Health Experiences
Peter Heywood wrote this on November 14, 2013 / no comments

I once was at a presentation from a retired lawyer who used to be a partner in a very successful mid-sized firm in a mid-sized city.

Many years ago, his law firm wanted the answer to a challenge everyone would like to have – why did people refer his firm so often, and why did the firm keep winning business against much larger competitors? So the lawyers hired a consultant who spent some months speaking to clients and others to dig into the reasons.

The consultant told them at the end that he was still going to send in his invoice but that the answer was embarrassingly simple.

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It wasn’t their fees (they were not the cheapest), it wasn’t their expertise (they had smart people with the right skills, but so did the competitors). The key to their success was that they answered the phone.

Not voice mail, not a phone directory. Someone live would answer the phone within three rings, be it the receptionist or a senior partner. And it was an established rule that everyone’s call had to be returned within a couple of hours. If the person called was unavailable, someone else had to step in, and up.

In this age of email, texts and Twitter, maybe the live call isn’t as valued. But what induced people to prefer this law firm over others was that they believed the company cared. That the firm respected them.

Respect is a very powerful force. In a workplace, genuine respect can help employers hold on to employees even when pay isn’t the best. In a service business, respect can engender tremendous customer loyalty in the face of seemingly more attractive offers.

And it is exceptionally powerful in healthcare. No question, lack of access to care (sometimes of any kind) is generally seen as the number one issue for consumers in healthcare. But lack of respect must be a close second.

When we are placed on hold until what seems like the end of time by the call center at a phone company, we seethe. When staff at a bank are brusque or insensitive to our needs, we seriously start to consider taking our business elsewhere. Yet, somehow, consumers have in the past been more generally accepting of the terminally late appointments, rude nurse-receptionist, cattle car treatment in a hospital or scant information when within the health system. And this resigned acceptance has extended even into the awful experience of so many health portals and apps.

But not anymore.

It’s well known that consumers access the web (starting with Google) to find out more about a health issue or treatment approach – read the Pew Internet Project reports for more on this. They come into physicians’ offices with scads of paper and links, in some cases genuinely knowing more about what ails them than the doctor. They have access to comparative ratings of doctors and hospitals, as well as exposure to both best-of-breed and horror stories from others.

Maybe a few are inveterate complainers. Most, however, are just people who have always been frustrated by a simple lack of respect for their time, their concerns, their own research or their intelligence but now have the channels to say something, and in some cases act to change things. They increasingly use forums as diverse as Twitter and Yelp to compliment and (sadly more often) complain about how they were treated.

Value-based care is based on the premise that providers are partially or wholly compensated for maintaining and improving the health of their populations. One of the central tenets of this new care delivery model is the necessity to engage the patient in her care, to enable and encourage her to take ownership. A great idea, as compliance and lifestyle affect outcomes and occur between provider interactions or after discharge.

While the evidence is still limited, it seems that patients who believe they were treated with respect have better outcomes. Maybe they just feel more positive and empowered by the experience. Maybe they feel a sense of obligation to return the genuine interest of the care provider. Whatever the reason, they’re more engaged.

Whether you’re developing the workflow and protocols for a clinic, or developing the user interface for a product, have you started from the perspective of the patient? Have you dug into your processes, and determined if they’re the way they are because it’s more convenient for you, or better for the patient? Have you uncovered what your equivalent of answering the phone is?

Peter Heywood wrote this on October 26, 2013 / no comments

We’d like to introduce you to Well Brand’s Health Experience blog. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out a snappy title for the blog, but then realized that we need to drink our own Kool Aid, and be clear and to-the-point in our own communication. So it’s Health Experience.

Why Health Experience? It’s more than obvious that patient engagement is, as has been written, the blockbuster drug of the 21st century. Plenty has been recorded about the effects of an engaged patient on appropriate system utilization, prevention and improved outcomes.

But what makes an engaged patient? What does it take to engage people in their care?

There are growing numbers of medical providers practicing patient–centered health care, where the consumer is putatively at the middle of a care team. There is a plethora of consumer medical devices out there, tracking everything from steps taken to heart arrhythmia. There are insurance exchanges that allow consumers to select the most appropriate plan from a broad range of options. The list goes on.

Yet the results are not as spectacularly transformative as you’d want to see. For example, patient-centered care may place the patient in the middle (a good start) but not in control. The number of people who religiously use monitors to track their own health is a small percentage of the population, or even the purchasers of such gadgets.

It’s our view that, with some remarkable exceptions, healthcare’s approach to consumer engagement is still primitive. While there is a rapid shift underway to population health management and value-based care, the “system” (which is really many systems) is still focused on the provision of procedures and the optimization of processes.

However, healthcare providers that don’t encourage the committed involvement of their patients, also known as the consumer, will have trouble seeing the benefits of all the advances in new technology and business models that they’re expected to invest in. The patient needs to help drive the process, rather than simply be the recipient of providers’ work. That means creating the experiences that give them a sense of ownership and truly engage them.

That’s what we’re going to focus on at the Health Experience blog. There’s a lot healthcare can learn not only from best experience practices in the sector, but also from other sectors like retail, online commerce or the hospitality industry. From clear value propositions, great design and communication, through the use of data to carefully mine individual preferences, to the training of staff to build and reinforce a brand promise, building the great healthcare experience won’t be simple. But it is absolutely necessary.