Expectations Guide Experience
Healthcare providers, and frankly anyone in any business, must recognize the changes in consumer behavior. Changes were brought on by immediate access to information and crowdsourced feedback, leading to a better informed and more confident consumer. Whether it’s a star rating on shoes or the ability to research a physician, consumers can now provide their opinions quickly and easily.
“Everything is instantaneous today. We are no longer at the mercy of isolation, giving us freedom of choice,” said Fauser. “Before we used the car dealer, grocery store or physician in our neighborhood. Now consumers will switch and look for peer reviews to make that decision. It’s a shift in our mindset.”
Today the average consumer has access to everything via a simple browser search. Questions can be quickly answered, and people can even attempt to self-diagnose health issues via websites dedicated to that cause, such as WebMD. This creates a savvier patient, who now will have more questions regarding symptoms, diagnosis and potential outcomes.
“Physicians will need to be prepared for all the questions patients ask and not discourage the behavior. If patients feel their opinion is not valued, they can easily decide to get another opinion,” said Fauser. “Today’s patient, and consumer, is much more willing to question because they are simply better informed.”
The expectation is now set that consumers, who are patients, can have what they want when they want. Therefore, healthcare is impacted simply because a patient will decide to switch physicians based on a bad experience, or simply if they do not feel they are valued.
“Healthcare is more like a retail website or even Amazon. Patients can go out and write real-time reviews, thereby influencing potential patients,” said Uhlrich. “You have to pay attention to your patients and their needs, just like any customer, because now word of mouth impacts healthcare as much, if not more, than other industries.”
Because patient expectations will guide the experience they desire, healthcare providers must change how they approach their patients. Today there are more choices; with free standing emergency rooms and urgent care facilities on practically every corner, providers will need to consider how they incent their patients to return.
Healthcare is a Business and Patients Are the Customers
According to a report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. healthcare spending is projected to grow by an average of 5.6 percent annually over the next decade, largely fueled by changes in economic growth and an aging population. The report stated that healthcare spending is projected to outpace growth in the United States’ Gross Domestic Product by 1.2 percentage points, resulting in healthcare spending accounting for 19.9 percent of GDP by 2025.
The truth is that healthcare is big business in this country, which begs the question – why treat patients differently than a customer? An argument has been made that patients do not want to be in the doctor’s office, hospital or other medical facility. How many people do you know want to wait for the cable guy? Want to have their car towed to the mechanic and face that bill? Realistically, there are many scenarios that place consumers in situations they do not desire. That does not excuse poor treatment of the customer. In fact, it’s an opportunity to make a difference.
“There are many times we provide support to our client’s customers when they do not want to be speaking with us,” said Uhlrich. “The goal is to make that engagement as pleasant as possible, so that you turn a negative scenario to a positive one.”
Uhlrich recognizes the need for emotional intelligence and empathy to ensure a positive experience.
“I believe that starting with the basic premise that patients and customers want to be respected and valued is key,” said Uhlrich. “Then you focus on understanding how they interact with your team and find ways to improve that journey. It can be something as simple as allowing for cell phone use in the treatment rooms or improving the programming on the lobby television. Or it may be more significant, such as improving technology so that patients receive both text and email appointment reminders. You simply do not know until you delve into the details.”
Empathy Means Money for both PX and CX
Healthcare is more people centric than many industries, and yet the idea of patient experience is still seemingly new. There are a multitude of ways providers can learn from customer experience models and processes to improve what is arguably the most important aspect of dealing with a patient – empathy.
According to this article by Ultra Risk Advisors (a healthcare insurance underwriting organization), two of the top five reasons doctors are sued are poor communication with patients and poor bedside manner. By applying the best practices of customer engagement, healthcare providers could quickly negate lawsuits brought forth due to either of these two issues.
“All customers want to feel important. After all, they are spending time and money with you, and they desire respect,” said Fauser. “For example, I have a physician I see annually, yet she always remembers to ask about my family. This is not someone I socialize with outside of our appointments, but by leveraging tools and taking the time to focus on me, she always asks about my family, remembers my work environment, and asks me personal questions that puts me at ease. Implementing that personal touch does not take her long, but goes a long way to ensuring her patients have a positive experience.”
The ability for anyone who deals with customers, whether in person, through technology or even a simple phone call, to show empathy and concern goes a long way to improving the experience. That human touch is often missing, particularly when delivering a tough diagnosis. Yet it is the one thing that can improve the interaction in a way nothing else can.
Using Technology to Empower Human Interaction
Healthcare, like every industry, is expected to provide information to patients in the format they prefer, whether that be via text, phone, email or in person. How that information is delivered depends on a multitude of factors, including the type of information to be imparted, the desires of the patient and capabilities of the provider.
“Customer experience is well-versed in omni-channel, which is critical as every customer has a particular method they prefer,” said Uhlrich. “Having the ability to choose text versus email versus phone immediately improves the interaction. For example, I prefer to receive an appointment reminder via text.”
Uhlrich noted that many hospitals and some providers now have a patient portal, which improves communication as well.
“It’s easy to log in and get test results, or send an email to ask a question,” said Uhlrich. “Providing a level of self-service is also important, as patients expect it. It also improves the operational efficiency of the office staff, as they are no longer tied up with phone calls to impart basic information.”
A common challenge across all industries is the decision of when to utilize technology over direct human interaction. Another common challenge is the ability to share information, either within your own organization or in the case of healthcare, among various providers.
“I’ve noticed an improvement in sharing records if I stay within my insurance network, but when I go outside, getting all that information becomes more difficult,” said Fauser. “In today’s medical environment, we end up seeing many specialists, so the need to share information is definitely there. Otherwise, receiving holistic treatment becomes almost impossible. Today, the patient is responsible for ensuring their overall treatment, which creates stress and will definitely impact the experience.”
Fauser noted this is a challenge in the customer experience arena as well. “One of the common complaints among customers is having to repeat information. If yesterday I chatted with someone at an organization and today I email, having to repeat all the information is frustrating. System integration will provide multiple benefits in the experience department, for both customers and patients.”
PX Can Leapfrog with These CX Tips
The ability to provide a positive experience, regardless of whether the person is a customer or a patient, comes down to understanding, empathy and using the tools you have to improve the interaction. Those tools can empower a positive experience, or if not integrated, create a negative experience.
“People want to be respected. I know that a common complaint for patients, and frankly customers, is being made to wait,” said Fauser. “Making patients wait for extended periods of time does not create value. In fact, they will walk out, as my husband did, because their time is valuable too. Understanding the flow of the patient appointment, setting appointment times that are realistic, and then holding patients accountable to showing up on time for their appointments makes for a much better experience.”
The same is true for customer experience. Customers do not like to be on hold for long periods of time, wait in lobbies for unreasonable periods, or feel they are not important enough to warrant the time of the person who is providing the service. To help gauge these interactions, customer experience professionals have developed methods to quantify interactions and ensure constant improvement.
“In the customer experience world, we use customer satisfaction metrics, or Net Promoter Scores, to quantify the experience and provide actionable data,” said Uhlrich. “The healthcare industry has the opportunity to do this type of quantifying for themselves, rather than have it dictated by insurance companies and government agencies.”
Uhlrich recognizes these types of actionable metrics not only allow for major improvements, they include the ability to structure the insights to fit the industry or interaction.
“Industry metrics are not the same because the situation is not the same. Utility companies, for example, might have an industry standard of 50 percent customer satisfaction, primarily because in those areas without deregulation you only have one option, whereas an organization providing identity theft prevention services would want a 90 percent rating, thereby ensuring their customers have peace of mind.
“If you apply that logic to healthcare, the physician’s office would want to have a higher patient satisfaction rating because of the service they provide, as opposed to an emergency room where the medical services and state of the patient are significantly different. It’s not wrong to choose a metric that aligns with the situation. In fact, it ensures that you can achieve the highest level of experience because the metrics are truthful and actionable.”
The reality is that patient and customer experience have a lot in common. The consumer behaviors and scenarios that impact both are similar, and will continue to change as customer behavior changes. Whether a healthcare provider or organization that focuses on customer experience, understanding the changing nature of customers is crucial to continued success.