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Healthcare Experience Blog

What “Patient Experience” Actually Encompasses

October 15, 2015

If you ask a consumer about their experience with a doctor’s office, a hospital, or an outpatient surgery center, you’ll usually get an earful.

Of course, they may comment on the ease of parking, the length of their wait, and courtesy of the various staff members they encounter; which health providers often categorize as the service elements of an experience.  They may also talk about the level of caring or empathy they felt (“Ms. Roberts really seemed to understand what I was going through!”)  Together, these components have often been viewed as the essence of “patient experience.”

But I believe the consumer’s working definition of “patient experience” is and should be much broader.

Healthcare customers like you and me are also likely to comment in ways that reveal their feelings about the “quality” and “safety” associated with their visit, even if they don’t use those terms as such.  When they see nurses wash their hands before touching them, or when they see techs wearing gloves and removing an instrument from a sealed wrapper, consumers tend to take these as positive quality and safety cues.  When a room is dirty, a piece of equipment doesn’t work properly, or the doctor does not wash his hands, consumers often take note.  Consciously or subconsciously, they wonder about quality and safety.  No one wants to leave the doctor’s office, surgery suite, or diagnostic center less healthy than when they arrived; yet this does happen.

So, moving forward, when we talk about “patient” or “member” experience, I believe we need to think of “experience” as encompassing the related concepts of Quality, Safety, and Service/Caring.

Isn’t that what we do when we evaluate or talk about other types of services in our life, whether getting our car repaired, staying in a hotel, or taking an airline trip?

I’m waiting to see which health system will bring these roles into a more customer-centric alignment by appointing a c-level person to oversee all of three of these functions, which today are mostly divided into three separate silos, with a separate executive for each.

That will be a big step towards being better able to assess and deliver true VALUE, which is where healthcare delivery and financing is headed in the U.S.

Of course, to talk about value, we need to find out how consumers feel about their outcome (Did they get better? Was the procedure successful?).  Plus we need to learn their assessment of the cost, broadly defined to include the actual out-of-pocket cost plus the hassles associated with getting the service and getting it paid for.  Economists have traditionally defined “value” as the benefits delivered versus the costs associated with obtaining those benefits.  This applies in healthcare today.

It’s why buying a $26,000 Subaru Outback represents good value to one consumer, while buying a $75,000 BMW represents good value to another.  It’s also why we may be willing to pay more for our flu shot at the neighborhood urgent care center rather than dealing with the drive and hassles associated with going to our doctor’s office.

As consumers, we do a “value” calculation in our heads, as we anticipate and then make a purchase.  This month, will you buy your toilet paper at Costco, or just make it part of shopping at your neighborhood grocery or drug store?  What about your winter coat: at REI or Walmart?  What about your flu shot?  What about the treatment for a diagnosis of cancer?

In all other spheres of our life, this economic “reckoning” takes into account the expected outcome, experience, and cost…based on what have experienced before, what friends or others tell us, or what we’ve learned through ads or search.

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Every day we Americans gain more choices about where to go for healthcare services whether a simple blood test or open heart surgery, AND we bear more of the total cost for these.  So increasingly, and as our proprietary research over the past 10 years indicates, we are acting more like a “typical” consumer in making healthcare choices.

Our 2015 research study on Patient Experience for The Beryl Institute confirms that healthcare leaders believe that a better experience contributes to better outcomes.  And that perceptions about the experience are now a major component in making the decision on where to go for services.

So the next time you query a family member about their recent interaction with a health provider or service, pay close attention.  It’s likely they are already talking in terms of VALUE and EXPERIENCE, where they consider all of these elements—outcome, quality, safety, service/caring, and cost—as part of their total assessment.

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