The Healthcare Crisis: Why Patient Experience is More Important than Ever
April 3, 2022 by Alex McClellan
Patients and their wellbeing are at the center of everything we do as healthcare providers. It’s why most providers enter their profession in the first place – they have a deep seeded desire to help others and many view it as their “personal calling.” But the healthcare industry often leads to consumer disappointment and frustration. In fact, 71% of Americans believe the healthcare system is “in a state of crisis” or has “major problems.” Direct care providers certainly aren’t responsible for all the dissatisfaction Americans have with the healthcare industry. The industry is complicated and has many players: pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment companies, commercial insurance companies, regulators…the list goes on and on.
Regardless of the magnitude and complexity of the healthcare industry, providers should be searching for ways to improve our services. Beyond direct patient interactions, we have an opportunity to advocate for and instigate changes to meet consumers’ needs and wants. Taking an active role in improving the consumer experience will not only improve patient retention (great for business), but it will also improve our patients’ satisfaction and ultimately, their outcomes. Isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place?
Part of the reason for Americans’ diminished satisfaction with the healthcare industry may lie in how they access goods and services from other industries. Consumers base their expectations on prior experiences, and their interactions with other industries have been quite different and have rapidly evolved over the last couple of decades. How healthcare is accessed by patients has not changed quite so rapidly. Now, we understand it’s difficult to compare, say, the retail industry to the healthcare industry. Health as a commodity is not clearly defined like a clothing line or household appliances. You can’t “buy” health. Your health, good or bad, can’t be traded with someone else, it can’t be gifted to a friend, and it can’t be returned or exchanged. Every person’s health needs are unique to them. What works for one may not work for another. In these ways, comparing the healthcare industry to any other industry seems somewhat futile.
But the ways customers experience different industries can be compared. We can draw upon what other industries have learned and utilize similar models to shape the future of the healthcare experience. We can implement new and emerging technologies to create more efficient and effective interactions with our customers. We can do all of this to make healthcare less frustrating, more accessible to everyone, and to empower individuals to have more control of their health.
Creating Raving Fans
Let’s think about the aspects that lead to a successful customer experience in another industry. Perhaps you recently purchased a product or utilized a service from a company that made you a raving fan. Maybe you were so impressed by the company, you went out of your way to tell your friends and family about it. You’re certain that anyone who uses them will be just as pleased. You’re a customer for life.
In a situation like this, you typically aren’t a raving fan before you buy the product or utilize the service. You were likely convinced to be a “lifer” over multiple interactions with this company. What did it take to get to that point? And most importantly, how can we use those pieces to re-create that experience for our patients?
Here is a recent example of this with a company that provides a subscription to meal delivery kit. Without getting bogged down with storytelling about the company and the subscription, the general and applicable aspects that made me a fan are detailed below:
- My sister referred me. She was a happy customer and went out of her way to share her experience with me. The company also had plenty of great reviews online.
- The website was clean and easy to navigate.
- Signing up for the subscription was entirely online with a chat bot available to answer any questions as needed.
- Promotions were available to get started, which made it even easier to justify signing up.
- The first shipment arrived quickly with tracking information available, and consistent updates were provided to let me know when it had shipped and when it was delivered.
- Clear instructions were provided in the box for how to cook the meals.
- The quality of the ingredients has been fantastic, and the meals are delicious.
- A phone app is available to manage my account, including changing my subscription, accessing instructions, or communicating with the customer support team.
- The options available within the subscription itself make it easy to personalize for my needs – I can change the content of the subscription, the frequency, dates it was delivered, etc. They even made it easy to cancel or freeze the subscription at any time.
- The add-ons and ongoing offers are relevant and based on my past preferences.
- The subscription saves me money, time, and energy.
It’s easy to see why this was a positive experience from the beginning. Do I want to spend any portion of my monthly budget on groceries? No. But this company took a basic human necessity (food) and made it slightly more fun, easier to manage, and personalized to me. I will be a customer for the foreseeable future.
Opportunities to Create Raving Fans in Healthcare
This begs the question: how can we do the same with healthcare? How do we take something that’s more of a need than a want, and make it feel slightly more enjoyable, accessible, and thoughtfully designed for everyone?
Before we jump into how we can apply these lessons to healthcare, we should understand exactly what patients are hoping for in their healthcare experience. And while each patient will have their own unique needs and goals, there are overarching themes that can help us shape the ways we provide care. This study from Deloitte measured 64 interactions a patient has during their healthcare experiences. In all those interactions, these were the top four priorities for consumers:
- Personalization of care
- Economically manageable
- Convenience in accessing care
- Utilization of digital tools to connect to providers
This poll from Managed Healthcare Executive found the top priorities of patients centered around improving the patient-provider relationship, navigating the healthcare system, being provided whole-person treatment, having a “one-stop shop,” and finding providers that were culturally sensitive and relatable. According to this article, patient loyalty to a provider relies on three aspects: the provider’s communication, empathy, and care coordination.
Personalization of Care
Patients want to be seen and heard by their providers. They want to feel like their treatment plan is designed for their exact needs and accounts for their physical and emotional health as well as their lifestyle demands. Instead of just being told what to do, they want to form a partnership with their provider. They want all points along their care journey to be more seamless and less fragmented.
If this sounds exhausting for any one provider to manage on their own – that would be understandable. It’s part of the reason why over 55% of healthcare providers reported burnout. Helping others access phenomenal healthcare shouldn’t come at the risk of putting even more stress on providers. Instead, we should help our patients feel empowered to take greater control of their own healthcare by providing them tools and resources to also help themselves. We should be guides and partners to our patients – and not become martyrs in our efforts to meet all the needs of every single person we come across.
Personalization of care was the clear front runner in almost every survey regarding top priorities for healthcare consumers. While almost every healthcare provider already develops personalized treatment plans, the patient does not always see it that way. So how can we bridge that gap where the phenomenal care being provided is being equally perceived by the patient?
One idea is to provide patients with specific resources (think brochures, books, or existing websites) that provide more information about their diagnoses or treatment plan. Consumers love visuals and data. They love being able to review something at home, study it and understand it, and have a better grasp on their diagnoses or treatment plan. The problem is, it’s tough for consumers to wade through all the different resources readily available to them, and they aren’t the experts – you are. By guiding your patients to various resources, they to do their own research (vetted by you) and are empowered to take greater control over their health.
Another small change to boost your attentiveness is to rephrase the question, “Do you have any questions?” to “What questions do you have?”. This simple change creates an opportunity to ask questions about their care and ensures you provide time to answer them thoroughly will ensure they feel heard.
Convenience in Healthcare
Another aspect we have some control over is convenience. Consumers want to be able to reach companies in a variety of ways. This includes via phone calls, texting, and direct messaging. They want an appointment within the week (or in a reasonable timeframe). They want the option to schedule appointments online. They want to relate to your company through social media accounts and your blogs. They want to to access care digitally via video conferencing. Alternatively, they don’t want to have to leave work, travel across town, pay for parking, and sit in waiting rooms for an hour just to be seen for 10 minutes.
One of the easiest ways to boost convenience is to set clear expectations up front. Let patients know exactly what to expect to reduce frustration down the road. For example, let them know how long appointment last, what time to arrive, directions on where to park, how to access your building or office, or how long to expect to see you as a provider.
Another way to be more accessible to your patients is to broaden the ways in which your customer can reach you. This may be by providing a number to text with questions. It might mean having someone monitoring and responding to questions they ask on your social media accounts. Being accessible and convenient to your consumers will help them feel like they have more control over their health.
Advocating for Change
One final way we can be better providers to our patients is by advocating for regulatory changes and improved insurance coverage regarding healthcare access, particularly around technological advances. Digital and telehealth options are one of the most exciting ways in 2022 to reach consumers. It makes it far easier to reach rural and underserved populations. Digital and telehealth options make care more convenient and typically do not sacrifice quality. In another blog post, we will explore all the new and emerging technologies that we can use to meet the healthcare consumer needs and wants, but regulatory and insurance companies need to be on board for providing coverage of different telehealth and technology-driven options. Taking an active role in advocating to our local and federal governing bodies will ultimately improve access and convenience of care to our patients.
In the end, we must understand that optimizing the consumer experience is an ongoing, never-ending endeavor. We may never be perfect, but in our quest to improve the healthcare consumer experience, we must prove to our consumers that we are in their corner, and we will do whatever it takes to continue improving their health, the most precious commodity of all.