NewYork-Presbyterian CXO Rick Evans: 7 principles to maintain relationships with our patients in a world of transactions

I've written in the past about how we need to reconcile the terms "patient" and "customer" in healthcare. There are segments of the healthcare community that still believe thinking of the people we serve as anything but patients diminishes the dignity of the patient-provider relationship. 

To the contrary, I believe that considering the needs of patients as customers actually enhances our bond with them.   

Recognizing our patients as customers reflects the reality that patients increasingly have choices in healthcare. This dynamic will only grow stronger as healthcare services move out of traditional settings and further into the marketplace. 

Thinking of patients as customers also recognizes that they come to us with preferences. Those preferences should not only be understood, but also addressed to the best of our ability. When properly balanced, the patient/customer dichotomy levels the relationship between us and those we serve. It chips away at the paternalism that can sometimes characterize our industry, and makes us more equal partners in maintaining health.

Balance is a word I have been reflecting on recently. As many of us strive to make our care more digital, accessible and convenient, there is a danger of reducing healthcare to transactions — information exchanged, appointments made, etc. How do we move to a space where we can effectuate the transactions that customers desire while also maintaining a human and caring relationship?

There are two sources of data we must attend to as we think about this balance.

First, there is plentiful patient experience survey data that gives us a clear sense of what patients want when they are in our beds, on our exam tables or in our operating rooms. This data consistently tells us that the heart of good patient experience is communication. This communication must be high quality when delivered one on one, and perhaps even more importantly when it is delivered at different times and settings from members of a team. Patients and family members appreciate our clinical expertise, but that is a basic expectation. What they want most is compassionate and consistent communication about where they are in the process of care and what is going to happen next. It's amazing how hard it is for us at times to line up this communication. Yet, it remains at the heart of patient experience work.

There is also the data we receive from the marketplace that speaks to the transactional aspects of healthcare. Data in our industry is increasingly reflective of what is happening in our larger society. Patients are looking at us through a consumer lens. They are more digitally savvy year over year. They have added a new priority to their expectations regarding their healthcare experience — beyond the core concepts of compassion and humanity, they also want convenience. They want healthcare, whenever possible, to fit into their daily lives rather than always adjusting their lives to our schedule. Finally, they are more likely to switch — to other healthcare organizations or to new organizations making their way into the healthcare space — if we cannot meet their needs on their terms. We ignore these trends at our peril. 

Many organizations have already realized this, and there is rapid movement across our sector to become more digital and customer-centric. This is a good and much-needed evolution of our industry. But, let's not forget the balance. 

Here are some principles I think we should all keep in mind as we evolve to make the healthcare experience "frictionless" but also maintain its humanity and compassion:

  1. Digital transformation should engage patients and consumers in the building process. We should consciously partner in this work.
  2. Technology and digital infrastructure should always be evaluated for how it will support patient autonomy, choice and engagement in care. 
  3. That same infrastructure should also be scrutinized for how it will enhance the employee/caregiver experience and free up our staff to truly connect with patients and build trusting relationships.
  4. Transactions should be seen in the context of the larger journey for a patient. They should be structured as an opportunity to not only complete a task, but to build a relationship.
  5. The infrastructure we build to facilitate transactions — websites, portals, call centers and more — should be as intuitive as possible with clear, easy-to-understand language.
  6. All technology should be evaluated by its ability to deliver access and care more equitably.
  7. Technology and the information acquired through its use should always be used ethically and in ways that preserve patient privacy, autonomy and build trust.

These are just a few of the principles that, when applied, can help us achieve the balance of meeting customer needs while also respecting and nurturing the humanity of every person we serve. If used and deployed correctly, we can not only maintain relationships but build on them.


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