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Delivering customer-centric healthcare: The role of the CMO

Nick Christiano

Nick Christiano, National Managing Partner, Healthcare for Tatum, a Randstad company

Now more than ever, patients want to have greater control over their care – from choosing their doctors to gaining more transparency when it’s time to pay the bill. And today’s healthcare organizations must be able to meet this changing expectation or struggle to keep up and remain competitive. But what can healthcare providers do to deliver the experience today’s patients’ demand, while remaining efficient and profitable?

The pressure to provide a more customer-centric environment without compromising quality or increasing cost is continually rising and places more emphasis on the chief medical officer (CMO) – to provide innovation and leadership to the medical staff.

The need for a new approach to healthcare

The need to deliver more personalized, high-quality service is driven by the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has given individuals more choice in the care they receive. The result is that the entire industry is becoming more similar to other consumer-driven industries; if patients are not happy with the service they receive, they can simply choose not to return.

Of course, making any large-scale change will be met with hesitance and resistance. The concept of a patient-centric model is not new; the Studer Group introduced this model about 20 years ago, with the intent to provide a model to improve clinical quality, patient perception of care and profitability. Though ahead of its time, the model met with considerable resistance, and many of those health systems experienced higher cost overruns without the anticipated benefits from reimbursement simply because the reimbursement structure was not in place to reward patient satisfaction. 

But times have changed, and the customer-centric model is becoming the norm rather than the exception. To ensure success, the CMO must be able to implement the strategies that minimize wait time and maximize the overall customer experience – all with an eye towards optimizing costs and improving quality of care. Getting to this state requires turning healthcare into more of a concierge service – by having scheduled timely appointments, minimized wait times and more flexibility, and by enabling patients to enter their information only once – thus ultimately treating patients courteously and as valued customers.

Still, such change won’t happen overnight. It requires strong leadership at the top and for the CMO to collaborate with their counterparts across the organization. This entails collaborating with the CEO to determine what needs to be changed, the CIO to identify the technology needed, the CISO to protect against security breaches and the chief nursing officer to ensure optimal bedside care. Doing so is key to delivering a more customer-centric approach and meeting changing patient demands.

Five steps to improve healthcare service

In addition to initiating change at the top, there are several steps the CMO can take to ensure their organization adopts a more customer-focused approach to delivering care. Consider the following five must-dos for any CMO to ensure their organizations deliver the utmost level of customer service, while taking a sustainable approach for the future:

  • Meet patients where they are: Healthcare consumers increasingly expect the same level of service they receive in other areas of life and business. Healthcare leaders must spearhead the process changes that meet this demand and be more accommodating to patients by offering greater flexibility, extended hours, home visits and tele-health programs.
  • Minimize wait times, maximize service: There is perhaps nothing more frustrating for patients than having an appointment, but being forced to wait to see the doctor. Fixing this perennial issue entails robust scheduling that enables the organization to set appointments in literal points in time, allowing patients to enter information once and treating patients courteously and as valued customers.
  • Set the tone for employees: To make such large-scale changes, CMOs must work with other C-suite executives to identify what needs to be transformed, why those changes are needed, the tools that will facilitate the transition and how each employee can contribute to delivering customer-centric care. Also crucial is communicating these changes effectively throughout the organization.
  • Revamp cost structures: CMOs must be able to meet two key patient objectives – to keep them healthy and provide service at reasonable costs. This means designing a fundamentally different operating model and driving down costs for activities that do not produce value while enhancing quality for their target patient population.
  • Seek outside help when needed: Healthcare leaders might not have all the senior-level capability necessary to lead their organizations through such a large transformation. Leveraging the help of an executive talent provider to help ensure the organization has the support and expertise to deliver a more customer-centric experience will set them on the right path.

Providing the healthcare today’s patients expect

Across the board, today’s consumers make their buying decisions based on how they connect with a company or brand, and this now holds true for the healthcare industry as well. If patients are made to wait or don’t understand how their bill was calculated, they will seek treatment with another provider.

CMOs must convey this new patient-focused vision throughout their organizations and explain what the future operating model will look like – and how to get there. Success will be contingent upon having the right tools, technology and team in place. With qualified leadership at the top to guide these changes, the right technology that can facilitate the transformation and the best team to carry out these initiatives, healthcare organizations can work toward making healthcare more customer friendly and meet the needs of today’s empowered patients.

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