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Partnering to deliver world class patient experience in healthcare

Becker’s Hospital Review
October 19, 2016 | by Paul Roscoe, CEO, Docent Health

Health systems are increasingly feeling the pull of the consumer economy and are seeking creative ways to differentiate and offer novel and satisfying experiences to their patients that complement their clinical care.

The drivers behind this trend are many – ranging from a belief that offering great experiences will help attract and retain patients, to a mission-driven desire to bring humanity back to healthcare. Some even hold the conviction that happier and more engaged patients will ultimately have better clinical outcomes. This is a trend that makes sense to many in healthcare because, at a minimum, we should be delivering supportive services in the same systematic manner as we deliver and monitor clinical encounters. These services should ideally be designed to address each patient’s needs while creating an overall system-wide understanding of the drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. There is no compelling reason that the adoption of data-driven protocols and evidence-based approaches should be limited to the clinical realm.

The consumer herself is at the center of this trend. Consumer expectations are changing in every industry, and healthcare is not immune. The service and hospitality sector, as well as retail brands, are setting ever-increasing expectations by delivering experiences that are personalized, connected, intelligent and interactive. This is powered by smart technology, social media, and ubiquitous consumer data sought out by the emerging generations of consumers who are accustomed to having a tailored, personal experience. The best practices honed in these industries provide learning opportunities for healthcare organizations who are committed to innovating their offerings.

Systematizing a truly great customer experience (CX) in healthcare requires a broad set of capabilities. Organizations must have the ability to collect and analyze data that reveals what their patients truly believe and desire, often from a broad and disparate set of tools and inputs. They must further have the ability to align and coordinate efforts across their system to create a comprehensive and systematic strategy and defined tactics that will feel consistent and effective. Finally, they must have a team of motivated, coordinated and customer-focused individuals to deliver this service and measure the impact, with the energy and tools to learn and iterate again and again.

While all of these challenges are daunting, the prospect of finding highly motivated people with time available to offer new, empathetic non-clinical services to patients is the one that verges on the impossible. Clinical staffs have a massive daily challenge in meeting all of the requirements of clinical protocols and in documenting their work. While they often have a service and mission focus and instinct, there is simply not enough time in their day to consistently integrate personalized, focused interactions to the mix. Asking highly-trained (and compensated) clinicians to divert attention from their main job – patient care – introduces inefficiencies. Increasingly — as hospitals and systems are doing in many aspects of their business – they are turning to partners to help them deploy the best strategy, process, technology and even staff to ensure a great CX.

Although it can seem counter-intuitive to deliver ‘experience’ via a partner, there are organizations who are doing just that with success and demonstrated ROI. There are many advantages, and some risks, in partnering to deliver CX, that should all be carefully considered.

The risks to a partnership approach are well understood but ultimately manageable. Confusion that might arise through conflicts in experience or branding is certainly not ideal. Therefore, it is critical that an organization carefully structure and manage their entire CX program centrally, and that the delivery partner be tightly integrated both from technology and staffing perspectives. Further, the delivery of services must feel organic and of a whole with the health system brand – the approach, tone, follow-through and feedback must be seamless and natural. Finally, the program goals and metrics must be well defined and understood: are you seeking to drive patient willingness to recommend? Market share growth? HCAHPS scores? Defining and driving toward a common set of goals is an effective risk-reduction technique.

The advantages of choosing a partner with expertise and a proven track record in the delivery of world-class experience is clear to those who have chosen this path – they’ve been able to offer patients a new caliber and depth of interaction while improving speed and efficiency. Organizations who have gone this route have typically done so because they find that they simply can’t innovate from within with the urgency demanded by the consumers in their market. The right partner will bring not just the ability to offer scale at the staff level, they will also offer a wealth of best practices drawn from service, hospitality and other high performing industries. Further, they will craft a program that tailors those best practices to the needs of the health system and the local market. They must be partners in the truest sense of the word – bringing the right mix of high-caliber people and a data-driven approach that allows the system to achieve its stated goals.

Change is difficult, and initiating substantial and meaningful change within large health organizations can feel overwhelming to executives and clinicians alike. But leading health systems know that the healthcare experience economy is here to stay, and they are acting now to position themselves at the leading edge of the rising tide. They likewise understand the need to tie operational improvements and efficiencies to improved patient experience. The two are not mutually exclusive—but in too many scenarios lean operational redesigns run the risk of squeezing out opportunities for real human connection. Patients should feel known and valued rather than anonymous and interchangeable. Hospitals have the opportunity now to partner with experts who will aid them in ensuring a balanced delivery of care and experience. Benefits will reveal themselves over time in measurable ways, such as in satisfaction scores, retention and growth. Those partners, over time, may even boldly share in the risks and benefits tied to those increased satisfaction scores.