Have you seen the scene on Showtime’s “The Big C” where the main character Cathy – who has stage-IV cancer – shows up two hours early for her clinical trial in order to “process in”? As she fills out paperwork and answers the nurse’s questions, she pulls piece after piece of information from a massive three-ring binder. That binder is the most tangible “integrated experience” she has, and she did all the work to assemble it. Cathy’s patient experience was fragmented, and driven more by payments and procedures rather than her own goals and milestones.
I’m a patient who works with healthcare professionals, so I watched with empathy for both Cathy and all the professionals in her treatment journey. Despite significant progress over the last few years, the patient experience continues to be challenge.
A patient faces a complex tangle of physicians, insurers, pharmacists and health coaches and their stories live in multiple EMR’s. While everyone in the system plays a part, physicians must play a central role. Why? Because while consumers are critical of health care organizations and insurance companies, they still trust doctors. Physicians have a particularly important responsibility to make the patient experience better in this environment of fragmented change.
So what can you do to embrace this new reality and improve the patient experience?
1. Discover the need to be solved from the patient’s point of view. At the start of every interaction with a patient, physicians should ask “What do you hope happens as a result of coming to see me today?” I know for me, there have been times where the doctor thought it was primarily about relieving pain, and for me it was getting back on the hiking trail! Think with them about the things they do to manage their health outside of your relationship with them. As the physician they trust, be the second person to see the whole patient.
2. Knowledge is power – use it with your patients. Even when you meet with a patient for the first time, chances are you are not the first step in their health experience. Don’t make them repeat information they’ve already given someone and believe you should have. When your nurse takes a call from a patient following up from a recent visit, enable, empower – and expect – the care team to not “start from scratch.”
3. Collaborate — for the benefit of the patient. Multiple and overlapping health care relationships create a barrier to consistently healthier behaviors, better outcomes and lower investments in time and money. Doctors need to be good listeners and excellent translators, communicating with patients as part of a single, broad care team – regardless of the contractual boundaries of the physician’s practice. Connect the most critical dots in the patient’s health experience, not just the functional dots owned by your practice.
Now, here’s the really good news: The effectiveness of any experience can be measured in value to the patient and value to your practice. According to a study of 640 leaders, organizations that have a well-understood definition of customer experience are twice as likely to beat their profit targets as those who do not. Customer experience needs to be inextricably embedded in what you do at every stage. If the experience delivers real value, both your patient and your organization win.
In her book “ROAR: Strengthening Business Performance through Speed, Predictability, Flexibility, and Leverage,” Chris LaVictoire Mahai sums it up perfectly: “Customer experience needs to be inextricably embedded in what you do at every stage of performance. If the performance chain works and the experience delivers real value, the customer and you win.”
Your patients trust you more than anyone else in the healthcare system. What will you do to improve the patient experience to maintain that trust?