Auditing my own patient experience

August 17, 2018
Ward Alles President and Brand Consultant

A look at how building a great experience keeps your patients coming back (i.e. loyalty, retention). Recognize the opportunities to communicate with your audience during their journey to find strategic opportunities to make your health system stand out (i.e. win new patients).

As healthcare marketers, we must never lose sight of what it’s like to be a patient. That goes for the leadership making decisions, the boards setting goals and for the agency consulting both parties.

Recently, a torn left meniscus provided me with a helpful reminder … and I’m happy to report that my patient experience was generally quite positive throughout my three-month journey.

At virtually every touchpoint (in person, on the phone or online), I experienced the Golden Rule in action, i.e.: “treat others the way you’d want to be treated.” Which is remarkable, really, considering I was probably served by over 20 people throughout the process.

Allow me to run down a sequence of events that all added up to a good impression. Perhaps this recounting of real-life experiences will serve as a good reminder to you of what your entire system needs to deliver—both in processes followed and behaviors exhibited.

  1. I found my orthopedic surgeon as many of us do—by a friend’s referral. He had recently torn his meniscus as well and said, “You should see my guy.” Since this physician was known for treating many professional and Division 1 athletes in my hometown, I was sold. Referral + Reputation = Decision.
  2. I called for my first appointment. I had two locations to choose from and chose the one nearest my office downtown for convenience. This physician office building is also on the hospital campus where I’d later have my surgery. Having everything in one location was also highly convenient. I became familiar with the area and buildings quickly. Easy appointment scheduling and navigation – check.
  3. At my first appointment, the doctor ran late. However, as I sat in the exam room scrolling mindlessly on my smartphone, he quickly popped in and said “Hi, I’m Dr. ________. I haven’t forgotten about you. It will just be a moment.” Good. He respected me enough to personally touch base. Forgiveness for tardiness granted. Doc:Patient relationship – established.
  4. After an on-site X-ray revealed healthy bones, it was time to schedule an MRI.

    “Have you had one before?”

    “No.”

    “Claustrophobic?”

    “A bit.”

    “Okay. We’ll send you where there’s a bigger, more open machine; and we’ll prescribe a Valium to take prior to the MRI.”

    Empathy provided. Fears allayed.

  5. The MRI was good. The results where not. My phone call with my doctor:

    “I’m reading your file right now. It looks like a bomb went off on your meniscus.”

    “Oh!”

    “And there appears to be some cartilage damage. Basically you’ve put on 50,000 miles on a 35,000 mile tire … and you need new shock absorbers.”

    “Okay?”

    “I think we should scope it and clean it up. That’s probably what you signed up for, right?”

    “Yeah.”

    “We’ll have you back on your feet shortly after surgery. Six weeks with some rehab.”

    Diagnosis. Prognosis. Let’s go.

  6. Surgery scheduling booked three appointments for me all at once—working around my schedule: My pre-op visit (to make sure I was healthy enough for surgery); the surgery itself; and my first post-op visit. Fast, convenient scheduling. 
  7. A conversation with a hospital nurse worth noting during my pre-op visit: “This is a special body wash we want you to use the night before and the morning of your surgery. We have one of the lowest infection rates in the state and ask all of our patients to do their part. Here’s how to use the soap.” Safety concerns and helpful information. Nice.
  8. Surprise! An automated phone call from the hospital’s surgical services department. I didn’t answer but listened to the AI voice. Fascinating to hear her confirm my surgery, direct me to a website and issue me a user name. While “she” was not real, she sounded like a human. Kind of creepy authentic. But it worked and before you knew it, I was watching a video online about my arthroscopic knee surgery and listening to another AI voice helpfully explain to me what to expect. High-tech helpfulness that works? Yup!
  9. Time for surgery. My wife drove me and enjoyed the valet parking service. Nice. No worries on “where to park downtown.” Obstacle removed.
  10. A beehive as I’m prepped for surgery. A hospital volunteer walks us to my room. A CNA gowns me up and preps my leg. The PA visits. The anesthesiologist visits. Everyone professional and communicating what to expect and what’s next. The most memorable conversation was with my surgical nurse: “You have a very good surgeon. Did you have to wait long to see him? If so, he’s worth the wait. We all love him here.” Again, my doctor is not employed by the hospital like the nurse was. She didn’t have to volunteer her admiration and respect. That was nice to hear. Assurances provided.
  11. At home after surgery, a follow up phone call—this time a real person—to check in how I’m doing. Nice touch #1. A day later: a “get well” postcard in the mail all signed by the hospital’s surgical team. Nice touch #2.
  12. I’m into rehab now and all is well. And, I must say, throughout my entire healthcare journey (as rather basic and uneventful as it was), I kept on being pleasantly surprised by the customer service. For me, that great “patient experience” which we all aim for was delivered far better than expected in almost every case—so much so that I actually noticed.

Again, it should be noted: this was not ONE united healthcare system orchestrating every move. I worked with four different providers. I was treated by independently owned physician, MRI and physical therapy groups … and with our state’s largest healthcare provider where the surgery took place.

At no time did I feel rushed or like a number. I was always kept informed and treated with respect and kindness. Amazing, really, given the fact that so many people all had to come together—perhaps just for a few minutes each—to get me the care and service that I needed … all so that I could walk again without any pain.

I remember all of the faces, the conversations, the conveniences and the thoughtful, human “touches” along the way. My caregivers were all giving care. Whoever they were. Whatever role they had. All treating me the way they’d like to be treated. And that’s not only a good rule for healthcare, it’s a good rule for life. (One could almost build a brand promise around it.)

 

Ward Alles is a Brand Consultant and President at Core Creative, a branding agency that specializes in telling the life-changing stories for mid-market healthcare systems and the emerging med-tech world.

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