Is It More Important That Your Patients Are Happy Or Healthy?
Excuse us while we get a little philosophical.
When we think about the type of service hospitals ought to be providing for their patients, we often return to the pillars of AHRMM (at whose annual conference we’ll be presenting a panel this summer). The organization encourages a focus on Cost, Quality, and Outcomes. Those are a good place to start our discussion of the patient experience - what healthcare’s priorities should be (versus what they actually are).
You can’t put all your effort into everything, though. As much as we all might try. So you have to prioritize. You have to pick where you put your time, energy, and other resources.
Because we don’t want to step on ARHMM’s toes (and because it’s really hard to come up with three appropriate words that start with Z or 5), this blog will focus on Finances, Fulfillment, and Fitness.
Healthcare is expensive. We’re not fooling anyone when we pretend otherwise.
It’s easy to get caught up in a debate of “real” costs, whether the discussion should focus on 1) what the hospital is paying for its supplies, staff, and other costs of care, 2) what the insurance companies pay for, or 3) what the actual patient is paying the provider and/or insurance after all is said and done.
Thanks to the culture of obscurity that’s been a part of healthcare in the US for nearly a century now, we’ve become accustomed to having no honest conversations about money. When a healthcare CEO says, “We’re not affordable, and we’re not transparent,” it’s shocking.
But isn’t it also kind of refreshing?
Maybe shifting the paradigm so that patients begin shopping around for care places an unfair burden on them, when they should only be focusing on their health. But – given the overwhelming public dissatisfaction with healthcare – a paradigm shift or two are overdue.
So how do we address satisfaction?
We’ve all heard them. Horror stories get the most attention, because they provoke the strongest reaction. Telemedicine has the capacity to make massive strides in patient satisfaction, but not when it’s used to inform patients that they’re dying.
So how do you ensure that your patients are satisfied with the care they’re receiving? One simple way is just to listen. You don’t have to set up a system as elaborate (and elegant) as a booth where patients can tell their stories, but you should make it clear that you are open to feedback.
And then the hard part. When you get feedback, you make adjustments. The star system for hospitals is terribly flawed and undergoing revision, but consider the action it created because it indicated an impact on financial performance. Imagine, instead, we focused on the satisfaction of patients as the most important factor for determining change.
So let’s say you’ve perfectly designed your patient experience. It’s efficient and caring. But does that mean your patients are healthier?
“Outcomes” is the euphemism we’re all used to using to describe our patients’ health, because – though this is a business of healthcare providers – you can’t always control how your patients respond to treatment or if treatment can even be enough. But what about what we can control, especially before a patient comes through the doors?
A lot of talk has surrounded encouraging healthy habits so that community members have a lower chance of becoming patients in the first place. It’s probably cheaper for a hospital to make sure 1000 people are eating fruits and veggies than to perform 100 open-heart surgeries.
What’s odd and discouraging is when an apple a day isn’t enough. This new study suggests people who were encouraged – financially and habitually – to eat right and exercise might end up no significant amount healthier than those who didn’t participate.
So… what do we do? Is our culture broken, or would human beings put themselves in harm’s way no matter what their situation? None of these questions have easy answers, but asking them is the first step toward eventually finding out what our next step should be.
We’ve asked the question a couple of times now: should you treat the people you’re treating like patients or customers? And – this is interesting to us, at least – we’ve answered the question differently depending on the goal.
Are you looking to provide the best possible care to the people who come through your doors? Then they’re patients.
Are you looking to create a relationship where they want to come back and rely on your services over and over? Then they’re customers.
But the crucial truth is: they’re both.
Healthcare has the unenviable position of needing to treat its customers in the most humane way during their most vulnerable moments, which includes keeping the cost of care low for both the provider and the consumer.
There’s no easy answer for how to do that, either. A good place to start might be listening to your patients’ attitudes toward the care they received, then designing a patient experience that makes them feel more at ease and more heard.
We should all strive for healthcare that doesn’t make patients start coming up with F-words of their own.