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The old rules of marketing and attracting patients are being cast aside like leaves in a storm. The acceleration of healthcare transformation into a personal technology-driven digital and convenient service point changes the hospital's rules to adopt a higher patient-centricity level.
But we are patient, and customer-focused is the cry.
But the answer to the question is not a simple as it may seem. There is no checklist of "if I do this and this, I will be a customer-focused hospital or health system, and the patient or consumer will think so too." The answer to the question is a two-part answer. And a hospital cannot arrive at the promised land of being a patient-focused healthcare enterprise unless it accomplishes part two of the solution.
Part One- The Patient as Health Care Consumer
Think of your own experiences when interacting with a customer-focused company. One is engaged and highly satisfied. Interaction with the company in gathering information is easy, accessible, and understandable, be it in-person, or regardless of device, in any digital and social media platform. The experience from the first contact to the last encounter is seamless, meaningful, and integrated—proactive recommendations tailored to your needs. During the engagement process, trust is built, and in the case of previous utilization, faith is reinforced and enhanced. The brand promise is delivered every time.
And most importantly, as this is perceptual, there is an emotional connection that all that matters is "me." At no time do I feel or have an experience that is all about the hospital and health system, making me secondary to what is taking place. The organization is responsive. Satisfaction scores exceed normalized standards.
A note regarding satisfaction: because the healthcare enterprise may have high satisfaction scores, remember that it only measures the customer perspective during care. It does not measure external influences or needs. High satisfaction scores, while important, do not make a patient-focused enterprise. Satisfaction is only one indicator of customer-centricity. Satisfaction is a process that can be studied, manipulated, changed, and improved.
Part Two- The Healthcare Enterprise
Sometimes, one must look at the past lessons to find future solutions, as healthcare evolves into a retail medicine, consumer-driven business model. So here is some reading homework: MARKOR: A Measure of Market Orientation, Ajay K. Kohli, Bernard J. Jaworski, Ajith Kumar, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Nov. 1993), pp. 467-477, American Marketing Association; Harvard Business Review, "To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple", Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, May 2012; And McKinsey & Company, "The consumer decision journey", David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder, and Ole Jergen Vetyik, June 2009.
Becoming a patient-centric enterprise requires two things. First is outward market orientation. The second is that the culture and behavior to support the organization, the customer-focused business model.
Customer centricity, in its pure and most straightforward form, it is a matter of market orientation. "Market orientation refers to the organization-wide generation of market intelligence about current and future needs of customers, dissemination of intelligence within the organization, and responsiveness to it." (Kohli, Jaworski & Kumar, 1993.)
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To become a patient-focused healthcare enterprise, and there are 20 indicators in the MARKOR scale to measure market orientation, these three areas can be considered to be the most important first steps:
1. Meeting with patients and the community to understand current and future needs.
2. An in-house market research department or the availability of external market research resources.
3. The ability to detect changes driven by patient and community preferences.
4. Annual surveys of patient and community perceptions that are different than satisfaction measurement.
1. Regular interdepartmental meetings on market trends and development.
2. Significant developments within the market or with critical customers are shared quickly.
3. Regular dissemination of satisfaction and perceptual data at all levels of the enterprise.
1. Recognition of changes in customers product or service needs.
2. Alignment of product or service development efforts with customer needs.
3. Regular, interdepartmental planning to respond to changes in the business environment.
4. Responsiveness to customer complaints.
5. Making a concerted effort to modify products or services to fit community needs.
According to Walker Research and the Walker Index, these characteristics are some of the key differentiating elements of customer-focused companies that are most likely to produce significantly better long term performance.
Systems to gather the intelligence to be an evolving patient and community-focused healthcare enterprise are one thing. Culture and behavior are another, and is more often than not, the potential stumbling block in hospitals and health systems becoming patient-focused.
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The culture and behavior of the healthcare enterprise influence and ultimately determines success. Just because the healthcare enterprise completes one or more of the above, or a select few of the 20 MARKOR scale attributes, that in and of itself doesn't make the healthcare enterprise customer focused. It only works if the organization's culture and behavior align with the underlying organizational beliefs and values.
Patient-centric organizational culture and behavior fall into four areas:
1. Committed to and takes action on being patient-focused.
2. Drives business and financial planning based on the needs of patients and the community.
3. Utilizes market data in decisions.
4. Business development is externally focused on meeting the needs of the community.
5. Marketing is a member of the senior team, trusted and is involved in all decisions.
6. Has a high level of tolerance for change.
7. Accepts innovation and has some tolerance for failure.
8. Low tolerance for and eliminates "sacred cows."
1. Interdepartmental cooperation takes place at all staff levels.
2. Formal and informal connections to departments.
3. Openness to ideas from other departments.
4. Focus is on meeting the needs of the customer/
5. Interdepartmental barriers to meet the needs of the customer is identified and eliminated.
6. Seamless handoff of customers between departments
1. A balanced approach to organizational structure.
2. Market-based incentive structures that focus on long-term company health.
3. Low level of "office politics."
4. The mechanism is in placed to share patient-related data
5. Continuous evaluation and training on organizational patient and community centeredness.
6. Strict standards regarding patient service competency skills for all positions.
7. All touch-points of the patient experience are integrated and seamless.
1. Organizations core values are widely shared and intensely held.
2. Senior management establishes norms of patient-focused behavior by their actions.
3. There is a culture socialization program for new employees.
4. Conveys a sense of identity.
8. Fosters behavioral consistency.
Patient centrality cannot be marketed into existence with campaigns and forays into the market with "patient-centric messages" or internal declarations of customer focus. Sooner or later, the patient and community will figure it out. Employees will see it as the flavor of the day and wait it out until the next great leadership vision comes around.
The patient-focused healthcare enterprise is a way of life that permeates the hospital or health system with a singular focus. It is outward-looking and responsive, not inwardly focused, and unresponsive.
Customer centricity is about changing the healthcare enterprise's DNA. The patient-focused healthcare enterprise is hard to create and takes a lot of work. It's not a box on a checklist and is not just satisfaction. But in the end, as healthcare transforms into a patient-centric market, it is the only way that the healthcare enterprise can survive. Cutting costs and going lean will only go so far in retail medicine.