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Patient experience, satisfaction not one and the same

July 24th, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

Consumer choice is the new frontier of the healthcare marketplace. While I haven't found anyone that challenges that fact, I encounter many that still resist this reality in their actions and efforts. In the simplest of terms, consumers are people that select a product and pay for it, and we see this happen in significant ways in healthcare today.

With higher deductibles, a broader range of care options and more, healthcare organizations have to work harder to attract the customer to their door (and keep them) at all points on the care continuum, from physician practices and outpatient centers, to acute and post acute settings. The realities are clear as organizations report lower volumes and patients and families are more intentional in their healthcare choices.

While we will never take away the idea of patient or resident at the core of our healthcare dialogue, we do need to remember that in almost all but the most extreme cases, these individuals--and we as family members, friends and patients as well--make choices. We are all consumers. And one thing all consumers have regardless of the setting, and more so in the emotionally charged environment of healthcare, is an experience. We all have one whether planned for or not. It is this very reality on which I want to challenge the misinterpretation of patient experience as satisfaction.

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Satisfaction, the idea of how positive someone feels about an encounter is an important metric, but experience encompasses more than just a sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction is in the moment, but experience is the lasting story. It is defined in all that is perceived, understood and remembered. And patient experience encompasses much more than creating happy patients. It is about ensuring the best in quality, safety and service outcomes.

So how do we respond to the new consumer mindset in healthcare? In speaking with leaders across the continuum some key ideas continue to emerge:

  • Ensure you have the right people on board who will provide the kind of experience you aspire to deliver and work to support the passion and purpose these individuals bring to work every day.
  • Express and model unwavering leadership support and acknowledge leadership must occur at all levels. In any moment of interaction with another individual people are making leadership choices.
  • Set and reinforce clear expectations for behavior, responsiveness and communication and help people understand why it is important.
  • Perfect methodologies for engaging patient and family voice and act as appropriate on the information you gather.
  • Create ease of access, simplicity of process at points across the continuum and reinforce the importance of follow-through.

Ultimately to compete and thrive in an experience marketplace, we must think beyond anything satisfaction can ever represent. It is critical when choice drives the market, that we create the greatest opportunities for brand loyalty. This may be more significant in healthcare than in all other service industries. In fact, a 2011 PWC Customer Research Study showed that personal experience had almost two times the impact on choices in healthcare then the next closest industry, hotels and hospitality. As one colleague shared with me on the topic, "I don't know another industry where you can make an appointment and then not be seen until an hour after your scheduled time and have this be the accepted norm." I would say the time for those types of norms is vanishing quickly.

The conversation on experience in healthcare is not a passing phenomenon. It will become the foundation on which it grows towards the future. Clinical quality, safety and positive outcomes, while part of the miracle of healthcare, are not exceptions, but rather expectations all consumers now have. The differentiating factor will be on our ability to recognize the power of a comprehensive experience effort, grounded in the people that comprise your organizations, focused on the needs of your consumers--the patients and families you serve--and reaching well beyond the traditional ideas of satisfaction. In making that choice, great potential awaits.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is president of The Beryl Institute, where he specializes in organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.

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