Three Ideas to Re-Humanize Patient Experience

I was recently interviewed for an article that discusses a post where Fox News journalist John Stossel describes his experience as a lung cancer patient at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

First of all, I hope that Stossel’s treatment is successful. And although I don’t fully agree with his analysis of the industry, I do agree with his observation “…I have to say, the hospital’s customer service stinks.” Yes, there is a problem with patient experience.

I’m reminded of this picture from a post that I wrote in 2009, which comes from Cleveland Clinic’s 2008 Annual Report.

ClevelandClinicAnnualReport

With all of the focus on costs and liabilities, the medical system has forgotten about the soul of the patient. It’s become dehumanized.

The wellbeing of a patient often takes a back seat to rigid processes and procedures, and there’s little understanding of how to help patients make increasingly important financial/medical trade-offs. It’s not that doctors, nurses, and hospital staffs don’t care. It’s just that the entire system has conspired to de-emphasize humanity.

This problem is not unique to healthcare. In research that we did in 2013, we found that only 30% of employees have what Aristotle called “practical wisdom,” the combination of moral will and moral skill. This is the capability that Barry Schwartz explains is critical for infusing humanity within organizations.

While there are many structural issues in U.S. healthcare (which I won’t go into here), there are still many things that can be done to re-humanize the patient experience. Here are some ideas:

  • Apply better experience design. Health care leaders should learn and apply the the principles of People-Centric Experience Design: align with purpose, guide with empathy, and design for memories.
  • Develop a value mindset. As patients take on more of the direct financial burden for healthcare, doctors must do more than recommend treatments and procedures. They must help patients understand the value of those activities, so that they can make smart financial/medical trade-offs.
  • Build decision-support technology. Patients should be able to understand the efficacy and full costs of the treatments and procedures that they are being asked to “purchase.” Health plans need to take the lead in providing tools for making this information transparent, and empowering patients to make better decisions.

The bottom line: It’s time to re-humanize healthcare

 

Great Patient Experience Is Free

I’m a big fan of Dr. Atul Gawande. No, I haven’t signed up for his Facebook page (I doubt he has one), but I really like his perspective on healthcare. He’s  a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, but Wikipedia describes him as an expert on reducing error, improving safety, and increasing efficiency in surgery.

He’s an excellent writer. His book “The Checklist Manifesto” was the inspiration for my post “The Customer Experience Checklist Manifesto.” If you’re working on patient experience or healthcare reform, then you should get to know his work.

I just read a fantastic article that he wrote in The New Yorker “Big Med: Restaurant chains have managed to combine quality control, cost control, and innovation. Can health care?” Gawande uses a recent experience at Cheesecake Factory, a restaurant chain that consistently delivers a wide variety of freshly prepared menu items to eighty million people per year, to draw a comparison with the current U.S. healthcare system. Here’s an excerpt:

In medicine, too, we are trying to deliver a range of services to millions of people at a reasonable cost and with a consistent level of quality. Unlike the Cheesecake Factory, we haven’t figured out how. Our costs are soaring, the service is typically mediocre, and the quality is unreliable. Every clinician has his or her own way of doing things, and the rates of failure and complication (not to mention the costs) for a given service routinely vary by a factor of two or three, even within the same hospital.”

My take: Our U.S. healthcare system is broken. Without a clear focus on operational efficiency, repeatability, or accountability for results, the only thing that is guaranteed is escalating costs. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Look at how Aravind Eye Care revolutionized eye surgery in India. Gawande’s article also includes innovative practices such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s work to standardize the entire protocol for knee replacements and Steward Health Care System’s remote “command center” for its intensive care unit.

What does all of this have to do with patient experience? Everything. There’s no worse patient experience than an unsuccessful medical procedure, a procedure that you can’t afford, conflicting medical advice, or going though an unnecessary procedure. Unfortunately, our current healthcare system is set up to breed these types of experiences.

I recently republished my manifesto: Great Customer Experience Is Free. It seems to me that I could have also said that Great Patient Experience Is Free. Gawande shows that there’s enormous opportunity for both better outcomes and lower costs.

The bottom line: It’s time for a truly patient-centric healthcare system

Goodbye Healthcare Gobbledygook

Healthcare is complicated. But insurers and the medical industry seem to go out of their way to make it even more difficult to understand. Hopefully, though, it’s going to get better.

I just had dinner with a friend of mine, Ingrid Lindberg from CIGNA, who deserves a huge shoutout. Her customer experience work just won a the first place Gold Medal award for customer strategy as well as a customer experience excellence award from Gartner and 1 to 1 Media. Ingrid, CIGNA’s Chief Experience Officer, is leading the charge to eliminate what she’s labeled as “insurance speak” and “CIGNAspeak” from all customer communications.

Under Ingrid’s leadership, CIGNA has adopted  “words we use” guidelines which replaces such jargon as provider, co-pay and formulary with approved terms such as doctor, the amount you pay and drug list. These guidelines are attempting to purge hundreds of confusing pieces of jargon and acronyms from CIGNA’s vocabulary. The effort has led to a redesign of many communications like this explanation of benefits:

CIGNA Explanation Of Benefits

The bottom line: Healthcare reform needs more simple language.

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