4 Ways to Fix the Ailing Patient Experience

If there’s one thing we’re sure of, it’s that the healthcare experience for patients is sick and not getting any better. Almost every other industry has upgraded its customer experience, and it is time for healthcare to catch up.

Today you can browse real estate and analyze lending rates online instead of going to a bank. You can even order, pay for and track your pizza from baking to delivery without speaking to a single person or moving off your couch. Yet, in healthcare you have to decode insurance plans to determine the best one for you and your family, wait days, weeks, and even months to have certain procedures done and receive bills months after a visit, explaining what didn’t get covered.

Prophet conducted a nationwide survey to better understand the patient experience across the healthcare industry, and we found:

  • 45% of patients surveyed believe “the healthcare system is broken.”
  • 35% feel “doctors largely provide an impersonal service and have no time for their patients.”
  • 41% believe the healthcare system is more concerned about money than people’s well-being.

Clearly, patients are unhappy with the current state of the healthcare industry, and companies are not tackling the issue with enough urgency. Healthcare, pharmaceutical and insurance companies can and should be doing more to meet the needs of their patients. A great place to start is to draw inspiration from innovative companies such as Mint, Amazon and Nest. These companies consistently provide excellent consumer experiences by delivering on four key attributes: Convenience, customization, empathy and motivation. Here’s how healthcare companies can do the same:

1. Convenience

Brands no longer have any excuse to inconvenience their customers. Inaccessibility, lack of communication, or delays in service have no place in a modern world. And yet, unsurprisingly, consumers don’t see the healthcare industry as seamless or accessible. Changing policies, lack of access and confusing prices make the industry anything but convenient. But healthcare brands can still make a positive impact. By focusing on ways to make healthcare experiences more convenient, companies can change the landscape and bring the industry into the 21st century.

Young companies such as Pager have the potential to be major disrupters in the healthcare industry by offering a more convenient experience. Pager is a mobile app that allows users to check out doctors nearby and request a home visit, then wait for a doctor to confirm. When they do, they arrive within two hours, thus enabling house calls at the tap of a button. New York City residents can skip the wait and hassle of emergency rooms and the busy doctor’s office and get care in the comfort of their home, office or hotel right away.

There is too much ease in the modern world to ask customers to work for your business. Like it or not, today’s world is all about access—to information, to support and to options. Brands that have customers expend extra effort for these basics only inspire frustration. Aligning to customers’ expectations tells them your healthcare brand lives in the 21st century.

2. Customization

Health is personal. Whether it’s your genetics, eating habits or response to medication, your health is a collection of activities and behaviors that is anything but cookie-cutter. So why is it that so many healthcare solutions are one-size-fits-all? For example, should everyone hit the gym at least three times a week? What about taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart disease? Can these types of generalized healthcare recommendations possibly take into account all the nuance and complexity that make us who we are?

Tailored solutions that respect our individuality seem too few and far between in healthcare. But customization offers a clear way for brands to engage more deeply and effectively with the people they serve.

When patients are a part of customizing their healthcare, whether it’s in sharing something personal to inform a procedure or being given options for medical intervention, they feel their unique perspective is being taken into consideration. This makes people feel more comfortable and open to sharing personal information. And the more knowledge healthcare professionals have, the better care they are able to provide.

Customization is a powerful tool for getting to know your patients better, adjusting to their unique situation and ultimately providing care that is more personal, effective and informative.

3. Empathy

To create meaningful connections with consumers, companies need to learn empathy. As author and researcher Brené Brown puts it, “Empathy is feeling with people.” The act of feeling with people couldn’t be more important than in healthcare. Patients are not just numbers or collections of symptoms. Patients are people.

Prophet’s study found 41% of U.S. citizens said they believed the healthcare system is more concerned about money than people’s well-being. Unfortunately, in an industry that focuses on care, patients feel abandoned. It is a worrisome reality that can lead to less trust in the system and create barriers to a healthier populous.

Creating a meaningful connection with patients takes time, energy and creativity. But, as an organization, showing that you can feel with people can make a dramatic difference. Patients that feel connected to brands reciprocate that connection through their loyalty. Feeling understood drives feelings of trust and comfort that few other things can. With that comfort, meaningful connections are established and long-term relationships flourish.

Empathy can also fight off confusion and misinformation by creating mutual understanding. This allows for more trust and clarity on both sides of the healthcare coin.

4. Motivation

Oftentimes, people know exactly what they need to do, but they don’t do it. Sometimes it’s not a knowledge gap, but a motivation gap. Most of us can admit—to ourselves, if not our healthcare providers—that sometimes we prefer to stay on the couch, binge-watch Netflix and eat delicious junk food that will clog our arteries. Being proactive about our health takes effort. And the key to finding that motivation is positive reinforcement.

The healthcare industry should use more positive reinforcement of healthy behavior. Healthcare brands that apply positive reinforcement can gain more engagement, more recommendations and contribute to a healthier populace. It’s not about holding people to unreasonable expectations regarding their health; it’s about acknowledging the reality of our negative behaviors and positively encouraging people to change them.

One place we can feel the least motivated to adopt healthy behaviors is in the workplace. This was the insight gathered by Adam Bosworth, Co-founder of Keas, an employee health and wellness program that combines social media and online games to create happier, healthier workforces. Keas participants get points, badges and achievements for completing tasks and supporting their coworkers in achieving their goals. Keas believes that to successfully change behavior, people need to be effectively engaged around common, meaningful goals. It uses gaming mechanics, social interaction and small groups to motivate people to achieve their health goals.

This kind of motivation has been received extremely well by consumers, and is a clear indication that when motivation is in short supply, healthcare brands can step in and make a big difference.

Pharma’s Big Opportunity

Consumers think of their healthcare experience holistically, and the players in the healthcare space—payers, providers and pharmaceutical companies—need to start doing the same. In order for the patient experience to truly improve, healthcare companies need to reach across their traditional silos and work together for the benefit of the patient. This new approach provides an opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to be more engaged and influential in the patient experience, and build stronger connections with consumers.

One way pharmaceutical companies can get involved in the patient experience beyond just the sale of medicine is to create and share content that helps consumers manage their conditions and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Pharmaceutical companies can also build platforms for people with similar conditions to engage with each other. This creates a valuable opportunity for consumers to connect with and motivate each other as they manage their health. It is also a way for the pharmaceutical company to receive important customer feedback, which will increase the company’s understanding and empathy for its customers.

Digital is Primary

Moreover, digital channels are becoming the primary way consumers find services and treatment options. Pharmaceutical companies should leverage this technology to create more convenient and personalized experiences for consumers.

Opportunities to improve the patient experience are abundant across the healthcare industry. Although there have been strides made by some companies, no one has cracked the patient experience code yet. By learning from the success in other industries and applying the four key attributes that make up an excellent customer experience, the healthcare industry can redefine itself in the eyes of consumers. The companies who commit to delivering a superior customer experience will turn patients into loyalists and ultimately drive long-term success and sustainability.

  • Paul Schrimpf

    Paul Schrimpf is an Associate Partner at Prophet, a brand strategy and marketing consultancy. For more of Prophet’s thinking on pharmaceutical sales and marketing and other industry-related issues, visit www.prophet.com/ healthcare.

  • Josh Epperson

    Josh Epperson is an Associate at Prophet. Josh is a copywriting and concepting associate in Prophet’s Richmond office. He leverages his journalistic experience, creative passion and strategic perspective to help brands transform ideas into well-articulated realities.


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