Does the Patient Know Best?

Over the past decade, there have been tremendous shifts in the healthcare consumer market – both on the payer and provider side. Patients suddenly have access to countless tools that help them select and choose the right care. The impact of this is felt far and wide; third-party tools and websites are being created to help patients review, compare, and determine the right specialist to help treat them, the right location to treat that care (inpatient, outpatient, ambulatory, etc.), and the right hospital or healthcare system to align their long-term care.

To that end, health systems are being forced to respond to this growing trend by revamping their patient access departments – extending call center hours into the evenings and weekends, training staff to embody Zappos-level customer service and aggressively exploring new ways for patients to easily access their services and make (and keep!) appointments. Hospitals are embracing online transparency at new levels by publishing pricing and physician ratings on their own websites.

Despite this, it is a commonly held belief that patients really don’t know how to diagnose – let alone treat – themselves. And these biases are rampantly spread to the hallways of health organization across the country. Patients don’t know the right type of doctor for them; they make selections based on preferences unrelated to their actual health condition. Even patients lack the proper motivation to be proactive with their care.

It reminds me of Steve Jobs’ infamous quote about consumers: “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

But is this really the case? Do patients really not know what they want (or need)?

It is true that our health system has become incredibly complex, and patients often are unsure of how to navigate their care. And we’re not making it easier with the multitude of partnerships, retail offerings and insurance exchanges being introduced to the market.

In addition, a recent study found that 60 percent of patients switch physicians because they received better service from a new provider. While clinical excellence is still important, in the new market of healthcare consumerism, patient experience becomes a competitive differentiator.

And while a great number of patients don’t adhere to their doctor’s recommendations often this stems from a number of other, non-clinical factors including medication costs, insurance coverage, and access to care. Perhaps even our model of care itself (the shift from fee-for-service to value-based-case) is fundamentally rooted in the notion that we should be incented differently to ensure we are supporting our patients in staying healthy.

So, perhaps we can learn from our patients in the following ways:

  • We have to make things easier for them by providing tools and technology to support making better decisions. Whether through improving websites to make it easy to find information, or improving Find-a-Doctor tools to help them sort and select care providers easier – it’s our imperative to use technology to simplify our system of care.
  • We need to focus on their experience and make their interactions with us supportive and stellar. Patient experience will continue to be a brand differentiator (and will also soon affect our own reimbursements). We need to become patient-centric.
  • We need to become convenient for patients and keep patient-support and call centers at times when they need us. We need to develop ways to support online appointment requests and offer them the ability to connect with us anytime, anywhere through any device or means they would like.
  • We should continue to keep them engaged and interested in their care – whether through developing content marketing programs designed to be educational and informative, to transforming our social media communities to serve to motivate and encourage positive behavior.
  • We need to understand our patients’ needs and provide them the information they need at the right time. We can do this through the adoption of personalized marketing tools such as CRM, marketing automation, and aligning them with patient portals.

Looking back at Steve Jobs’ quote, I think he’s right. It’s our imperative to show patients what they want – and their input is critical for us to do so.

October 26, 2015
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