By now, you’ve heard that millennials are paying more for experiences and that customer experience will be the driving factor for the majority of businesses in the next few years. But does that hold true for healthcare, too?
In recent years, patients often elect to receive healthcare through mobile apps, outpatient treatment and clinics instead of hospitals, according to Modern Healthcare. That’s driven heavily by cost and changes to insurance, but it opens the door to a larger shift.
As patients realize they have more freedom in where they seek medical advice, creating an exceptional healthcare patient experience becomes imperative. Patients will choose providers who adapt to meet their schedules and offer services in multiple channels. The trend has already impacted retail, travel, entertainment and other industries, and it’s rapidly making its way into the healthcare space.
What is the Healthcare Patient Experience?
First, the patient experience includes all the interactions someone has throughout the healthcare system, including those with doctors, nurses, hospital staff, insurance providers, pharmacists and others who impact their long-term patient journey.
The healthcare patient experience is made up of a patient’s interactions with doctors, nurses, specialists, the environment and other channels and services directly involved in his or her preventive or diagnostic care. These interactions almost always occur in a hospital or clinic environment, although mobile care is becoming more common.
But the question remains, how important is the healthcare patient experience? To receive the highest level of care, it’s best for patients to see the same doctor, specialist, etc. whenever he or she has a healthcare need. That’s why specialist offices ask for someone’s primary care physician before a consultation. It creates familiarity and a comprehensive medical history to let doctors tailor treatment to each patient’s specific need.
So imagine Carl moves from Chicago to Atlanta. He needs to find a new healthcare provider, so he walks in to the nearest clinic to find a new doctor. Two things could happen. One, the clinic is clean, the staff is friendly and the doctor was knowledgeable and engaging, so Carl becomes a lifelong customer. Two, Carl has a bad or lukewarm experience, and he goes to a new provider next time. Thanks to a poor healthcare patient experience, that clinic lost a lifelong customer.
Diagnosing the Problem with Your Healthcare Patient Experience
A fitting metaphor for creating an exceptional healthcare patient experience comes from within the healthcare industry itself. Doctors describe cancer with three categories: symptoms (headaches, swollen, puffy, tired), manifestation (3mm, lump, mass) and location (lung, pancreas, brain, breast).
Yet while that’s how cancer is described, it’s not how we treat it. Targeting specific symptoms or even a single area ignores how the body’s systems work together. That would be like fighting a fire by extinguishing one tree at a time, only to find the blaze keeps spreading.
We identify a poor patient experience in the same way. So before starting to treat the poor experience you’re creating, narrow down the problem using the same categories: symptoms, manifestation and location.
Identify the Symptoms
Start by identifying the problems patients face when interacting with your hospital, clinic or practice. Problems will likely present themselves in several channels, including:
- Poor IVR containment
- Low response rate
- High rate of repeat calls
- Low payment success
- Low numbers of repeat purchases
Each of these is a sign of a bigger problem. When you notice any of these issues, the next step is finding where they originated and what part of your organization is most affected.
Describe the Manifestation
Every problem has a source. If the problem stems from a visible issue in your physical location, it’s fairly easy to make a correction. But digital problems aren’t always as obvious. Potential problem areas include:
- IVR prompts
- Routing engine
- Agent scripting
- App speed
If any of these are broken or off-base, patients won’t get the experience they expect, leading to intense frustration. Or the solution could be dropping calls or texts entirely, which is even worse. But even before fixing manifestation problems, you must determine what part of your greater organization has been most affected.
Find the Location
There are many ways for patients to get a hold of you, and patients initiate a new contact for a myriad of reasons, from scheduling an appointment to paying off their balance. So after discovering what channel caused the damage, review patient interactions in those channels with all your points of contact, including:
- Contact center
- Customer service
With all three of these factors, you can target the mass in the right spot to address the right symptoms and to repair your reputation with the patients who have been affected the most. But even with all that, you may only see incremental success if you neglect the wider system and the environment.
The best way to fix the problem and improve the quality of your healthcare patient experience may not be obvious. For example, the answer to fixing poor containment may not be to overhaul the IVR and customer care center. Instead, improve connections between marketing, sales and customer care centers by revamping your internal organization structure. Be smarter about how you use customer data and communicate proactively so customers don’t have a reason to call in the first place.
Better Treatment for Your Communication Problems
Before taking any action, take a prudent look at the whole system. By scanning your entire organizational environment before diagnosing a problem, you can create a more effective treatment plan. Focus on the big picture in the long term, and create comprehensive improvement for your healthcare patient experience.
More narrow diagnosis may be easier. It may be quicker. It may even improve the experience at a given point in the patient lifecycle. But it won’t create lasting change for your overall patient experience. For the best “quality of life” in your patient relationships, use a wider lens to find long-term value, greater wallet share, increased satisfaction and true customer loyalty and advocacy.