Health Experiences
Peter Heywood wrote this on November 21, 2013 / no comments

Staples easy buttonWe’ve all heard and read—a lot—about the Accountable Care Organization, or ACO. An ACO is a collaboration of hospitals, specialists, primary care physicians and other care providers who have entered into a contractual relationship to be responsible for the health of a defined patient population. As generally interpreted, an ACO’s participants receive bonus payments from their payers for maintaining and improving the health of their populations, and in helping patients avoid using the more expensive parts of the system, through better care coordination and preventive care.

Smells like an HMO? Well, there’s one big difference. No patient is required to belong to an ACO, or necessarily use the services of the “medical neighborhood” the ACO has established. Putting aside any other issues within the ACO model, this creates an interesting new challenge for providers­—they’re going to be rewarded for managing the health of people who don’t have to deal with them. In other words, to work as promised, an ACO is going to have to be the most attractive option for healthcare consumers.

Imagine that. A healthcare organization is going to have to be appealing. It’s going to have to put patient (i.e. consumer) needs front and center. This means more than the window dressing of a nice receptionist or well-designed web site, as great as those can be. It means digging into all the processes that impact how the patient is engaged and managed, from scheduling and communication to professional hand-offs, care transitions and billing, and then evolving these to meet and exceed the promise the ACO is making to its “consumers.”

This is what we mean when we talk about designing the patient “healthcare experience.” You bake the components of an inspiring, patient-driven experience right into the delivery of healthcare and the organization of the business. And critically, ACOs are going to have to look well outside of healthcare to see how to genuinely engage the consumer as an individual, and keep them loyal.

The best retailers have been doing this for years, through everything from in-depth analytics of an individual’s buying history to the design of their bricks-and-mortar environments (if they have these). Even if their employees have the right practical skills, they invest in training to ensure the customer experience seamless. They look to their technology, where transactions are accelerated for customers, letting staff devote more time to those parts of the relationship that the consumer values. Next time you go into Starbucks, notice how the barristas complete each others’ tasks without asking, because their training is designed to help them work together to serve the customer, not complete a job assigned just to them. That’s customer experience-based.

It’s not necessarily about nice environments or friendly service either. It’s really about designing all aspects of the experience to align with and support the specific promise of your brand. When you go to Costco, you don’t expect refined design or attentive service (and you don’t get it!), because the promise is about an efficient warehouse full of unexpected cool stuff at great prices, what retailers call the “treasure hunt.” Costco is successful because they know what their brand stands for, and work their systems and unique experience to support that specific promise. Ever notice that the huge checkout lines move faster than at any other store? That’s by design.

Another example is the famous Staples ‘Easy’ button. Brilliant campaign, but the real challenge is making sure that the customer experience is indeed aligned around the easy promise. Is it easy to find products? Easy to locate staff who can answer your questions? Easy to return a product? Easy to shop online?

Often, those in healthcare are irritated by such benchmarks. “We’re doing vital and hard work. We’re not selling printers or lattes!” Yes, healthcare is important stuff, but it doesn’t mean patients (aka customers) leave their sensibilities at the door and accept indifference, poor communication and lack of clarity.

So it will be interesting to see if the various ACOs invest the financial and human resources to understand what their brand should stand for, understand the consequences of the promise and truly transform their workflows to create the experiences that deliver. Old habits are hard to change, even when your business depends on it.

Peter Heywood wrote this on November 21, 2013 / no comments

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