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The customer is always right, so the saying goes, but does it apply in health care?

Not according to consumers. Research shows 81 percent of consumers aren’t happy with their experience, but only 1 in 10 health systems are treating consumer expectations as high priority. There’s a growing gap between what patients expect and what health care organizations are delivering.

Perception and priority problems

The challenge is many healthcare providers may not realize there’s a problem: most organizations underestimate how much the patient experience is failing consumers. This skewed perspective is creating a lack of urgency among providers to fix the problem. Although they’re aware of patient dissatisfaction, many providers are juggling competing initiatives, and the patient experience is getting neglected.

Research conducted by Kaufman, Hall & Associates found eight percent of health care organizations consider consumer expectation a high priority and have implemented several consumer-based strategies with some success. According to the "2017 State of Consumerism in Healthcare: Slow Progress in Fast Times," approximately 90 percent of survey respondents cited improving key elements of the consumer experience as a high priority, but only 30 percent said they instituted tools or practices in those areas.

Offering digital tools and information to enable consumer engagement represented high priorities for 58 percent of respondents, but of those leaders, the survey found only 14 percent have those capabilities in place.

"The journey towards being truly patient-centric is a long one, but it starts with a commitment to capturing the voice of the patient."

To start bridging the gap between what patients want and what the industry delivers, health care organizations need to start listening. The journey towards being truly patient-centric is a long one, but it starts with a commitment to capturing the voice of the patient.

Optimize the entire healthcare journey

One key reason health care organizations lag in patient experience is they lack an understanding of the consumer’s entire journey.

A survey by Prophet, Making the Shift: Healthcare’s Transformation to Customer-Centricity, indicates health care providers need to shift from applying tactical fixes to focusing on an experience strategy. For example, reducing waiting room times is just one step in the overall optimization of the consumer’s entire health care journey. Someone who’s managing a chronic condition has other touchpoints outside of dealing directly with the health care industry that are part of their consumer experience that health care providers should consider.

Health care organizations need to prioritize the patient experience if they are to keep them engaged across the entire journey. This requires vision, the right leaders, internal customer experience capabilities and a well-thought out plan to execute their strategy.

Innovation through patient dialogue

Amazon has disrupted retail while Uber has upended transportation. But while there’s been innovation in health care technology in recent years, there’s a lack of patient-centric innovation.

Health care providers must make sure their technology investments are improving the patience experience, not just improving productivity for practitioners or the bottom line. Innovation needs to be consumer driven, and organizations must engage with their patients to understand their and needs and wants.

Putting patients first will simultaneously cure other ailments affecting health care organizations: Investments to improve patient experience also improve an organization’s operational efficiency. It drives growth and reduces costs. The priorities of health system leadership and their patients are actually well aligned. Ultimately, Prophet notes, patients, health systems and physicians value many of the same things.

Be obsessive and get insight

Health care should take a page from other industries such as retail and hospitality and become obsessed with their customers. And if they are to truly understand the patient journey, they need to invest in consumer insight.

Health care organizations are at the early stages of becoming customer-centric, according to research by Prophet, but most aren’t set up for success. They don’t have the right people to form a strong insight team, the necessary processes to embed patient feedback into their decision making, nor the right culture to keep the voice of the consumer as their number one focus.

Improved customer experience also means health care providers shift from being population-centric to person-centred, according to Prophet. Rather than creating products and services for large groups of similar consumers, offerings need to be personalized based on the patient’s individual situation, such as their health status and lifestyle needs. This means having a better understanding of patient profiles and how to engage them. Demographics are no longer sufficient; customer-centric care must explore patients’ needs and attitudes toward health.

It’s time for some preventative medicine

The time for health care organizations to embrace consumer-centricity is now. Prophet says if providers are under-delivering on the patient experience today, it will only be harder as their operations become bigger and more complex. To make sure they get it right, these organizations need to prioritize listening to the voice of the patient, and using that insight to make better business decisions.

For more insight on becoming a patient-centric health care organization, watch our webinar with digital strategy expert Ed Bennett

Diagnosing Disruptions: De-Risking Decisions in Health Care’s Digital Age

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