He told me healthcare was different – patients are not customers

The recent HDM KLASroom series shared many patient experience success principles, from a top down patient-centered culture to reaching beyond patient care and engaging patients’ families. Change means opening our minds to new thinking, like patients are customers – consumers of healthcare, not only patients.

This article is the second in a series providing observations, shared lessons and key learning principles from the HDM KLASroom virtual event.

In my early years in healthcare, I encountered a chief medical officer who was offended when I used the word “customer” to describe his patients. He told me healthcare was different – patients are not customers.  

Even as he was offended, so was I. I was a patient, and my profession involved empowering customers to seek the best information to buy the best products and services, to best serve themselves and their families. 'Customer' isn’t a pejorative, and I certainly thought I was a consumer of healthcare, not only a patient.  

"until more institutions embrace the term 'customer' and its associated implications and definitions, many patients and families will continue to feel powerless"

But he was right – back then and even in most cases today, I don’t have access to information that would empower me to make the best healthcare decisions for me or my family. I still rely on the 'Father-Knows-Best' scenario, where the doctor will see you when he is ready, sitting on a padded exam table to be told what is wrong with me.  I then get a bill after the fact that I don’t understand, and then when I want to get a second opinion, it's difficult, pretty much flat-out hard to find the right care plan, the right specialist, at the right price. 

The most frustrating thing in all of this is that, until more institutions embrace the term 'customer' and its associated implications and definitions, many patients and families will continue to feel powerless. But In the last couple years, I have started to hear clinical leaders and healthcare administrators refer to patients as customers, as well as use terms that I have not heard used or applied before. And it is so refreshing! 

Kelsi Anderson, North Memorial Health

Insights from 15 health systems sharing approaches to improve patient experience.

Health Data Management and KLAS Research recently brought together 15 health systems that are pioneering approaches intended to improve the patient experience.  The HDMKLASroom featured how these institutions are leaning into customer-centric terms, principles and applications. Here are some customer-centric approaches and trends we hope to see adopted by many more organizations. 

1. PFAC or Patient and Family Advisory Councils, also known as ethnographic focus groups.

Caroline DeLongchamps, MUSC Health

Going beyond the typical focus groups and looking to leverage these PFACs to partner with patients in their care, to engage in information sharing and knowledge sharing, so that when patients come to seek care, they are empowered. This type of work with PFACs enables the whole care team to move from transitional care to relational care. 

2. Patient Personas, also known as Customer Personas.

Emily Paxman, Dan Czech KLAS Research; Christopher, Stalling Banner Health

Banner Health, a 30-hospital health system, isn’t a typical health system. Over time, it has differentiated and improved its process for delivering care. But somewhere down the path, it has seen the need to provide more support for patients – making care easier so life could be better for patients and their families has become their mantra. As an extension of that, developing a persona has created a common language among care teams and administrators.  

3. Customer Experience (CX), also known as Patient Experience (PX).

Kirsten Royster, Novant Health; Alan Dubovsky, Cedars-Sinai; Dr. Joel Meir, University of Richmond; Paul Jaglowski, Feetrail; with Fred Bazzoli, HDM

A trend that’s started over the last five to 10 years called experience management has brought with it a renewed data-driven lens into customer needs and experiences. This genre of data has started to make its way into healthcare – think of it as patient exit surveys on steroids. Organizations like Novant Health, a 15-hospital health system, see that the patient expects them to know them across venues of care, not just in a particular venue of care. Pioneering organizations like Novant that have started to implement this data only recently are starting to see some wins. 

4. Social Determinants of Health, also known as Consumer Societal data. 

Jaffer Traish, findhelp; Jamie Dirksen, Trinity Health; Natasha Dravid, Camden Coalition; Erine Gray, findhelp; with Mitchell Josephson, HDM

Consumer brands and retailers alike know more about our day-to-day lives as consumers than we would like. The concept of knowing the consumer outside of the four walls of hospital took hold in the early 1990s and continues to be refined today. Today in healthcare, as integrations with EHRs and HIEs progress, the opportunity to include social data to inform care givers of at-risk populations, or preventive care opportunities abound. These integrations, and data feeds are just starting to become a reality for leading health systems like Trinity Health and care collaborations like the Camden Coalition. Using technology like findhelp, it starts to become a reality to watch trends and the effects of social determinants and then move to a proactive state of caring for patients. 

Watch for our part-three wrap-up in this series - a look at the ways pioneering organizations are setting vision and partnering with industry, working toward an end in which clinical care plans are coupled with delighting the patient in their care journey. 

Read part 1 of this series: My 'aha moment' on patient experience

The HDM KLASroom

Visit the HDM KLASroom and see the full presentations plus great supporting learning content from the series: Traversing the Patient Experience Ecosystem.

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