Health Experiences
Peter Heywood wrote this on August 25, 2014 / no comments

whats-nextFor the most part, our interactions with the healthcare system are not by choice. Of course, we are generally interested in staying healthy, and some of us work hard to ensure we stay well and avoid the healthcare system in the first place. But we don’t choose to engage with healthcare the way we do with a restaurant, or a retailer, or a bank. For the most part, circumstances have driven us there.

But when we do have to interact with the system – our physicians, hospitals, specialists, even at the pharmacy – we would all like to have an experience with the same customer focus and respect that we encounter at more typical consumer businesses. It’s not always the case, however.

For me, it doesn’t ring true when you hear so many in healthcare speaking of their patient-first focus. In spite of the fact that some indeed do provide a true patient-centric experience, healthcare mostly still seems to be thought about and delivered in a way that reflects what I once heard a bank president say: “Sometimes it seems as though we regard our customers as a necessary inconvenience.” Population Health Management, anyone? Accountable Care? Accountable to the payers, actually.

I noted in a previous post that it irritates healthcare providers when you (unfavorably) compare the healthcare experience with those in other sectors. We’re doing important work, they say. We don’t need the glitz and window dressing of a great store, coffee shop or online retailer.

I take the point (although healthcare environments that were more carefully designed and maintained would be a nice bonus) but their reactions still ignore the fact that successful patient centric care means engaging patients on their terms, addressing their issues.

My guess is that patients would be satisfied – delighted even – if healthcare became really, really good at answering the one question they all have:

“What’s next?”

People get stressed over the poor access to care because they’re unable to find out what to do next, and nurse-run clinics continue to grow in popularity because they provide an answer faster. Consumers flock to medical sites for the same reason, or because they didn’t get the clear direction at their doctor’s office, even if they got in. Patients and their families are frustrated by the opaque procedures at a hospital because no-one has told them what the next step they need to take is.

  • “What should I do when I get home?”
  • “Who do I meet with after this?”
  • “What are the side effects of this medicine?”
  • “Should I be bringing my kid in?”
  • “What’s next?”

Recently, McKinsey released a European survey on consumers’ willingness to adopt digital health technologies. “Most people want the same thing: assistance with routine tasks and navigating the often-complex healthcare system.” They don’t want anything complex. They want technologies that help them take the next step. I suspect the results could be ported easily to an American context.

Imagine, then, how everything from apps to the physician’s communications with patients to the information you receive while in a hospital was designed with a single-minded focus on answering “what’s next?”  The principles of a “what’s next?” solution are actually pretty easy to describe, if tough to execute:

  • A “what’s next?” solution should be simple, clear and results-oriented.
  • It may seem obvious, but a “what’s next?” solution should be personal. What do I need to do? What are you going to do with me?
  • A “what’s next?” solution should allow for engagement through a series of small steps and wins. Answering “what’s next?” is not describing the entire illness or care cycle pushed back to the patient, but simply the next step.
  • A “what’s next’ solution should always include a feedback loop. Engaged healthcare consumers have engaged providers, and the power of any innovation is diminished if a provider is not part of the equation.
  • Finally, a “what’s next” solution should be accessible and not transitory. Often when patients or families are informed about a condition, the stress means not everything is heard and the next step recommendations and instructions should be accessible for later review.

Patient-facing health technologies are getting more and more complex as well as more comprehensive. I’m not completely convinced that the majority of consumers want all this information, and certainly not the responsibility of knitting it all together. As the sophistication of the wearables, analytics, decision support and dashboards increases, and the experience becomes more intuitive, maybe we will have the ability to get simple answers to next steps from our technology and our providers. And done, well, consumers will flock to such solutions because they’ve made it simple to find out “What’s next?”

Peter Heywood wrote this on August 25, 2014 / no comments

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