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Powering the patient experience

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Michael O’Neil, Chief Executive Officer, GetWellNetwork

Patients and their families have choices when it comes to their health care. And just like any other consumer, they’re shopping for the best prices, the best service and, more importantly, a provider they can trust and return to again and again.

As more individuals and families have high-deductible health plans and pay more out-of-pocket expenses, they demand a better experience. Chains of urgent care centers and retail stores have entered the provider market and now compete against long-standing hospitals and physician practices. Value, convenience and quality remain critical but it’s time to think bigger. We need to understand how each of these core elements of care contributes to the overall experience a patient has when interacting with our health systems.

In addition to delivering quality care and outcomes for the patients and families they serve, providers are increasingly expected to optimize their patients’ entire experience. I believe we can turn to our everyday retail and consumer experiences for guidance because health care providers are competing for loyalty with the same comprehensiveness, consistency and flexibility of services and options that businesses like Amazon, Starbucks and Uber promise.

When you or I shop at Amazon, for example, we can expect to find many of the items we need and want all in one place. While this doesn’t translate exactly to the health care experience, organizations that consolidate many services into the same or nearby facilities – specialists, labs, pharmacy, rehabilitation, ER – make it easier for health consumers to stay with and buy from the same provider. More importantly, patient data gathered from a history of experiences lets providers anticipate what their patients need often before they realize it themselves.

Next, when you visit any Starbucks retailer from Boston to San Diego or Riyadh to Shanghai, you can count on having a consistent experience. You can expect your Iced Caramel Macchiato to taste pretty much the same at any location, and this keeps you coming back because you trust that your experience will always be just as pleasant. Health consumers have the same expectations when it comes to their care, but what they need is much more personal and much more powerful. They’re looking for someone they can literally trust with their lives.

Finally, what can we learn from a company like Uber? Uber has transformed urban transportation by putting consumers in control. Now, when I want to go somewhere, I can decide whether I want to ride with a group or go by myself, or whether I’m more comfortable in a little Fiat or a fancy town car. I don’t have to stand out in the snow or rain or heat hoping that someone takes pity and stops to pick me up. I can go when I want, where I want and how I want. If health care providers can find a way to put patients in control of their own care, we can revolutionize their entire experience.

Building consumer trust and loyalty

Trust is the goal of any consumer experience. Imagine how powerful it is when a patient or family member says to you, “I trust you with my life” or, “I trust you with my daughter’s life. I trust you to deliver the care I need, and I will never go to a doctor or facility that I don’t trust.” That’s the power of the patient experience.

Exceptional patient experience builds trust, which improves outcomes and, ultimately, increases loyalty. When patients become activated in their care, they participate in their recovery and well-being. They engage with their doctors, clinicians and caregivers to take their medications as prescribed, show up for appointments and change behaviors. Plus, they keep returning to the same hospital or health system whenever they or their family members need care.

My colleagues and I have spent the past 16 years working with some of the most progressive health care providers in the nation to research, build and test how to engage patients in their care. The work is incredibly complex and challenging, but the formula is fairly straightforward. There are three proven elements for achieving an exceptional patient experience.

The first is to create real connections with patients. When we attract, entertain and educate patients at any point along the continuum of care, we can begin to help them take part in their recovery, teach them how to stay healthier and reduce unnecessary readmissions. When we begin treating the patient instead of the disease or condition, we begin to change health care.

The second element is to deliver patient insights in the moment. Clinical and claims data are not enough to truly know patients, let alone keep them in your network. The patient voice is an essential but often overlooked element of the care experience. When we listen to the patient, we gather an understanding of their level of engagement and satisfaction. Then, we can securely deliver that information to the right care team member at the right time to improve the patient experience.

The third is to transform care through a new delivery model. Technology and data are valuable tools, but they have to be supported by clinical workflows designed around patient needs. It takes people, processes and change management expertise to build a care environment that engages patients effectively at each point of their journey. A consistent, exceptional experience for every patient, every time, translates into whether or not they decide to return to and recommend your organization. Standardizing this type of experience across the enterprise is what builds loyalty.

Listening to what patients say and do

Listening to patients is essential, not only what they tell us about themselves and their health goals, but also how they interact with all of the key systems at your facility: food service, staff communication, environmental controls, and more. At GetWellNetwork, we now have more than 1,000 live integrations and 150 Interactive Patient Care (IPC) interfaces with 46 different health IT vendor systems. Each of these systems can tell us something very unique and meaningful about the patients they serve. When we learn as much as we can about our patients, we can then tailor the educational content they need where they need it: at work, at home, at school, or back in a hospital or outpatient facility.

Finally, innovation is key to expanding the possibilities of the patient experience. Technology that can quickly and seamlessly incorporate the best new patient and provider tools will elevate care and attract new health consumers. Paying attention to the work of start-ups and technology innovators in virtual reality, predictive algorithms, health analytics and community-building platforms, for instance, could one day transform the way a pediatric cancer patient learns to defeat his or her greatest enemy.

Patient satisfaction and improved health and operational outcomes will always be important objectives, but creating an optimal patient experience and cultivating loyalty are the new realities of health care. It’s time to turn the world around to face the patient, listen to what they’re telling us and help them live their best lives.