Imagine your typical healthcare experience: From the politely impersonal voice of the automated system asking where to direct your call to the impersonally polite physician with an average of 15 minutes to find out where it hurts and what to do about it.

There are treatment instructions you don’t understand and costs you didn’t expect.

There are endless adventures in waiting—for your call to be answered, for your name to be called, for your physician to enter the room.

And all around you signage issuing ALL-CAP commands: STAND BEHIND THIS LINE. HAVE YOUR INSURANCE CARD READY.

It’s no wonder that a 2016 GE Healthcare study found that “81% of patients are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience.” Which is really inexcusable considering it’s been more than 15 years since the notion of “patient centricity” entered our collective conversation on healthcare—just look at how much and how quickly the topic has been covered in books published over the past decade.

What’s gone wrong? How is that we’ve so strongly embraced the idea of patient centricity yet have made so little progress in transforming our healthcare industry to be more focused on the patient experience?

Dr. Adrienne Boissy, Chief Experience Officer at the Cleveland Clinic, has suggested that healthcare institutions would change the way they operate if only they were more curious about the patient perspective. In her keynote address at Medical Informatics World 2016, Dr. Boissy noted, “We have patients wait and we don’t tell them that they’re waiting and we don’t update them as time goes on. Nor am I aware of any organization that does. So how are we creating a solution to what may be the most basic of problems that is really important to the people we serve?”

The answer to this question—and to the broader question of how do we build more patient-centric institutions—is simple: Stop paying lip service to patient-centricity and start taking action on patient centricity as a design principle governing everything we do.

Recently, Mayfair Diagnostics, a private Canadian medical imaging network, achieved something truly unique: A state-of-the-art imaging clinic designed for and with the patients they serve—from the physical layout and design, to services and amenities, and communications and scheduling. Every detail is patient-inspired, co-created hand-in-hand with patients, radiologists, and staff.

Follow this four-step process to put patient centricity into practice the same way Mayfair did.

1. Frame the Problem

Mayfair worked with C Space, a customer agency, to help co-create the imaging clinic of the future.  To start this process, it was important to frame the problem in a way that would inspire action. After a series of interviews with senior leaders and staff—all with different, if not opposing, needs—we realized that the best way to build alignment around a shared vision would be to put the patient perspective rather than the business perspective at the center of the challenge. Instead of asking, “How can we create an imaging clinic that provides an outstanding patient experience?” we asked, “How can we turn an outstanding patient experience into an imaging clinic?” Framing the problem in this way allowed us to start from a place of insights and empathy for patients rather than a place of capabilities and constraints for the business.

2. Embrace the Art of Storytelling

Organizations everywhere are drowning in data. We have patient satisfaction data. We have NPS data. We have feedback forms. We have online reviews and social listening data. And while data is important, data alone is not enough to cultivate empathy and inspire people to challenge the status quo in the service of patients. This is the domain of storytelling—making meaning from disparate sources of data, spinning gold from piles of hay.

You need to gather all the requisite data. In the case of Mayfair that meant interviewing patients and staff; watching how people navigated the physical and social spaces of the clinics; and looking at businesses in other categories, from hotels to art museums to spas and wellness centers. In the end, we amassed a magnificent pile of insights and then we translated those insights into simple and provocative stories that humanized the problem and crystallized the opportunity to deliver outstanding, patient-centric experiences.

3. Unleash the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Stories are exceptional tools for aligning and inspiring people around the “what” and the “so what” of becoming more patient centric. The next step is to answer the question “now what?” To do so, unleash a spirit of entrepreneurialism within the organization by bringing together diverse groups of people to rapidly prototype and iterate on ideas to become more patient centric.

With Mayfair, we ran a full-day co-creation workshop that brought together patients, radiologists, technicians, office assistants, and senior leaders from the board and executive team. We built a shared understanding of what it means to have an outstanding experience and then generated dozens of ideas to transform that experience into an imaging clinic—from staff roles and responsibilities to interior design to patient education and advocacy.

4. Protect the Patient Perspective

When it comes to developing patient-inspired ideas into processes and solutions that are to be implemented by the organization, it’s all too common for leaders to trade off what’s right for the patient for what’s convenient for the business. Maybe it’s about money. Maybe it’s about time.

In our work with Mayfair, we were less concerned with decisions about whether to treat windows with smart glass or traditional blinds, or if they should roll out one customer service training methodology over another. Rather, we concerned ourselves with their commitment to delivering against the patient need for transparency and hospitality during clinical visits.

Mayfair’s new imaging clinic is emblematic of the future of healthcare, with everything from the infrastructure to the experience designed from the bottom-up around the needs of the patient. And the process we took in making this clinic a reality is instructive to organizations eager to move patient centricity from thoughts in our heads and words on our lips to walls we can touch and care we can feel.

  • David Franke

    David Franke is the Innovation Director at C Space. David helps companies find and develop great ideas that work. With nearly 20 years of experience in strategy and innovation consulting throughout the U.S. and Asia, David has partnered with leading companies and organizations in healthcare, financial services, CPG, consumer technology, and more to develop and launch new products, services and experiences that deliver against the needs of customers and businesses alike.

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