Thinking differently: creating a roadmap for better patient experience

Patient experience has become a critical element in the delivery of healthcare. But despite the importance of the patient experience, organizations often still struggle with delivering experiences that patients want rather than what organizations believe they want.

During a featured session at Becker's Hospital Review's Patient Experience + Marketing Virtual Event, sponsored by Relatient, Arun Mohan, MD, president of Relatient, and Carol Campbell, chief experience officer at St. Louis-based Ascension, discussed how healthcare organizations can reinforce the patient experience by embracing authenticity and attending to core customer needs mapped to healthcare environments.

Four key takeaways were:

  1. A tumultuous healthcare landscape calls for heightened emphasis on patient experience. Staffing shortages, provider burnout, increased competition from "payviders," an uncertain economic environment and greater healthcare consumerism are compelling health systems to reconceptualize and redesign care delivery. Consumerism in particular is intensifying, driven by rising cost-sharing for patients and regulatory pressure on providers regarding price transparency. Yet, users still continue to struggle with a disjointed experience.

    "We see really big gaps between what consumers actually want and what providers offer," Dr. Mohan said. Citing a 2022 KLAS report on Patient Perspectives on Patient Engagement Technology, he noted the misalignment between patient preferences for technology and provider adoption of technology that facilitates self-scheduling and checking in for appointments, as well as requesting refills of prescriptions.

  2. Simply delivering on basic "table stakes" is not what patients remember about their care. Although the main purpose of healthcare providers is to safely deliver high-quality care, patients already expect that, so, "That's not what you're going to get credit for," Ms. Campbell said. When you think about that next level, what comes beyond and really drives the experience, it comes down to the interactions that patients have with people in the organization."

    Ms. Campbell added that patients, who are also consumers accustomed to seamless experiences in non-healthcare environments, expect similar frictionless experiences when it comes to accessing and scheduling care.

  3. Effective patient engagement requires true authenticity. Organizations have moved away from a philosophy that reigned in the early 2000s, where driving consumer engagement was understood as imposing scripted expectations of how leaders wanted employees and associates to interact with consumers. Nowadays, effective leaders opt for setting desired outcomes and then empowering associates to engage users authentically, depending on context and circumstances. In healthcare, authentic patient engagement may differ across organizations, but the common thread is that there must be leadership buy-in.

    "[Authentic engagement] can't be a program, it can't be a branded entity that you're putting a stamp on and putting a poster in the hallway," Ms. Campbell said. "This is a way of being, so it's got to get enculturated across your entire organization."

  4. Core consumer needs from other industries carry over into healthcare. Those needs, which shape the overall user experience, stem from consumers' desire for:

    • Transparency: People have access to a lot of information in other consumer environments and are expecting the same transparent communication of information in healthcare.

    • Productivity: Time is one of people's most valuable currencies and they are increasingly noticing how their providers are enabling (or are hindering) the perceived productive use of their time.

    • Control: It is important that patients feel a sense of personal control (e.g., food choices), even as the nature of healthcare often limits individuals' agency.

    • Recognition: To nurture brand loyalty, it is paramount to make patients feel that they are a valued guest or "consumer of our house," as Ms. Campbell put it.

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