Patient Experience – whose role? Everyone’s.

tyler tullis

Michael Dean
Account Director

Oct 19, 2018

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From the outside, the responsibilities of hospital departments seem clear. Physicians and members of the clinical care staff provide services. Customer Service makes sure patients are informed on where to go, where to park, and how to pay. And Marketing tells the community know how good their staff is at providing those services.

Under the surface, however, things are a bit more complex. Who is in charge of how people feel once they’re inside the walls of the hospital? Where does the responsibility of patient experience fall within a hospital organizational chart?

Customer service seems like a good answer. But they really just help make appointments and assist in billing. Are they qualified to lead the improvement of the full patient experience?

What about physicians and clinical leaders? They’re the experts in delivering care. They have time to think about this and probably remember that optional patient experience seminar in between their family med and internal medicine rotations years ago.

Maybe it’s Marketing’s responsibility. They’re good at understanding the consumer, but they typically stay out of the actual service of delivering care. No one’s exactly sure what they do, actually.

The truth is, patient experience isn’t any department’s sole responsibility in a hospital. It’s everyone’s. And because of that ambiguity, patient experience is often mixed. Healthcare is consistently ranked as one of the industries with the worst customer experience, behind only government and telecommunications.

Administration, clinical care, and marketing departments are often so disparate and siloed, it often takes a major initiative from the top to get them all to pull the same way and speak the same language. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As marketers, there’s a huge opportunity to take a leadership role in this space, get out of your comfort zone, and collaborate with team members you normally wouldn’t work with.

High Impact, Low Cost

Cultivating a great patient experience provides more long-term marketing value than the last TV commercial that cost most of this year’s twice-cut budget. And prioritizing patient experience requires minimal investment while yielding tremendous benefit. The importance of word of mouth isn’t a new development in healthcare marketing, but so few understand how to foster it.

Improving patient experience is not that difficult. It’s not some huge, time-intensive, or costly commitment. It just requires some coordination and a different perspective than most organizations consider.

It’s the Little Things

As Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer from world renowned design firm IDEO, points out, it’s the tiny things that can make a huge amount of difference. When Paul’s team was hired to analyze the patient experience at a large healthcare system in Minnesota, they strapped a camera to a team member’s head and showed their C-Suite clients a 7-minute video of him staring at polystyrene ceiling tiles. After presenting it from this perspective, it clicked for the organization and a cross-departmental team of staff (not the design firm) took responsibility to make several adjustments.

  • By adding bike mirrors to gurneys, patients could see their surroundings and the nice person that is pushing them down the hall–creating a small human interaction.
  • Decorated ceiling tiles for a more interesting experience.
  • Changed floor tiles in patient rooms so it signified a warmer environment to make patients and families feel more comfortable and at home.
  • Placed white boards in every room for family to leave messages.

All of these are tiny solutions that make a huge impact.

(if you’re unfamiliar with IDEO, or this classic TED Talk, watch Paul’s full talk below.)

Be the Patient

Does strapping a camera on your head seem a little extreme? Remember that all those solutions came internally from the hospital staff. The first step to improving your patient experience is assembling a multidisciplinary team to be your change drivers. Try to recruit members from different departments and specialties that have different experience levels, backgrounds and ages.

Once you’ve done that, challenge your team to identify tiny solutions that make your patients and visitors, just a little more comfortable.

Here are some little things you can do to get your staff in the right mindset to find your own tiny solutions.

  • Park where your patients park for a week
  • Ask a friend or family member unfamiliar with the hospital to guide you through the hospital by using its signage
  • Pay close attention to how patients are transported (and who is transporting them–patients get more facetime with these people than their physicians!)
  • Spend a day using an empty patient room as your office. Is it a pleasant environment?

By breaking down departmental silos and focusing on the little things, in time you will see improvements in your patient experience without spending a dime of your marketing budget.

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