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

 

Hospital (Almost) Provides Valuable Patient Status

In a recent visit to a hospital, a member of my family spotted this patient status screen. It’s a great concept, keeping family members up to speed on the status of their beloved patient as he or she is in surgery. While it’s a wonderful idea, the design falls flat. Take a look at the confusing status items:

1506_TuftsPatientStatusThis is an example of what I call the Design of Little Things (DoLT). So many organizations invest in good ideas, but fail to do the little things that will create a really positive experience for customers. It’s like running a marathon and then giving up right before the finish line.

In this case, the idea of a real-time status screen is great, but the hospital needs to provide status items that are meaningful for family members in the waiting room. All it would take is one more tweak and this would be a wonderful tool.

The bottom line: Don’t neglect the DoLT

 

Healthcare Experiences Aren’t Satisfying Patients

I recently wrote an “Expert Opinion” article on the 1to1 Media site called Patients Have A Soul. It looks at the need for healthcare professionals to improve the patient experience. That article also included a couple of new data graphs that I want to also post on this site.

The first graphic looks at satisfaction with different groups in the health care system. About three-quarters of consumers are very satisfied with their doctors and nurses, but only about half are that enamored with their health plans. And only two-thirds of patients are happy with the overall experience. So there’s a lot of opportunity to improve!

The second graphic looks at overall satisfaction of consumers at different ages. Clearly, satisfaction increases with age. Only 57% of the youngest group are fully satisfied with their medical experiences while 83% of the oldest feels that way.

The bottom line: My diagnoses: Patient experience has a chronic problem

10 Lessons From Asheville: Healthcare, Wayfinding And More

I was recently in Asheville, NC to speak with a group of customer service/experience executives from large health care companies. We decided to add on a few days to the trip to spend some vacation time in the city. Here are some of my thoughts from the trip:

  1. Biltmore Estate is worth a full day. We visited the Biltmore Estate, which is owned by the Vanderbilt family. With 240 rooms, it’s the largest home in America. It is a beautiful property; we had a great time. The tour of the house was spectacular; with lots of details about what it was like to build and live in this house over the decades. I was particularly struck by the detail in the ballroom and the fact that it has an indoor swimming pool and a two-lane bowling alley. The grounds are spectacular as well. We walked more than a mile through the gardens and grounds that were manicured by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York. As if that was not enough, the estate also has a winery (fun to taste, but we didn’t love the wine) and an adventure center. It’s a must-see attraction.
  2. Wayfinding is not a lost art. The self-guided tour through the Biltmore Estate was considerably enhanced by an extremely well-designed flow. As you walk through the building, the signage clearly marks where you are and where you need to head next. The guide book, which provides an easy to read paragraph about each room, uses numbers that correspond to signs in each location — so there is never any confusion about connecting the description with the location in the house.
  3. Chronic care requires more experience design. A lot of the structure of health care was built to deal with acute issues, but the world is shifting to be more about ongoing care of chronic issues. This shift requires people to have a more lasting and deeper set of interactions with the health care system. As this happens, experience design will become an increasingly important component of overall health care success.
  4. The Grove Park Inn is spectacular. We stayed at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, which is a magnificent site. The hotel lobby is on the top floor and overlooks the mountains. There are places all over the hotel to grab a rocking chair and hang out with great views. The hotel is full of Arts & Crafts mission style furniture, which is one of our favorites. I only wish I had time to try out the golf course that looked fantastic.
  5. Doctors will become more experience-minded. During my session, we discussed getting doctors to care about experience. Yes, doctors are not the easiest population of people to influence. But the entire health care system is changing and doctors will increasingly care about things beyond just diagnosis and treatment — especially younger doctors who are entering a different environment. The key to getting doctors to “care” is to relate patient experience to some of the things that they do care about. There’s research that shows that better experience leads to better medical outcomes (they care about that) and it also leads to better word of mouth and utilization of facilities (which leads to more money to invest n research and medical equipment, which they also care about).
  6. Delta messes-up the little things. I’m a Gold Medallion member of Delta’s frequent flyer program. One of the benefits that the airline touts for this level (and higher) is early-boarding, which shows up as “Group 1” on our tickets. However, in about half of my Delta flights the gate agent calls out Group 1 with other groups (e.g., Group 2 and Group 3) — eliminating the “Group 1” benefit of early-boarding. Also, on our flight from Atlanta, the airplane sat on the runway for 45 minutes before take-off, but the pilot never bothered to give us any status during that long wait. As I’ve said in the past, good experiences often come down to these little things.
  7. Emotion is a critical component of patient experience. We’ve identified three components to an experience: Functional, Accessible, and Emotional. When it comes to healthcare, the emotional element is even more important than it is in many other industries. So companies need to understand how to design experiences to deliver the desired emotional response — and measure themselves against that goal.
  8. Noise is not the same as the perception of noise. One of the things that the attendees were struglling with is the noise in a hospital at night. It’s one of the areas that is negatively affecting their Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) scores. While they were discussing ways to minimize the noise levels, I urged them to also examine options for lowering the patients perception of the noise levels. For instance, if they made a point of explaining that it might be a bit noisy, explaining what causes the noise (keeping track of patients), apologizing in advance for any inconvenience, and offering ear plugs — then the patients would likely have quite a different perception of the noise levels.
  9. Asheville is a great destination. What a gem. The airport is right outside the city and the Asheville area is full of lovely vistas, good restaurants, and many, many interesting artisans. Here’s a piece of art that I found particularly meaningful.
  10. There’s hope for healthcare experience. The group of healthcare executives with whom I spoke, who are part of The Leader’s Board, are focused on important elements of healthcare experience. They are struggling with the same types of things that we see in other industries like measurements, customer feedback, and employee engagement. As long as groups like this continue to wrestle with these issues, and help their organizations master customer experience competencies, then the healthcare system will definitely improve the experiences that it delivers.
The bottom line: I enjoyed Asheville; personally and professionally
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