In the late 2000’s, the UCLA Health System faced a problem.  Although the organization was commonly recognized as a worldwide leader in providing outstanding medical care, patient satisfaction scores were consistently low – routinely hovering in the mid-30’s.  It’s not what one  might have expected from the same system that concurrently was recognized for having some of the country’s top healthcare facilities.

Sensing the dissonance that existed between the care it offered and the way its patients felt about that care, leaders decided that changes were needed.  Dr. David Feinberg, the then-CEO, targeted improved patient satisfaction scores as one of his key objectives.  And to accomplish that lofty goal, his team team set its sights on reimagining one component in particular – the patient experience.

As chronicled in the book Prescription for Excellence – Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System, the organization was able to not just increase its sub-par satisfaction scores but nearly perfect them.  Through its intensive experience-focused initiatives, UCLA saw scores increase to the high-90’s – and keep them there.

Maybe most surprising, UCLA didn’t rely on expensive technology or new facilities to drive its initiative.  It was built upon a surprisingly grassroots-style approach that leveraged its people and the relationship they had with patients.

The transformation of UCLA is not only a great example of experience in practice, it’s indicative of the future direction of healthcare providers.  As budgets continue to tighten and new options for patient care become available, providers of care are recognizing the value that this type of approach can provide.

Understanding the factors that are influencing the changes in healthcare can be valuable to all industries.  With so much uncertainty in the health space, in addition to the stakes involved in dealing with the health of patients, it’s great to know that it’s possible to institute these types of changes while not reducing the quality of the product being offered.  They’re not at odds – they’re complimentary.

With UCLA as the inspiration, here are are four principles on which patient experience will continue to be built.  They illustrate the higher level trends that all industries are likely to encounter.  Read these with your business in mind.  How might they be adapted to better serve your customers?

Make it Convenient – Customers today expect flexibility.  When it comes to healthcare, patients expect the same level of convenience with their doctors as they do with their retailers.  According to the January 2015 Global Consumer Pulse Research conducted by Accenture, 50% of patients indicated they would pay more for weekend or nighttime hours.  Further, 61% indicated they would actually switch providers for the ability to get an appointment quickly.  If the patient doesn’t feel that they’re a priority, they’ll seek care elsewhere.

Obtain Buy-in at All Levels – As Dr. David Feinberg put it, “…we all must champion and execute on the common goal of coming in every day to make sure we take care of the next patient.”  The implications are clear – getting all employees on board is essential to implementing an experience overhaul.  Executives and managers can do all they want to create a welcoming environment, but those changes can be dismantled in a moment by a front-line employee unconcerned with grander organizational initiatives.  Employees who feel ownership in the movement will be more motivated and committed to building a culture of experience.

Be an Open Book – The move to a social world has opened the floodgates on information.  Consumers want to know everything they can about their providers before entrusting them with their health.  Google reviews and social rating sites such as Healthgrades.com create spaces for patients to obtain information on providers, and the information isn’t always flattering.  Providers willing to voluntarily display information about themselves will most effectively communicate their humanity to prospective patients.  This can be done through website branding, content creation, speaking, etc.  Providers who are willing to open up and voluntarily let patients into their professional lives will create a level of trust that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

Form a Connection – The personal nature of healthcare, and the stress the process can put on patients, signals the need for more emotional engagement from caregivers.  According to the 2004 paper Healthcare Branding – Developing Emotionally-based Connections, “effective marketing for healthcare organizations should consider consumer emotions.”  This is because, as the authors put it, “Consumer sensitivity and emotional response play a major role in healthcare…”  Taking good care of a patient is no longer just about fixing the ailment – it’s about making them feel comfortable throughout the process.

Any one of these can be easily translated to another industry.  If they can be used successfully in healthcare, they can be used successfully anywhere.  Leaders should continue to look not only to healthcare, but to the trends emerging in other industries for inspiration in crafting and evolving experiences for their own customers.

Regardless of whether we call them patients or customers, audiences are coming to expect that they’ll be the beneficiaries of fulfilling interactions.  Healthcare or not, this is a challenge that will continue to lift the level of service for all buyers.

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