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Patient-centered care must-haves: Convenience, flexibility

January 9th, 2013

by Jenn Riggle

With patient satisfaction now tied to reimbursement, hospitals are focusing on the little things that improve people's hospital stay. They're hiring consultants from Disney and Ritz-Carlton to teach them how to improve patient experience, address complaints and add a compassionate touch to serious medical care.

While these are important, they are only part of the equation. In today's multitasking world, people are trying to find ways to squeeze exercise and doctor's appointments into their already busy schedules. And with the rise of urgent care centers and clinics, people have more choices than ever about where they go to receive care.

That's why hospitals must remember one of the important tenets of customer service: Know your customer and provide services that meet their needs.

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We all know mothers are the healthcare gatekeepers for families. And now that 70.6 percent of mothers are juggling busy schedules at work and home, convenience becomes an important factor in how they select healthcare providers. There was a time when moms wanted Calgon to take them away. Now they just want help getting through their constantly growing to-do list.

Retail giants Target and Wal-Mart have built their brands by meeting the needs of busy moms. They've added supermarkets to their stores so families can pick up their groceries, clothes for their kids and a present for the weekend birthday party, all at the same place. They also offer convenient hours, so moms can pick up necessary items after work.

Nancy Cawley Jean wrote about how hospitals should look to Zappos as an example of how to use social media to improve customer service. Zappos became an industry leader by making the Cinderella story a reality by helping women to find the right shoe--online. Women no longer had to go to the mall and wait for a salesperson to go into the stockroom and bring out shoes to try. Instead, they could shop for shoes from the comfort of their own home. And if the shoe didn't fit, they could return it free of charge.

The good news is that healthcare providers are adopting some of these same practices, making it easier for families to get the care they need:

Urgent care clinics: It seems like everywhere you turn, there's a new retail clinic like CareNow, Patient First and CVS' Minute Clinic. These clinics allow people to get the care they need without having to make a doctor's appointment or wait for hours in the emergency department.

A new Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey reports the number of people who use retail health clinics has jumped from 7 percent in 2008 to 27 percent. Not surprising, younger adults are more likely use this type of clinic than older adults. Forty percent of adults between the ages of 25 to 29 used a retail or work-based clinic, versus only 15 percent of adults aged 65 and older.

Mail-order pharmacies: Services like Express Scripts have been around for a while, but they still provide a great value by allowing people to purchase prescriptions online and have them shipped to their home, free-of-charge. People don't have to wait in line at the pharmacy and end up purchasing things like candy, nail polish and magazines while they wait.

Personal health records: Hospitals across the country are implementing electronic medical records. With Epic Systems' MyChart, people can securely view test results, refill prescriptions, schedule an appointment, or interact with doctors and staff.

Online tools to select a doctor: New services like ZocDoc allow you to enter your zip code, illness and insurance and list doctors in your area and available appointments that day. You can then easily check their schedule and make an appointment. No more waiting on hold or talking to an answer service. They even make it easy to reschedule an appointment.

Health Information Exchanges (HIE): While most people may not understand how they work, HIEs allow healthcare providers (both those inside and outside of the hospital walls) to share patient information. This means your physical therapist, pharmacist, physician and chiropractor all have access and contribute to your medical record, helping reduce unnecessary paperwork, procedures and ultimately, helping ensure that you get better care.

Large integrated delivery networks (IDN): Some people, like my mom, select a caregiver because they are part her health system and already have her medical information. For her, convenience means that her caregivers have easy access to her medical information if they have questions or need additional information.

Convenient hours: Having just moved to Dallas, I'm looking for a doctor for my teen and pre-teen daughters. Top of my list are doctor's offices that are located near our home and offer evening and Saturday hours. Now if only I could find a way to avoid the traffic.

When people are seriously ill, they are willing to travel to find the expert care they need. But otherwise, people are looking for ways to fit health and wellness into their busy schedules. Hospitals that develop services with this in mind will build their brand and customer loyalty.

Jenn Riggle is a vice president at Weber Shandwick Worldwide and member of its healthcare practice.

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