THE “PATIENT FIRST” APPROACH IN HEALTHCARE
What it Means to Put Patients First
“Patient First” is still a somewhat new term in the world of healthcare. Something more familiar, but with a similar meaning, is “customer first.” We all know the phrase “The customer is always right.” While we must conclude that in medical terms, the doctor does know best, the mentality that a patient is also a customer and should be treated as such is becoming more important to the healthcare industry.
This trend is good for both the patient and doctors. With a patient first mentality for your healthcare facility, positive word of mouth (via friends, family, and internet reviews) marketing is sure to follow. So how can you tailor your marketing plan to pursue a patient first mentality?
Let’s look at several different areas of healthcare marketing where changes can be made.
WHERE THE “PATIENT FIRST” APPROACH CAN BE APPLIED
When speaking of patient first healthcare marketing, the subject of billing has little to do with medical costs and a lot to do with how billing occurs.
Imagine you are at a restaurant, you place your order, then before the food even comes you are given your bill. Your first feeling would be that they are ready to get you out of there, and the staff is certainly not interested in letting you take your time to enjoy your meal. I feel certain that the server’s tip would reflect your feelings. Take that same scenario, but you are in a doctor’s office for a medical need, let’s say you dislocated your shoulder. Before you have even seen the doctor, you have someone in your room listing out the costs for services that you have not even received yet. Services that you are not even certain you will need, as you have not seen the doctor, yet.
In 1953, the hospital bill for the birth of a child was one page, less than ten lines, with little to no description, mainly because there was no need for more description. “Room and board,” “Medicine,” “Delivery Room,”. Now, in some facilities, mothers are asked to pay a deposit of up to 40% of estimated costs for delivery before they are even halfway through their pregnancy. Not only is this like getting the check before you’ve gotten the food, it is making assumptions about the delivery. Once the baby is delivered, the bill that is received will be long and often complicated, leaving parents wondering what exactly they are paying for. Many patients are advised to carefully review their bill for errors, such as being double charged for procedures. Sleep deprived parents, or any patient for that matter, should not have to have the responsibility of double checking the job that should be done well by the healthcare facility.
Billing is often outsourced to one or more than one company. While this may be a timesaver or moneysaver for the healthcare facility, it is neither for the patient. Patients can spend hours on the phone with someone who does not even understand the services that are being charged. If there is a problem with the bill or with insurance, patients feel like they have taken on a second job with the time they spend trying to track down the right person to correct the problem.
Signage inside the hospital may not seem like a job for the marketing team, but it is crucial to the overall experience of patients and visitors.
How many times have you gone to a hospital for yourself or to visit someone and found that you’ve parked in the furthest garage from your destination. Or you finally make it into the hospital only to realize you are in the wrong wing. Many signs are outdated or updated poorly.
If a patient has to plan to arrive 30 minutes early to an appointment to account for the fact that he is certain he will get lost at some point, the patient’s needs are certainly not being put first.
A website is probably one of the first ways that customers are going to research your facility. Americans now have access to more information than ever before, and your website says a lot about you.
If you have not taken a hard look at your website design in two years, then you are outside the range of quality compared with other industries. It is naïve to think that your website design and information does not matter.
Beyond your desktop compatible website, it is imperative to have a responsive design, meaning that your site is easily converted for someone to view on a smartphone or tablet. Nearly ⅔ of Americans now have a smartphone and 10% of those use it as their only internet device. For most smartphone users, they are more likely to look up something on their phone or possibly a tablet rather than get out a laptop.
An app for a healthcare facility is not likely to be used by most patients. It takes up storage room on a phone and people are less likely to use that storage room for a healthcare app when they want space for apps like Instagram or other social media sites. People save their storage for apps that they will use on a weekly or daily basis.
While many local and state building codes will require a building to have handicap accessibility, healthcare facilities must go above and beyond those minimum requirements. Not only are you a place where someone with any physical or medical need should easily be able to access, you also need to be the place where they feel the most welcomed.
Rather than having one entrance that is wheelchair accessible, all of your entrances should welcome those in wheelchairs. Braille should be used on all signage and closed captioning should be easily accessible on all TV sets.
There are many more ways to accommodate those with special needs in your facility. Taking patient surveys and interviews is another way to find out more details about how you can accommodate and welcome all patients and visitors.
Customer Service Training
Many healthcare facilities have really dropped the ball in this area. Before we had access to so much information, people had to accept poor customer service because there were not as many choices when it came to healthcare. Now, there are more choices than ever, and people are willing to make a drive in order to get the best care along with the best customer service.
Truett Cathy, the Founder of Chick-Fil-A once said, “We’re not just in the chicken business, we’re in the people business.” In talking about creating good experiences for their customers, Dan Cathy, the current COO of Chick-Fil-A said, “That’s important today because of social media – people have big, big microphones.” Their customers Tweet, Facebook, and Instagram their experiences and Chick-Fil-A listens and accommodates. They know firsthand that customers are their business.
Handling Sensitive Information
Along with customer service training is the ability for employees to handle sensitive information.
Let’s say a patient is at the front desk paying a copay or making an appointment. They probably do not want their social security number or address broadcast from the employee.
Furthermore, an amount being paid or the inability to pay it needs to be kept private as well. These things should be on paper for the patient to read and review rather than spoken about in the lobby area of the facility.