By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Doctors and patients have adopted new roles for themselves in the healthcare delivery system in the wake of healthcare reform. The “new normal” for patients includes a stronger and more proactive participation in personal health matters. More than ever, the role of the patient is that of an informed consumer.
And as patient-centered care has become the standard model, the role of physicians is increasingly that of a customer-responsive entrepreneur/business person. Marketing to and finding prospective patients is more challenging (and more expensive) than retaining existing patients.
What’s more, the competitive landscape has sharp edges, and the “seller” who understands and delivers to the expectations, needs and wants of the “buyer” has a distinct marketing advantage.
- Experience drives satisfaction;
- Satisfaction improves compliance and outcomes;
- Retention is as important as new patient acquisition;
- Satisfied customers generate referrals and testimonials;
- Rapport and a continuing relationship is a win-win situation; and
- Delivering what patients want enhances profitability and growth.
In health care, the purchase decision is all about finding an answer to a personal medical need. Individuals do not “purchase a surgery.” What they want is to feel better and return to a state of personal happiness. In selecting a provider, resolving their medical issue is understood as “a given” expectation.
Most healthcare consumers—even well informed patients—take it for granted that the doctor is clinically trained, experienced and qualified. Above and beyond that baseline, what patient-consumers want most has little to do with professional credentials. More often, patients relate “quality of care” to a value system they can directly understand.
Five Things That Patients Really Want…
Clinical excellence and outcomes aside as existing baselines, it’s simply good business to align care delivery (patient encounter, administration, staff training, branding, etc.) with the needs and wants that patients value the most. The following list does not exhaust the options, but they are often at the top of recent research findings:
Empathy: The single most important “want,” according to a recent Cleveland Clinic survey of over 1,000 adults, was empathy from their doctors. “Eighty-two percent of survey respondents said that doctor empathy was important, and many were even willing to overlook common grievances—like rescheduling shortly before an appointment, waiting to get an appointment or waiting a long time to actually see the doctor once at the appointment—if the doctor is empathetic,” reports Huffpost Healthy Living.
Waiting, waiting, and more waiting: Satisfaction takes a nosedive when there’s a long wait just to get an appointment, and new patients are tempted to jump to the competition for earlier service. Compounding matters, there’s a further frustration point when new or existing patients wait again in the office, or there are long delays in providing lab results. Take a hard look at in-office systems to devise new ways to remain on schedule and to put the patient needs—not office administration—as the top priority.
Rush, rushing, rushed: The perfect storm counterpoint to waiting is when patients feel their time with the doctor is too hurried. Often, studies say, this perception—either real or imagined—works against rapport building, empathy and even quality of care. Patients experiencing less “rush” and less “wait” often give better doctor reviews.
Everyone wants email: It’s nearly universal by one survey. “Ninety-three percent of adults would prefer to go to a doctor that offers email communications,” according to Catalyst Healthcare Research. Surprisingly, “of this 93 percent, 25 percent said they would still prefer a doctor that uses email communication even if there was a $25 fee per episode.”
Leveraging technology: Many “digital world” benefits are still barred from doctors’ offices. Among other survey findings by Catalyst, patients said they want:
- A printed summary of their visit, including their diagnosis and recommended plan of action, before they leave
- An app that allows them to log in and see their test results, send messages to their physician (and presumably get those questions answered)
- A text or voicemail message if the office is running late
- Free WiFi in the waiting room
A medical practice that is responsive to what patient-consumers want can realize many significant business advantages. On one hand, the associated costs are low and many are easy to embrace. That said, innovation and challenges to entrenched office routines and a physician-centric “traditional” methods can be a struggle to implement.
On balance, the payback far exceeds the investment for doctor entrepreneurs who deliver what patients really want. It is simply good business.
Related reading for the physician/entrepreneur: