Patient Experience: Innovation Breakthrough or Lipstick on a Pig?

lipstick on a pigA professional colleague has an insightful perspective on what’s good, and what’s not so good, about “patient experience.” Admittedly, his viewpoint is purely experiential. He speaks only as a patient, and as family caregiver, who has seen many doctors’ offices.

It’s not scientific, but the assessment rings true with many people. Let me know if you agree or disagree with this observation:

Real innovation in patient satisfaction in healthcare delivery will be found somewhere beyond its traditional 19th century production mentality. Until then, today’s informed healthcare consumer will likely regard efforts to enhance the patient experience as window dressing…putting lipstick on a pig.

Most practitioners and medical practices have a genuine concern for their patients. Delivering a first class experience, along with quality health care is a worthy goal. Some succeed better than others. The weakness in reaching this objective is when a well-intended program to create a positive patient experience is largely a matter of disguising the feel of a “factory process.”

Breaking with the old, process-driven heritage—and truly putting the customer first—is a considerable challenge. It is, however, what empowered patients increasingly expect, and what’s needed for the office to be a true, consumer-centric service business.

Reaching the next level will require patient satisfaction efforts to be increasingly based on what the consumer (i.e., the paying customer) needs or wants, and not what is largely convenient (or perhaps tolerated) within the office operations, policy and long-established way of doing things.

Fortunately, the trend is moving in a positive direction. For example, breaking with traditional “9-to-5” office hours in favor of flexible scheduling provides patients with evening, early morning or Saturday access to care. A radical idea? Impossible to manage? Or a caring innovation?

As a case example, consider how Nemours Children’s Health System changed the paradigm about access to care, prompt appointments and unconventional service hours.

Genuine improvement demands fracturing rigid, old school mindsets about real-time, online appointments, access to physicians via email or video chat, eliminating delays and wait time, or similar ways to deliver what people value.

Rethinking the possibilities, and reaching the next level of satisfaction and positive experience, requires re-engineering the visit to the doctor’s office. The innovative perspective focuses first on solutions that answer the patient’s need. Cosmetic adjustments to institutional custom are often… just so much lipstick.

Elements of customer service that are the norm in other industries—banking or travel, for example—are emerging in healthcare delivery. And as the consumer takes greater control and manages their personal healthcare experience, truly innovative advances will differentiate providers and facilities, and ultimately be a large part of defining success.

For related reading, click through to Mastering Customer Service: Patients Are Not an Interruption, and Cleveland Clinic Summit: Sharable and Scalable Patient Experience Ideas.

What’s your opinion? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Where will healthcare discover breakthrough advances in patient experience?

Janet Bowden

Healthcare Success Senior Account Executive Janet Bowden has over 25 years experience in healthcare marketing, advertising and business development. She has managed the marketing for hospitals and specialty and primary care physician practices.
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One Response to Patient Experience: Innovation Breakthrough or Lipstick on a Pig?

  1. jerry November 4, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Takes everybody from top to bottom with proper hiring and training…which means undoing exactly like the author mentioned…

    use Starbucks as your model and move forward….. if the starbucks model turns you off?..then you wont ever get it.

    Im working hard at it right now, so far so good. Its Simple Not easy…. its 100% mindset

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