For better or worse, we’ve turned patients into consumers. Some would argue that’s a negative approach because rather than focusing on the best interests of patients, organizations are focused on how to “win” their business. Others would argue it’s a positive approach because the best way to win that business is by providing better care and a better experience.
Either way, every hospital is now thinking about how to compete for patients and get them to utilize their facility and services. As a result, it is increasingly important to understand why patients choose a hospital.
While we are moving toward creating healthcare consumers, the healthcare industry is far behind others in this field. One leading global, multi-industry management consulting firm summarized it thusly:
“In a time of rising consumer expectations, the user experience of healthcare is falling behind.”
Healthcare suffers even more by comparison in a time of the Ubers, Amazons, and Open Table for their respective offerings.
One research report on why patients choose a particular hospital provided the following summary:
"What today’s patients want is quality care in a clean environment from friendly, professional and well-credentialed staff, and they want it to be more convenient and at lower prices. And just like they would search for a well-reviewed restaurant, patients will do the same for a hospital or surgeon."
(Source: How to Become a Hospital of Choice, 2016 by Transonic)
Word-of-mouth and online reputation
Rather than just relying on their referring physician to recommend a hospital, patients are more apt to look to word of mouth and online reputation – including social media. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 42% of consumers have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews and 25% have posted about their health experience.
Hospital reputation has always played a role as an important patient influencer, but perhaps the trend of the way the reputation is determined, formed and communicated out to others is changing. A recent study by the World Journal of Surgery found that surgeon reputation plays an important role in a patent’s decision about the hospital. Similarly, many patients cited the hospital’s reputation as an important variable. Patients also reported that a hospital’s friendly environment plays an important role in the decision where to go for care.
Traditionally, the known, established academic medical centers had reputations for better quality of care – either well-deserved or not. More recent research on patient outcomes doesn’t necessarily bear that out. See: Searching for the Best Hospitals. Does a Great Reputation Mean High Quality Care?
With patients engaging in research of providers and hospitals, as well as being more willing to look to social media to both find information and to share it, “reputation” is not what it used to be. There is, certainly, no correlation between hospital size and academic or clinical reputation and having a truly patient and family-centric culture.
Patient experience matters
I was recently reminded of the shift of reputation when a friend of mine visited his family member at a more rural hospital where the family member was undergoing a reasonably serious procedure. The patient and family experience was outstanding. My friend’s experience was driven by the personality traits and behaviors of the surgeon (who actually tracked him down in the cafeteria to give an update after the procedure), the staff that checked-in with the family that morning and eased concerns, and the post-op nurse who was confident, kind, and compassionate that gave the family the impression that everything was under control.
A hospital’s reputation, whether by word of mouth or on social media is going to be driven more and more by these types of patient experiences. These experiences are driven by the traits and behaviors of staff. You can do all of the patient experience training you like. You can put all of the processes in place that you can. You can add all of the amenities that exist, but you cannot avoid the simple truth that the patient experience is driven by the dozens of person-to-person interactions (e.g., physician/patient, nurse/patient, nurse/family member, etc.) nurse that take place in the hospital.
Accordingly, there is NOTHING more important to the patient experience than your ability to add physicians, nurses, and front line staff who truly understand that patients choose a hospital based on reputation – a reputation built on how they interact with patients and family members.
5 ways HR can help
Recognize and communicate this simple truth.
Implement a disciplined and thorough approach to defining the qualities you are looking for in candidates.
Do the same with respect to a hiring process that targets the behavioral skills you seek.
Do NOT lower the bar under pressure. Would you lower the bar on basic patient safety or experience protocols?
Align your selection, performance management, and development efforts with the same behavioral expectations across all levels of the organization.