performed on a patient portal with minimal hurdles.

  1. Bao, C. (2020). Patient–provider Engagement And Its Impact On Health Outcomes: A Longitudinal Study Of Patient Portal Use. [online] MIS Quarterly Available at:
  2. Shimoga, S.V. and Lu, Y.Z. (2019). Role of provider encouragement on patient engagement via online portals. [online] Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Available at:
  3. Mangiaracina, R., Brugnoli, G., Aless and Perego, R. (n.d.). The e-commerce Customer Journey: A Model to Assess and Compare the User Experience of the e-commerce Websites. The Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce, [online] Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce. Available at:
  4. Metrilo (2018). The customer journey: the one thing that fixes everything in e-commerce. [online] Metrilo Blog. Available at:
  5. Oberlo. (n.d.). Mobile Commerce Sales in 2020. [online] Oberlo. Available at:
  6. The BigCommerce Blog. (2018). Mobile SEO for Ecommerce in 2021 [Mobile-First Indexing & More]. [online] The BigCommerce Blog. Available at:
John Deutsch
John Deutsch

Founder and CEO of Bridge Patient Portal, and business owner of 19 years with extensive experience in Healthcare IT. John is a Judge for the 2020 eHealthcare Leadership Awards and has appeared on multiple podcasts, including the Outcomes Rocket Podcast and the Hospital Finance Podcast.