A Forgettable Experience: Part 1
Recently, my ongoing patient interviews have focused on several items I need to validate for an assessment tool project. As I interviewed these patients, a pattern emerged - many of them suggested their experiences felt more like a transaction rather than an interaction. They categorized the experiences as cold, forgettable and mechanical.
One patient explained it by saying the impersonal nature of her visit to her doctor was no different than her conversation with the bank teller that same morning. And I get it. In all candor, all of us physicians have had busy clinic days where we wish we had a three-inch plexiglass wall between us and our patients… it hastens the conversation and allows us to get on to the next patient faster.
Q: While we don't have definitive data to draw conclusions about this aspect of the physician-patient relationship, it calls for the question to be asked: Are there some things within our control that lend themselves to fostering quality interactions with patients that feel less transactional? Are we doing enough to build a patient-centered organization?
A: Yes… and Not yet.
Many organizations face challenges in moving from merely satisfying patient needs to true patient-centeredness, but the benefits more than justify the effort. Leaders play a pivotal role by setting clear expectations, aligning all units of the organization to become more accountable to patients, and improving the capture and analysis of more relevant/useful information.
Building a patient/customer-accountable organization isn't hard to do but it is impossible without the right culture. From Steve Jobs to Jeff Bezos, a number of legendary business leaders have built cultures whose very identities are defined by the loyalty (and even the love) of their customers.
They did this by going beyond mere customer satisfaction into the realm of customer-accountability. They aligned their respective organizations to truly understand what matters most to customers (wishes and challenges), and to respond quickly and respectfully at every stage of each interaction. In return, customers become forgiving, fully-engaged and even evangelize the organization's culture to friends and acquaintances.
Rest assured, the rewards for this emphasis on the interaction, vs. the transaction, can be measured in dollars and cents.
But why do so many outside of healthcare including patients believe our industry lagging when it comes to patient/customer accountability? Shouldn't healthcare be informing other industries and companies like Apple, JetBlue or Amazon how how to build customer/patient centricity. Could it be the market and patients just hold us to a higher standard since we are arguably the most personal of industries?
Compounding expectations, we’ve done just about everything in our power to encourage the transactional experience. I’m not the first physician to point our how our medical schools ignore listening, teamwork, empathy, assurance, etc., and train in captain-of-the-ship approaches to encourage obedience and standardized rapid transactions. To make matters worse, we have a legacy culture that emphasizes hierarchy and heroes rather than rewarding and recognizing collaboration and team problem solving. These rules of engagement foster touch-points that erode patient trust.
Our next issue will discuss what we need to do to migrate organizations from their current state of providing inconsistent, episodic service excellence to a more patient accountable culture.