Monthly Archives: April 2016

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For Patients, It Has Always Been About Access

By Jean Hitchcock No Comments

I have spent my entire career, 25+ years in healthcare. At first, I was shocked and then amused by the way healthcare professionals designed healthcare operations, programs and processes. Toward the end of my career, I used to introduce myself at meetings as the “voice of the patient” because everyone else was only thinking from the provider’s point of view.

I took on this role – voice of the patient- for personal reasons. Back in 1988, my youngest brother was a crime victim, and our family was dropped into the world of trauma medicine and then rehab. The circumstances aged my parents by ten years, but made me a devout patient advocate. No one expected my brother to live and the care and attention reflected that assumption. The family was faced with making life and death decisions and getting information or access to my brother’s physicians was difficult. So I took on the role of finding the information we needed, the physicians who were most knowledgeable and eventually coordinating my brother’s care between Florida and Michigan. Right after that, I took my first job in healthcare as Director of Communications for the largest health system in my area.

This job had me front and center on all crisis and patient relations. I worked with hundreds of families who just wanted to be informed of what was happening to their loved ones or share how we fell short of their expectations while hospitalized. This was my hometown and these patients were people I knew. They were going to be heard.

25 years later and I Fast-forward and I have a career in healthcare marketing and communications for a number of outstanding health systems. In marketing, you need to be in sync with your customers, not go out of your way to upset them!

At most of my employers, we used a Ready to Go to Market scale to allocate marketing dollars. If we knew a particular service wanted to be marketed, we would schedule Secret Shopping of the service. We asked the Secret Shopping firm to replicate the patient pathway and tell us how well or poorly we did in terms of a patient experience. Once we had the report, we would work with operations and the clinical staff on improvements needed. THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN PATIENTS HAVING A BAD EXPERIENCE THAT YOU COULD HAVE CHANGED!

Vanity numbers like 1-800 Ortho are cute and may speak to the egocentric nature of the clinicians but most consumers will use the main number. So many vanity numbers make it difficult for your call center and therefore the patient phone experience can be jeopardized.

Everyone wants their own website because they think this will make them standout. But for the average patient, they will go to the main website and then search for you. The worse patient experience is multiple websites and phone numbers. In this scenario, providers are assuming:

  • Everyone knows the hospital’s names yet only 10% or our lives are spent in them
  • That the system brand is not diminished when in fact it is.
  • And if they have a physician’s name, they may not have the hospital so they end us using a service line Healthgrades.

Multiple website work against your brand and business development.!

My Secret Shopping programs gave us real time feedback on how we were doing with patients. And very often, we had actually designed the problems!

How many of us have gone to a health system website to find hours and parking information and have to wade through all the accolades and awards won by the system? Or the systems that have different websites for each facility; a patient would have to piece all of them together to understand all that a system provided. And while it is nice to know which medical school a physician attended (didn’t they all attend a medical school?) by reading their profile, it is more important to know the hours his/her practice is open, if they speak other languages and have extended hours. This is the type of outside/in thinking that needs to come to healthcare.

And then, the patient finally gets to the provider and the experience is less than satisfactory. Very well meaning healthcare professionals have designed patient pathways that:

  • Had women who needed breast biopsies walking down a hallway, in a hospital gown, with a needle in their breast covered by a Styrofoam cup.
  • Sent surgical patients home without any pain medications because they were discharged after the outpatient pharmacy was closed.
  • Asked patients not to eat or drink anything after midnight because of an upcoming blood test. When ALL the patients show up at 7 am….wouldn’t you…does the lab staff up? Of course, not that would mean the staffing was not standardized across all shifts.

But these patients were the lucky ones! They made it into the healthcare system.

So what are consumers going to do? They are going to access healthcare by using non-traditional methods to get the care they need. The funny thing is that non-traditional becomes the norm once the general public embraces the new product or process.

Concierge Medical Practices

Access is such a patient issue that concierge medical practices are at an all time high. In some markets, as many as 30% of all primary care doctors in the District of Columbia environs work in concierge practices.

“……….a survey of more than 20,000 physicians by Merritt Hawkins on behalf of The Physicians Foundation found that more than 20 percent of physicians today say they’re either currently practicing concierge medicine or plan to do so in the future.” [2]

More and more patients are willing to pay out of pocket to have access to physicians 24/7, 365 days a year. They have given up on the traditional healthcare processes of waiting weeks for a primary care appointment and months for a specialty care appointment.

Patients can have their medical records from any provider sent to their concierge physician thereby creating their medical home. And guess what? Millennial patients are not looking to health systems to be their medical home; they are going to build these homes based on access, service and value. And that home will reside in their smart phones or tablets.

I am one of those who went to the concierge medicine. I want the same ease of use that I have for my dentist, bank and vet. I am so pleased with the services, that I often recommend concierge medicine to friends. I am with my physician at least 90 minutes for my annual appointment. In the traditional health system model, a physician would have scheduled three to six patients in the same time frame.

Non-traditional Providers Becoming Mainstream

Healthcare providers, read the tea leaves!

  • Walmart Announces Ambitious Goal: ‘To Be The Number One Healthcare Provider In The Industry’, Forbes 2014
  • Zoc Doc, Online scheduling App– About Us: ZocDoc is the beginning of a better healthcare experience for millions of patients every month. Since 2007, we’ve worked to fix broken systems that get in the way of good care by uniting modern patients and doctors. [3] They will be going public soon.
  • Digital monitoring of health– According to the global market research firm Parks Associates, the fitness tracker market is set to nearly triple, reaching
$5.4 billion by 2019. These digital health devices are becoming a part of our socio-cultural fabric; mobile fitness trackers and connected clinical devices will be as common.

I recently wrote a blog about how the Patient Is Not Very Patient and if we do not meet their expectations, they will become impatient and go to another provider.

So, if you are in healthcare operations, keep the voice of the patient in your head at all times. Design clinical treatments with the patient at the center of the discussion and remember, they can’t use the treatment if they can’t get access. And don’t wonder when non-traditional new competitors come into your market; you may have inadvertently invited them in.


[3] ZocDoc Website