The customer experience in many healthcare settings has traditionally been a fragmented and frustrating experience. Patients, residents, guests, family members, and visitors often suffer a disjointed experience because of the complexity and lack of integration between the various systems many providers utilize. Today’s consumer expects more. As Denise Lee Yohn described it, “Businesses have learned that it’s no longer enough to provide a quality product at a fair price with decent service. Those are table stakes. [Today’s customers] are looking for seamless solutions, intuitive interfaces, on-demand services, and personalized interactions.”
So, what does an informed, empowered and impatient healthcare consumer expect from a healthcare provider today? There are four characteristics that consumers are looking for in their healthcare interactions. I will explore them briefly in this post, and go into more detail on each topic in upcoming posts. First, they expect a tailored experience, one that is personalized and relevant to them. Second, they desire simplicity, a seamless interaction. Third, they demand accuracy, that the information and care they are receiving is reliable and trustworthy. And lastly, they desire complete transparency, to understand what is happening to them and why.
The Tailored Experience
We have heard for years about “patient-centered” care. What consumers really want is a personalized experience. They want to drive decisions about their care, but they also want the service and opportunities presented to them to be unique. There is an expectation that everyone on an interdisciplinary team knows their conditions, goals, and opportunities, and tailors conversation and recommendations to their specific circumstances. In fact, the expectation extends beyond simply knowing the individual’s situation to anticipating the proper course of action.
This personalization, or tailoring, will also reduce expense and produce value. “Through customization, cost savings can be obtained by targeting relevant actions and suspending or curtailing unnecessary actions, thereby avoiding waste, an important cause of spending in the U.S. health care system. For example, efforts to prevent food waste in hospitals by using personalized menus have been demonstrated to reduce the quantity of food needed by one-third while improving patient satisfaction, with the latter representing a competitive advantage for the hospital.”
Therefore, as recommended in a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a blueprint for the improvement of health care delivery systems should set the patient as the source of control. They should be given the necessary information to exercise the amount of control that they determine, and providers should be able to accommodate individual preferences and encourage shared decision making as standard practice.
If you have ever attempted to navigate the American health care system, you have probably thought to yourself, “does it have to be this complicated?” The answer is no. Nearly every other complex enterprise, from air travel to investing, has harnessed technology to simplify the customer experience. It does not matter to customers how a provider’s systems are organized; how their processes work; how various technologies integrate (or not); how they communicate information between departments, care team members, or with other providers. Customers just want their experience to be uncomplicated and efficient.
Additionally, today’s consumers want access to information at their fingertips, when it is convenient for them, and through any means at their disposal: telephone, web, app, etc. in addition to in-person visits. We are living in an on-demand society, and the health care industry is only beginning to catch up.
Health care providers must identify the biggest sources of friction in the customer experience and begin to harness technology and innovative practices to make the experience seamless. Only after the maze-like encumbrances of each transaction are mitigated can the focus return to focus on the customer’s individual needs and objectives.
In the years 1999 and 2001, landmark reports from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) made deficiencies in quality of care and patient safety inescapably visible to health care professionals and the public. However, as Mark Chassin and Jerod Loeb note in their Joint Commission report, “High-Reliability Health Care: Getting There from Here,” although there are now examples of improvement, the overall impact has been disappointing. “Every year, millions of people suffer the adverse effects of health care–associated infections and harmful medication errors. More people are harmed by errors during transitions from one health care setting to another. Operations on the wrong patient or the wrong body part continue to take place, perhaps as often as fifty times per week in the United States.”
Decision making must be evidence-based. Patients should receive care based on the best available understanding of their conditions, needs, and goals. They should be safe from injury caused by the care system. Reducing risk and ensuring safety require greater attention to systems that help prevent and mitigate errors. It also requires greater integration between data systems, both internal and external, to improve the exchange of information and the quality of collaboration or coordination of care.
Consumers are often ill-equipped to have meaningful discussions with their health care providers about the best treatments for their individual needs. This lack of quality information may cause them to make poor decisions that could lead to results that are antithetical to their own needs and objectives. “Providing high-quality information to consumers through well-designed tools, as well as other resources to help them interpret that information, can address these issues and empower consumers to make superior choices. In general, consumers want cost, quality, and treatment information that is highly personalized to their situations, goals and preferences, and delivered at the point of decision-making”
The information alone however, is not sufficient for consumers to make informed decisions. Providers must also engage the consumer in conversations about risks versus benefits, and how these fit with the individual’s goals and preferences. In order for this shared decision making to be the most effective, a provider’s entire interdisciplinary team must also have access and mastery of the consumer’s data and preferences. This is still more of the exception than the norm.
Tools that enable effective shared decision making have tangible benefit to both providers and consumers. A review of 86 studies by Emily Lee and Ezekiel Emanuel found that shared decision making aids enabled patients to have a greater knowledge of their treatment options, a more accurate understanding of risks and benefits, and a greater probability of receiving care aligned with their goals and preferences.
Healthcare providers must continue to improve their focus on the consumer experience in order to remain viable and beneficial to customers in the twenty-first century. In order to do this, they will need to focus on meeting the expectations of today’s consumer. No longer is it enough to provide decent service without involving the consumer in the decision-making process. Today’s consumer demands a seamless experience tailored to their needs and objectives that is both accurate and transparent. Petalo is working with healthcare providers to make this a reality.