Facing an illness or injury is one of the most stressful experiences we will have to go through in our lives. It is a time of emotional upheaval and making a decision about where to receive treatment under this kind of pressure can be very hard. With emotions running high, healthcare organizations face a delicate challenge in attracting new patients and building loyalty amongst existing patients.
Patients choosing a healthcare treatment facility may not have a lot of time to make a decision. They may read statistics on patient outcomes, but the critical factor in their decision-making process will be how they feel about a facility, from the moment they park their car to the time they are released. A strong positive gut reaction, followed by an experience that lives up to patients’ expectations is the best way hospitals can bring new patients into care and build brand loyalty. Here we define key ways hospitals can make an instant impression on patients along the key points in a patient journey.
Scheduling: Expedient treatment right from the start
The timeline for treatment may be a matter of life or death, and yet too often patients cannot get an appointment in a timely manner. Boasting “Access Anytime Anywhere”, Cleveland Clinic in Ohio offers same day appointments, and other hospitals are finding that faster service is one of the best ways to encourage new patients to come to their facility. It’s not hard to see why – being able to easily and quickly see a doctor alleviates a huge amount of stress for patients. But how do you facilitate such quick service? Scheduling at medical facilities is notoriously challenging, and for many the idea of same day appointments seems unattainable.
Finding efficiencies in the patient intake process through management philosophies such as Lean is an approach that has worked well to trim timelines at many hospitals. First, an evaluation is made of the entire journey to pinpoint places where efficiencies can be found. Then various strategies can be applied to the intake journey. Electronic health records (EHR), real-time communication apps and sophisticated scheduling software in concert with changes such as weekend hours, centralized scheduling centers and standardized processes are tactics that can significantly reduce wait times and the duration of the entire patient journey.
Pre-op Testing: Knowledge gives a sense of control
As a diagnosis is made and treatment options are suggested, patients may feel out of control and anxious if they’re not given adequate information. Hospitals must proactively offer personalized, easy-to-digest information at the outset, for example outlining what a test will involve, what it will determine and how to access results. Using a wide variety of formats, information should be provided in everyday language with visual aids. Interactive tablets are an excellent way to offer curated, personalized information that addresses the patient’s specific healthcare concern. Creating a printed, individualized treatment plan for each patient gives them something to refer to, especially important if shared decision making or informed consent models are being used. Also recommended are apps that allow patients to access their own healthcare profile online through their phone or the hospital website to check for test results and recall physician instructions.
Giving patients curated information will make them feel more in control and research shows specific information offered in various formats increases the likelihood they will correctly follow instructions.
Day of Surgery: Where everybody knows your name
Very little can impress a patient more than a nurse who takes the time to listen to them and addresses their needs with diligence and kindness. Patients rated elements of the healthcare treatment experience for a study by McKinsey and Company, and the top three concerns were compassionate nursing staff, positive outcomes and compassionate physicians. A 2015 research study by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate healthcare outlines there are also benefits to hospitals, including lower staff turnover, greater patient loyalty and a more satisfied workforce.
We advise hospitals to make a passionate value proposition about patient care the cornerstone of their modus operandi, and to ensure staff are hired, trained and rewarded based on their ability to fulfil this vision. The result of such an endeavor will be that patients feel this compassion on a fundamental level, from the lab technician who draws blood to the nurse who cares for them throughout their stay.
This may be an involved process depending on how your healthcare facility currently prioritizes compassionate care. It may involve repositioning with the leadership team, educating staff at all levels, finding efficiencies in each and every department to free nurses up to spend time with patients, and most certainly requires the passionate endorsement of strong senior leadership. Younger physicians and nurses are more likely to jump on board with such a philosophy, while older staff may think it’s unimportant to know the first name of the person they are operating on as long as the outcome is the best it can be. However, research supports the philosophy that when hospital staff are united in a vision of improving patient’s, it is a win-win with hospitals and patients seeing improved outcomes.
Follow-up: Comfort zone
Hospitals are not known for being comfortable. Most patients can’t wait to be released to go home. This is one area where healthcare organizations can make huge improvements without undergoing extensive systems audits. Hospitals that are doing this well incorporate elements that feel more like home, or like a spa. Many have actual spas in the hospital. These elements are where we think hospitals can make the biggest gains in the recovery phase:
- Better food. Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital grows organic produce in their own greenhouse. Whether or not a hospital goes quite that far, patients want options and they want food that is restaurant quality.
- Spa treatments and visual references can remove some of the antiseptic, cold feeling associated with hospitals. Whether or not there is an actual spa in the hospital, visual cues such as cozy, quiet lighting, warm but gentle colors, meditative music, water fountains, natural wood and stones and exotic flowers can work together to send a message of healing and well-being.
- Visitors are welcomed. Patients do better when they have friends and family by their side. Some hospitals have open visitor hours, which can be customized for each patient’s particular needs. For longer stays where visits may peter off, access to Skype right in the patient’s bedroom is a big plus. In maternity units, having cots for new fathers to spend the night alongside their newborn baby is becoming popular.
A recovery that is touched by personal comforts, making patients feel as at home as is possible, will leave a lasting impression on patients and their families.
There are many things to consider when looking at the patient treatment journey and how it may build patient loyalty. Some of the suggestions we have made require systemic philosophical shifts, while others can be addressed with simple departmental software updates. Regardless of how quickly or profoundly you may want to move your facility towards a customer-patient oriented model, ensuring that certain key elements stand out instantly and speak directly to the patients key needs will help build loyalty through a better patient experience.
Has your healthcare organization considered the experience of every stage of the customer journey? Which of these lessons could help improve it? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe to receive the latest Shikatani Lacroix insights in your inbox.