The patient experience. The perception of one’s journey through the health care system. This once elusive metric now has more importance for health care providers and health systems than ever before. It’s no longer a question of whether patient experience is important; it undoubtedly is. Deloitte research shows that improving the patient experience can help a hospital improve its financial performance. The question rather is how patient experience can serve as a differentiator in the market. And how organizations can create that differentiation through various solutions. One of the most important and promising of those solutions being technology.
In this context, patient experience is the heightened engagement of patients in their health care decision-making and interactions. The “experience” of a patient and the patient’s family includes interactions that occur both before accessing care and outside of the receipt of care. It includes the ways in which they can balance treatment and wellness with all other aspects of their lives. Due to changes in the legislative and economic backdrop of the health care industry, patients continue to become increasingly active in their health care decisions and more likely to perceive, seek out, and evaluate experiential differences in their health care options. That said, it is important to understand that in the health care provider space, patients are not the only “customers” whose experience has become an increasingly important factor in value creation – patient families, caregivers, clinicians, and employees have also started to engage more actively in the overall “experience” of health care interactions, developing preferences and consumer behavior in what was previously a more passive marketplace.
Technology is undoubtedly a key factor in differentiating, enhancing, and in some cases, ultimately defining the customer experience. Technology solutions can enable high-touch interactions that improve responsiveness, account management, transition points, service delivery, pricing transparency, care readiness, staff utilization, and organizational flexibility. However, our latest research indicates that what is most important to patients when it comes to their health care interactions is the quality of the time spent interacting with a physician. In t study, findings indicate that “the number one preferred interaction is having a doctor or other health care provider spend sufficient time with the patient and not rushing through exams.”
This finding indicates that patients are highly concerned with the experiential quality of their interactions in the health care space. It is not simply a matter of quicker, smoother, and less hassle. There are a variety of qualitative criteria embedded in the consumer behavior of each patient. While there are obvious consistencies across individual patients, each patient has unique concerns and needs, which require flexible patient experience solutions. As a result, we need to understand patient experience more broadly in order to develop and implement solutions that address the breadth of factors with which patients engage in making health care decisions. Those factors include the traditional levers of people, process, and technology, but also involve factors like culture and branding.
For health care provider organizations, there is now an opportunity to develop nontraditional differentiators beyond operational and financial efficiency. Customer and marketing strategy, for example, offers an opportunity for health care providers to attract, engage, and retain customers with the value proposition of an enhanced patient experience. In this case, the value proposition is not derived entirely from a technological or digital solution to create a faster, smoother experience, but plays on a patient’s value criteria beyond efficiency – service quality, connectedness, relationship-oriented care, and the like. Better technology can enable an improved provider experience and often makes care more accessible through online tools and applications, but ultimately the value must be created by meeting the distinct needs and interests of patients themselves.
Organizations are now being challenged to seek out solutions that enable them to create a brand associated with a premium customer experience. Still, technology plays a major role in cementing the delivery of that premium customer experience – it is the integrator that provides the scaffolding for the enhanced experience. Broadly, that experience can be understood as the “customer journey,” which inevitably deals with technology but is actually more likely to be defined – at least from the customer perspective – by their overall level of satisfaction with their various interactions. Digital tools and advanced technology provide a platform on which to increase that satisfaction, but it is important to maintain a high-touch, high-quality, and highly interactive experience for all customers – not only for the patient, but also for the caregivers, clinicians, and other employees involved in the interaction.
Ultimately, we perceive technology as the lynchpin of patient experience solutions; a key enabler to providing an enhanced experience for all customers. However, by developing a flexible and robust understanding of what the “customer experience” actually entails, we begin to understand that the technology component must support and align with the organization’s overall goals related to brand, marketing, and positioning. Most importantly, the actual needs of the customer must dictate and shape how technology is used to achieve those organizational goals.