HIMSS23: Are they patients or customers?

The patient experience is different than the customer experience

HIMSS sign | Courtesy of HIMSS | © Lotus Eyes Photography

Courtesy of HIMSS | © Lotus Eyes Photography

In health care, there has been a shift from thinking about people as patients to customers. But Amy Goad, managing director, Sendero Consulting, says you need to see them as both depending on where they are in their care journey. Goad presented at HIMSS23 in Chicago.

When the person is in proactive mode looking for episodic care, such as for a physical, it is more of a customer experience, where you are looking for convenience. On the other hand, if you need reactive care, such as when the person receives a cancer diagnosis, it is more about a traditional patient experience. In this phase, the person is more interested in finding the highest quality and things like wait times are less of a factor if it means receiving a better outcome.

For example, a female might be a “customer” if she is in good health and is only seeing providers on occasions for routine care or check-ups. If that female becomes pregnant, her experience shifts to more of that of a patient as she spends more and more time in the health system as the baby grows. After the baby is born, the female might shift back to more of a customer as the care for herself and the baby moves back to routine.

Goad says both experiences are distinctly different, but equally important. The medical groups that can build long-term commitment through the customer experience will benefit when those people need more than routine care, Goad says.

There are three questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I understand on what end-to-end care journey is?
  • Are my patient and customer experiences balance? Recent trends are for too much effort to be put into the customer experience and the patient experience may be suffering.
  • How do I know if efforts are effective?

The obstacles to overcome are resources, because there are only so many people and so much money to go around, and there are often competing priorities. Additionally, people are tired of the amount of change sweeping through health care.

But by creating a full team effort to address the person in the right way at the right time, it builds long-term loyalty.

“You have to figure out what is most important to that individual at that point in time,” says Goad. “Take cancer patient for instance, if they are in the middle of treatment, they probably don’t want to hear about how you can help with their bills. You need to know what the person needs at that point of time, and what resources you have in system.”

The burden does not have to fall on physicians. For more of the customer-related tasks, other non-medical staffers can handle that.

One physician in the session pointed out that he doesn’t see customers, he only sees patients, and that it’s not about selling people something.

The counter-argument is that with the competition coming into healthcare in the form of Amazon, Walmart, and CVS, health care has transitioned to be more customer focused with an emphasis on convenience.

“That’s why I make the argument that the patient and customer experiences are different, but we must not lose sight that the doctor patient relationship is unique,” Goad says. “The patient is vulnerable and needs your expertise. You want the person to feel empowered in their journey.”

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