The digital affinity of patients and the expectations they have when it comes to health care are on the rise. The increasing pressure of competition, for patients as well as for qualified employees, poses a major challenge to the established health care system; an even brighter spotlight must be focused on patients.
Does “patient” simultaneously mean “customer”?
How truly important is it to take a patient’s needs seriously? After all, people with health problems are more or less forced to “buy” the product and have almost no other choice. Patients who are dissatisfied with the “product” are simply out of luck. For decades, the focus was on the product, i.e., the treatment of diseases, and a status quo of this duration turns an adequate rethinking in the direction of customer centricity into a lengthy process.
The Society of General Internal Medicine (SGAIM) classified patients on an equal footing with clients in 2017. Today, digitalization is leaving health care providers with no other option but to recognize that the introduction of new products and services is essential to meet patients’ rising expectations for flawless service.
Patient centricity as the basis for digitalization
The expectations, needs, and wishes of patients have a significant influence on the product development process. Digital products and services should be optimally designed to accompany the patient journey and include all touchpoints so that patients are retained over the long term. One example: digital patient records that can be viewed by authorized parties such as patients, their authorized relatives, practices, or hospitals, and insurance companies, regardless of time and location. Equally important are online patient portals and related apps that can be used to make appointments or process prescriptions and referrals. Thanks to video telephony, diagnoses and follow-up appointments to check on progress can be carried out more simply. Remote consultations of this nature could help to mitigate some of the impact of physician shortages in rural areas.
Services are interchangeable; patient relationships are not
Instead of focusing on products and services, health care stakeholders must actively shape patients’ experiences and touchpoints with their own “brand.” The key points here should be interactions and a positive patient experience that strengthen and characterize the patient relationship in the long term. The overriding goal is a seamless and integrated (i.e., cross-stakeholder) patient experience. Consistent address and surprise/differentiation effects help to ensure positive memories and efficient molding of the experience based on patient needs.
Satisfied patients come back — and recommend the service to others
Satisfied patients are also highly likely to recommend their health care partner to friends, relatives, and colleagues. Physician-patient relationships are some of the best examples of customer loyalty, and the strongest ones start with service orientation. An excellent patient experience is crucial to whether potential patients will use the services in the future.
Improving the end-to-end patient experience
Health care stakeholders are well served by understanding patient needs in their full and relevant depth. The end-to-end patient experience involves many touchpoints and interactions between the patient and various health care players. Every single one offers an opportunity to have a positive impact on the patient's perception of quality and value.
The patient journey describes the journey of a patient from the point of view of a health care player; a hospital, for instance, looks at the hospitalization period (including aftercare) while a health insurance company focuses primarily on screening and preventive care.
In other words, a patient journey is significantly more than the time the patient spends in the hospital. As patients move through the health care system, their motives, experiences, and feelings are viewed against the setting of all the touchpoints and the parties involved at each point — physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, etc. Patient journeys are a suitable perspective both for identifying existing problems in the patient experience and for planning new patient services.
Step into your patients’ shoes — now!
Companies that literally turn hierarchical and product-centric mindsets on their head and promote a completely patient-centric mindset are above all sustainably realizing their own digital transformation. The key is to provide patients with the right messages at the right time, in the right place, in the relevant channels, and in the right way so that high patient satisfaction and loyalty are achieved over the long term.
Anyone who wants to see the transformation become reality must have the courage to break through legacy structures. Now!
An article by Carolina Schiefer, Pascal Frank and Christian Hammann.