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Treat Me Like a Person Not a Number—The Total Patient Experience is What Matters

January 22, 2015

Health care leaders, some more reluctantly than others, are joining a growing national conversation about treating patients as consumers. To be direct, they are facing the fact that the hospital community is not very consumer-friendly when it comes to the total patient experience.

How can we deliver the most personal service there is, and not be consumer-friendly? During a recent American Hospital Association event, Providence CEO and President Rod Hochman, M.D., laid it out, “We’re not putting them at the center of everything that has to be done.”

For a very long time we have delivered care to patients, not with them.

We did not think of a patient as part of the care process. We did not provide information that gave them choices. We said, “This is the problem and we will do xyz to fix it.” We believed that delivering a good outcome equated to a good patient experience.

That approach to care must change. As individuals are asked to spend more of their own money on health care services, they have heightened expectations about health care value and the customer experience. Consumer expectations in health care are higher, and personalized service has become a standard for “quality.”

In 2014, HAP commissioned comprehensive consumer market research to help our members better understand the public’s thinking about Pennsylvania hospitals and how they deliver health care. The results tell us that hospitals need to deliver care based on the consumer’s idea of value––the total experience––not the hospital’s idea of value.

Health care providers measure value through cost and quality outcomes. The health care consumer expects quality, wants transparency in costs, but most important, wants an emotionally satisfying, compassionate, high-touch experience.

HAP’s research told us that consumers:

  • Are confused by all the changes in health care
  • Want to know they can pay for their care and they want to know costs up front
  • Do not know who is on their side…do not feel in charge of their care
  • Often––more often than we like––view the hospital experience as disorienting and dehumanizing

The total consumer experience begins well before the episode of care. That experience includes a front-end focus on helping them make informed decisions through transparency on quality and costs. Studies show financial interactions are just as important as clinical care in determining patient satisfaction.

Additionally, the total consumer experience is affected by every point of contact, from the registration staff and housekeeping personnel to the entire clinical team. This requires a cultural commitment starting from the top. Administrators, staff, physicians, nurses, board members, and volunteers must all pledge to put the patient first, at the center of their care.

Putting the patient at the center of their care means, among other things:

  • Setting patient expectations
  • Creating a welcoming, respectful environment
  • Listening to patients concerns

HAP is working with hospitals to adopt principles and operational guidelines that improve customer financial interactions. We are identifying best practices from experts such as Planetree and the Cleveland Clinic. HAP also created a patient and family engagement advisory council and consumer advisory council to learn from and gain insight from the consumers themselves.

Pennsylvania hospitals strive every day to deliver safe, high quality care. We deliver some of the best care in the world. But on the customer-service side, I think we can all agree, we have a great deal of work to do.