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This is a guest blog post from Cleveland Clinic's Michelle Frietchen, Dean Clinic's Ann Muehl, and Aurora Health Care's Mark Rothwell.

Everyone in the healthcare industry says they are patient centered, but how well do healthcare organizations actually integrate the voice of the patient into their daily operations?

From our many decades in the industry, we know that the answer is "not well enough." Very few organizations capture patient information and feedback on a timely basis. For a scientific field, many organizations still lag at getting real-time input from patients. That's why we're passionate about online patient communities, which are insight communities where a group of patients agree to provide various kinds of feedback.

Cleveland Clinic Logo

Dean Clinic Logo

In the recently concluded SHSMD Connections conference, we had the pleasure of presenting about this very topic. Given our experience running the Cleveland Clinic Patient Panel and Dean Listens communities, we've seen firsthand how patient communities can help healthcare providers connect the dots faster and more effectively.

So how exactly can healthcare organizations benefit from an insight community of patients? We see at least five opportunities:

  1. Encourage a data-driven culture in your organization.

Historically, the healthcare industry has not been driven by real-time data. But that's changing - and it is happening quickly. If you're still making business and patient care decisions based on gut feeling, you may be working with outdated or inaccurate assumptions.

An online patient community can help brands transform from an "I think" culture to a "we know" culture that's based on real-time patient insight. Rather than making a gut decision about how we serve patients, we validate our hypothesis with our insight community. Patients help us challenge long-standing beliefs, leading us to more informed and validated business decisions.

Based on our combined experience of over a decade working with insight communities, we know that patient communities can provide a rapid feedback resource for hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers to inject the voice of the patient into their daily business decisions.

  1. Keep your customers happy.

Just like most customers, healthcare patients are starting to demand that providers listen to them. Running our online communities, patients have told us how much they appreciate being listened to. They have told us that they are happy to see that their input is having a tangible effect on how we run our business and how we deliver patient care.

In fact, one of the things we learned is that patients want to have a say on which issues we should consult them with. From system-wide operational changes to local wait time issues, people want to be heard on important topics that affect our services.

  1. Get response from customers faster at a huge cost saving per study.

Researchers and marketers know how often various departments want data to make their decisions. Everyone across the organization - from marketing, patient experience, operations and administration - need data to help guide their decisions.

Often they want this data for an upcoming meeting within a week or two - something that, unless you already have a community of customers to tap into - isn't always possible. In the past, we had to tell these folks that we cannot help them or that they needed to ask us weeks or sometimes months in advance.

Now with our insight community, we provide information at the speed of business. A department can come up with a question on Friday and get the insights they need by Monday. We can view results in real time as they come in, allowing us to quickly check with patients even for urgent, last minute issues.

For example, in the past, we used to send out letters to allow patients to opt out prior to sharing information with a third-party vendor. That's completely eliminated now since our community allows us to reach the appropriate individuals directly.

  1. Employ sound research methodologies.

Through strategic recruitment efforts, we have communities that are representative of our patients in our local, regional, and national markets. Having people from all parts of the country provides some sampling flexibility. We can do studies for a local facility if we need to. And through the community's profiling capabilities, we are able to focus our efforts based on our research needs, asking people to participate in studies that are only relevant to them.

Patient communities can help you talk to specific populations. If you want to talk to breast cancer patients who are between the ages of 25 to 55, you have that segment of your community pre-screened, allowing you to directly reach out to those individuals.

Compared to hospital advisory boards (which usually have 10 to 20 members), online communities are made up of thousands of very engaged patients, allowing you to work with statistically valid samples, with immediate access.

  1. Grant clients access to some results.

The problem with ad hoc surveys is that they rarely allow for two-way conversations. Healthcare providers would ask for input but wouldn't tell patients how their feedback shaped their decision.

With an insight community, it's easier to close the feedback loop and share study results with your patients. You can use your portal or you can send email newsletters to reveal stats and other bits from your study that patients might find interesting. This process increases levels of patient engagement and allows them to understand that we are listening and that their participation actually makes a difference to how we make our decisions.

Dean Clinic Picture

  Cleveland Clinic Picture

Learn more about online patient communities

Overall, if you're looking to stay in front of what's happening in healthcare, an online community panel can help with that. Having an online patient community is an investment that healthcare organizations should consider making. If you'd like to learn more how we're using our patient communities, we invite you to listen to this Healthcare Success podcast.

About the authors:
Michelle Frietchen is Senior Manager of Market Research at Cleveland Clinic.
Mark Rothwell is the former VP of Marketing and Communications at Dean Health System.
Ann Muehl is Strategic Marketing Manager at Dean Clinic.

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