Early in my career, I worked in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) marketing. A “classically trained marketer” was the term to describe these brand or product managers. Though times have changed considerably since those days, we always put the customer at the center of all business decisions. As a product’s general manager, we viewed all engineering, packaging, research, advertising, PR, sales training and new product decisions through the lens of the customer.
After undergoing a shoulder replacement surgery this winter, I reflected on ways the healthcare industry could learn from their CPG counterparts in providing patient-centered care. While physician reputation and patient safety are still top priorities for consumers and health systems alike, a more consumer-driven landscape is on the near horizon.
1. Create the product or service with the customer in mind.
In the CPG world, we did lots both primary and secondary research. We facilitated focus groups, conducted quantitative studies, and combed through Nielsen data. When we introduced a line extension, named a product or launched an ad campaign, we got input from consumers first. We made well-informed decisions to help ensure the strongest ROI for the biz.
Health care providers tend to surveys patients after an appointment or procedure. In fact, my mom received 10 different surveys to assess her experience after knee replacement surgery last summer (I only received one from my provider). I appreciate that providers are trying to better understand the “patient journey.” Yet such questionnaires are focused on patient satisfaction after an appointment or procedure — with a clinical focus — rather than than a comprehensive view of a patient’s experience from beginning to end. Thus the value of such data is limited for true patient engagement.
Surveying patients after-the-fact is not putting the customer first. To truly shape an experience, you need to get feedback from consumers before, during and after a brand interaction, evaluating all touch points along the journey.
2. Make it easier to access the product or service.
There are a myriad of ways to book a hotel, flight or monthly wax appointment online or via a smartphone. Amazon has re-defined the way consumers shop for products and services, making a purchase as easy as one simple click.
Some health systems, but not all, have patient portals to schedule appointments. Without these, the process typically entails a phone-call, lengthy message and callback. For those seeking second or third opinions, like I did, the process is further exacerbated. Not only did I have to haul around x-rays and MRI records to physicians whose electronic systems didn’t integrate, there but there was extensive wait time to see doctors.
Frustration in making appointments is not putting the customer first. Surveys suggest that patients prefer making appointments online via a mobile device and there are many companies offering this technology to healthcare providers.
3. Over-inform the patient to improve outcomes.
From appliances to automobiles, manufacturers provide a wealth of information on how to use their product, set it up, fix it and enjoy it. If I have a problem or question, I can make a call, ask a bot, or send an email. And I usually hear back from customer service pretty quickly. There is information overload before and after I try and buy.
For a $44,000 medical procedure, however, all I received from my doctor was a short stack of faded copies on how to take care of my shoulder post-operatively. Don’t get me wrong. I adored my doctor and was very happy with the care he provided. I simply would have preferred texts and email reminders about laying off Advil, abstaining from food, rehabbing my shoulder and other important considerations in expediting my recovery.
Fader paper copies is not putting the customer first. If doctors really want to improve outcomes, they should err on the side of information overload. To ensure patients are informed, providers may need to utilize paper, emails and text messages (after all, we’re a bit groggy after a surgery). Companies like Xealth are making it easier for doctors to prescribe information and streamline this process right from an EHR.
3. Make Price Comparison a Given, not a Hidden.
CPG companies can recite competitive prices and promotions in their sleep. They know if I like to buy Sara Lee or Killer Dave’s bread, and will sneak me a coupon so I’ll switch to the competition. Amazon.com knows more about my shopping history than I do, recommending products I didn’t even know I wanted.
Healthcare providers have made it virtually impossible to determine the cost of medical treatment. When I was selecting a provider for my shoulder, I narrowed the list down through my insurance company. Then I attempted to price compare different surgeons by painstakingly calling and talking to PA’s, nurses and financial folks. Most admitted, however, the quotes did not include anesthesiology and hospital fees (the latter alone was $34K).
It wasn’t until after the procedure that I really knew how much my medical care cost — and what portion I would be required to pay. In healthcare, we rarely know costs until after-the-fact.
Confusion over fees is not putting the customer first.Though pricing healthcare is much more complex than putting a bar code on Coke and Pepsi, there needs to be greater fee transparency before we make an investment in the healthcare we receive. Prices vary significantly, and it’s our right to know how much.
4. Offer payment plans to ease the pain.
You typically get a mortgage loan when you buy a new house. To purchase a new pair of Prada boots or a sweater at Banana Republic, you might resort to a credit or store card. The makers of consumer products make it too easy to purchase their goods.
Healthcare providers typically send paper statements to collect on services rendered and sadly, you usually receive separate invoices from different players in the process. Often the insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB) might be more accurate. I am still making monthly payments on my hospital bill though no one ever offered a formal installment plan. This practice is costly and cumbersome for hospitals, especially if patients get overwhelmed and decide not to pay at all.
One option to pay bills is not putting the customer first. Hospitals should offer a service like VisitPay, where patients pay their bills online much like credit cards. Flexible payment plans should be as part of a system’s operating procedure.