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Refining the Experience Is the Cornerstone to Transforming Patient-Centric Care

Aug '19

By Chris Edwards, Chief Client Experience & Marketing Officer, Conversa

Meeting the quadruple aim—reforming population health, reducing costs, enhancing the patient experience and improving clinician well-being—is a North Star for hospitals and healthcare facilities looking to transform the business of healthcare. 

As one of the key drivers of transformation, improving patient experience is top of mind for every health system in the country. But how best to do that? When I think about transforming the patient experience, I inevitably think back to my days selling shoes to pay for college. I worked for Nordstrom, long known as a bastion for customer service. Taking exceptional care of customers and anticipating their needs taught me as much as a business course ever could.

How can the lessons of Nordstrom—and other customer-first brands such as Zappos, Starbucks, Ikea and Southwest Airlines that are providing exceptional experiences—be applied to healthcare? Not only are these brands raising everyone’s expectations of customer service, but as they continue to gather and utilize more data from growing digital interactions, they are creating more personalized products and services, and deliver even greater value.

How can healthcare be responsive to individual patients and their preferences in similar ways? Here are three ideas:

  • Offer simple, personal choices. Recent research from NTT DATA Services reveals that consumers want their healthcare experiences to mimic the simplicity and digital offerings of a modern retail setting. In fact, a majority (59%) of patients surveyed now expect their digital healthcare experience (for basic interactions like filling prescriptions, accessing test results and making doctor appointments) to be similar to the online/offline retail transaction. 

The need to provide choice is increasing rapidly: Today, because we have immediate access to products and services, and receive goods delivered to our homes the same day, the healthcare consumer is expecting more than what they are getting. And with the explosive growth of high-deductible health plans, consumers are willing to exercise their preferences when it comes to selecting providers, with 75% noting their digital health experience needs to improve. Of those patient respondents, half also said they were willing to switch providers if improvements were not made.   

  • Study other industries—but don’t forget healthcare’s special relationship with patients. According to a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst survey, healthcare executives are looking to the hospitality industry more than any other for lessons in improving patient experience. Many systems have hired chief experience officers or chief patient experience officers who have come from hospitality industries and worked at market leaders like Ritz-Carlton or Disney. 

Although there is a lot to learn from other industries, says Namita Seth Mohta, clinical editor of the NEJM Catalyst survey, most other consumer industries are only interested in experience and satisfaction, whereas healthcare needs to focus on ongoing engagement, too. 

Historically, the healthcare industry has been built around a patient experience defined by episodes of care and interactions that take place in hospitals or offices. A patient may have seven minutes in an office with a face-to-face interaction with the clinician but no other interactions for an entire year. The provider-patient relationship is uniquely focused on our well-being and that of our loved ones. So, in order to provide a more continuous, personalized and collaborative journey for healthcare customers—in an environment where clinicians are stretched thin and half of all physicians and one-third of all nurses are reporting symptoms of burnout—technology is required to assist in this ongoing relationship. 

  • Expand your communication platforms. Healthcare companies that use automation on messaging apps are embracing how patients prefer to communicate. According to BI Intelligence research, use of messaging applications has surpassed use of traditional communication. And the desire to use messaging extends to healthcare customer experience. Who wants to spend more time navigating patient portals? According to an Accenture study, 73% of customers say they would use virtual care tools like intelligent messaging platforms.

To bring about the customer-centric transformation of healthcare and focus on the core driver of patient experience, smart, automated patient engagement tools are helping providers evolve to meet customer preferences and engage patients in continuous conversations that are personal and meaningful. That’s why 46% of healthcare systems are implementing automated patient engagement in the next 12 months, and 79% are planning to roll out automated healthcare solutions within the next two years. 

The time is now for healthcare organizations to evaluate their solutions and the way they deliver them. The healthcare industry is already playing catch up to the idea of delivering valuable experiences. Automated, personal digital conversational technology is being used to close this gap and help us all move closer to the transformation of healthcare that we all desire.