Healthcare companies can improve the patient experience and make healthcare work better for everyone.
What can healthcare companies do to improve the US healthcare system? If you said almost everything, you’d probably be in line with many patients and doctors who want improvement, starting with streamlining the customer experience from the very first step: looking for and choosing health insurance.
In PwC’s recent Experience is Everything survey, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that their experience with a company influences their purchasing decisions. This was most true in healthcare, where 78 percent said experience drives their choices (where they have them). Unlike other industries, consumers have less mobility in healthcare. It’s a lot easier to go to a different coffee shop if you’re unhappy with the service or product, but changing health insurance or healthcare providers is not always possible.
What’s more, the complexity of the existing healthcare system can hamper the ability of providers to offer the best experience, but they can better serve customers across the spectrum of care: from the selection of insurance, to receiving care from a doctor, to the particulars of paying for that care.
We talked to two authorities, Dave deBronkart, a cancer survivor who has become an advocate for unobstructed access to patient information so patients can take an active role in their own healthcare, and Dr. Pat Salber, MD, a former emergency room physician and founder of The Doctor Weighs In, to better understand how healthcare providers can improve the patient experience.
A long road to better experience
There’s little question among most experts and patients that significant improvement is needed. “Healthcare as an industry has the lowest Net Promoter Score of any industry,” says deBronkart. “It is somewhere around 15.” (The net promoter score gauges the likelihood that a company’s customers will recommend that company to others.) By comparison, companies like Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Netflix, and Starbucks have net promoter scores above 60 (scores above 50 are considered very good).
“Healthcare companies should design patient experiences like companies design customer experiences, but they’re not,” writes Denise Lee Yohn, a brand expert, speaker, and author of What Great Brands Do, in Forbes. “Instead they continue to operate with a provider- and payer-driven approach.”
DeBronkart and Salber agree. They outlined four things healthcare companies must do to improve:
1. Take care of the doctors
If doctors and other clinical staff are given the opportunity to do what they became healthcare professionals to do—treat patients—they’re more likely to provide quality care. Start by deploying technology that’s helpful. Many doctors spend more time documenting patient visits on a computer than talking with patients.
“We have turned (primary care) office visits into ten minutes of me with my back to you typing up a note, and maybe five minutes when I look at you in the eyes,” Salber says. In these cases, technology has become a hindrance.
Becker’s Hospital Review recently surveyed healthcare leaders about their most recent visits to a hospital or clinic as patients and this was a core pain point. “I notice a lot of frustration from the providers and staff with technology and all the documentation requirements,” says Joseph Anton, Vice President of Clinical and Support Services for Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia.
Tech tools and resources like scribes who take the notes for a doctor can alleviate some of this burden, allowing physicians and nurses to focus on their patients to better understand their health situations, Salber says.
“This may require a substantial culture shift,” deBronkart notes.
2. Focus on empowering patients
Give patients tools and information they can use to actively participate in their own care. Salber and deBronkart say patients should have easy access to their health information so they can decide what to do with it.
“The number one thing activist patients are calling for is full, unrestricted access to their information—their medical records, their device data,” says deBronkart. Some physicians might need to be retrained to accomplish this, says Salber; and some more experienced clinicians may not agree that patients should have unrestricted access to their data, believing that without their professional guidance, patients might not make the best health or treatment choices.
”We talk a lot about wanting patients to be activated and empowered and educated,” Salber says. “Then we put barriers in the way of them getting educated, starting with not having easy access to their own data.”
Healthcare providers will also need do more to make that data usable. Just as doctors translate medical terminology into lay terms for their patients, healthcare companies can do more to help patients make sense of their data.
“When consumers have the ability to go elsewhere, providers with better service will be rewarded by normal market forces,” deBronkart says. “Until then, better providers are blocked from market rewards.”
3. Use technology to help patients help themselves
Improving the patient experience extends to any interaction a patient has with a healthcare organization—from making an appointment, to getting a question answered, to finding out what is (and isn’t) covered by a health insurance plan.
Part of the solution may be as simple as giving patients a fast, easy way to make an appointment from any device. Another could be offering multiple ways for patients to “consume” their health information.
“Everybody likes to consume data and healthcare in different ways,” says Salber. “To be really consumer-friendly, you have to offer me a menu of ways that I can consume my healthcare and healthcare information.” This could include apps that take patient test results, diagnoses, and vital sign information and, based on their doctor’s recommendations, suggest ways they can maintain good health or make lifestyle changes that could improve their health.
At the same time, healthcare providers must remain mindful of the importance of human interaction. PwC’s survey found that 71 percent of Americans would rather interact with a human than a chatbot or some other automated process. What’s more, 50 percent of consumers said they’d like to see scheduling appointments more digitized—and that’s just a start.
Health organizations will need to provide the right tools and properly train employees to use them to best serve customers. Healthcare organizations “need to think about how they can empower everybody who comes in contact with a patient,” says Salber. That’s crucial: 71 percent of consumers say employees have a significant impact on customer experience, but 59 percent of people say companies and organizations have lost touch with the human element of customer experience, according to PwC’s survey.
All organizations—including those in healthcare—are not just competing against others in their field, say Salber and deBronkart. They’re competing against consumer expectations set by companies like Amazon, Apple, Tesla and Starbucks, which have set the bar extremely high for all consumer-facing organizations today.
4. Focus on relationships, not transactions
Consider every customer interaction as just one small piece of an ongoing relationship. Building beyond a transaction or a visit inevitably leads to better service for patients. That means creating smooth handoffs and transitions—one of the frustrating points for any patient.
For instance, healthcare organizations still rely heavily on paper intake forms instead of capturing data from existing electronic health records (EHR) or allowing new patients to fill out forms once online. DeBronkart says healthcare organizations should continue (or rekindle) efforts to speed the advancement of initiatives aimed at digitizing health data for easier sharing between healthcare entities.
“Short term, you can help speed change by getting on board with the data sharing initiatives of FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource), the Apple HealthKit announcement,” and the announcement in March by an administrator at the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare (CMS) about a new initiative called MyHealthEData that aims to give patients greater control of their healthcare data, he says.
Some solutions are relatively straightforward. For example, Vanguard Communications found that 53 percent of online healthcare complaints focused on poor communications, particularly telephone interactions. Fix your hospital or clinic’s ability to communicate with patients over the phone and you’re that much closer to offering a better patient experience. Better still, says Salber, offer a chat service staffed by doctors, nurses or nurse practitioners to give patients near-immediate access to care: “A chat with a doctor is a lot different than [chatting with] a customer service person.”
Empowering doctors and other personnel to provide the best patient experience—and care—possible, eliminating the barriers that stand between patients and their health data, and making sure patients can actively participate in their own care will improve the patient experience and help healthcare providers earn the same level of customer loyalty as the highest rated consumer companies.
Additional details in PwC’s consumer research: Experience is everything: Here’s how to get it right.15,000 consumers in 12 countries revealed what it takes to deliver the kind of experience that keeps them coming back.