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Virtually Speaking

Who Really Owns the Patient Experience?

Posted by Mitch Lawrence on Nov 7, 2012 12:06:19 PM


Summary:   The dirty secret in healthcare delivery is that patients invest hours out of their schedule to see their doctor for an average visit of 19 minutes [NY Times].  Maybe that is why they call us "patients"!  The information-soaked consumer in the new digital economy has forced dramatic progress in the customer experience (CX)  ... so what will they demand for the patient experience (PX)?

I have never been more excited for the changes coming to the patient experience. Politics aside, whether you are proponent of Obamacare or not, most agree that the last four years marked forces in population shifts, big business, mega-trend technology, and global politics moving to shape “perfect storm” conditions for change in the way patients, providers, and payers will work together.

At the center of this "perfect storm" of change is the patient, and this begs a fundamental question: who really owns the patient experience?  If you believe that not much has changed in the world, then your answer is probably along the lines of the age-old doctor-patient relationship, the HMO, or perhaps another provider.  But if you note that today's patient and today's socially-networked, mobile-enabled, tablet-toting, tort-tweeting, data-devouring, consumer are actually one-in-the-same, then the answer is not so clear.  Consumers in the digital economy are an incredibly well-informed and demanding bunch, continually raising the bar for brands and providers to earn their business.  Will the informed consumer-as-patient demand the same high standards of patient experience that they already demand as information-soaked customers in the digital economy?  Why wouldn't they?

I'll coin an acronym for the patient experience, PX, borrowed directly from another perfect storm caused by the same mega-forces that shaped the digital economy:  the customer experience (CX for short).

If we assume that PX will, even remotely, evolve in the same way CX did, here is what we can expect to see:

1) Information Ubiquity Drives Disintermediation in PX.

This is already happening. Practitioners, such as your doctor or nurse, have traditionally cited the doctor-patient relationship as the foundation of healthcare delivery.  While true for prescriptive care (self-medicating = malum prohibitum), wellness and disease prevention is an exchange of codified information from provider to patient.  The quality and quantity of proven preventive healthcare information available to healthcare providers has never been better.  But how much information can the practitioner truly provide in a 19-minute visit, and can they make it stick?  Enter the age of information ubiquity and the digital consumer-as-patient.  Where generations previous had inconvenient access to healthcare information, we are now blessed with easy access to information of any kind  [read about how Big Data is here to stay.  Practitioners are now finding that, through the internet, patients are far better informed today than ever before.  Sites like WebMD.com aggregate so much great information about disease prevention and treatment, drug efficacy and interaction, and general health and wellness that patients can be at least as well informed, if not more so, than their primary care physicians.  Indeed, a survey conducted by the Journal of American Board of Family Medicine found that 3/4 of patients with internet access use it to find health information for themselves or family members.  My suspicion is that the actual figures are MUCH higher: near 100%.  After all, we are talking about the well-being of our loved ones.  If information that could help you and your loved ones live healthier was right in the palm of your hand, 24x7, wouldn't you use it?

2) Healthcare Suppliers Joust for Ownership of PX.

This is already happening as well.  Just as CX has shaped market leadership for so many consumer brands, PX will do the same for healthcare providers, suppliers, and payers.  The best proxy (or easiest to obtain, I should say) for how badly a brand wants to own the customer experience is what it spends to acquire and retain customers.  Unlike other investments in CX that brands make, ad spend is easily tracked.  For PX, the pharmaceutical industry spends $5 billion annually to influence what information patients have, BEFORE heading to the doctor.  Also interesting is that pharma's digital media spend alone is at the watershed $1-billion dollar mark.  That's a lot of zeros dedicated to capturing our healthcare mindshare, with a large percentage going to information-age vs. traditional media.  The battleground for PX started in the doctor's office, the same way the battleground for CX started in the mom & pop corner convenience store. But now, the battle for PX is not driven by the doctor-patient relationship -- the battleground is mindshare in healthcare information, and the weapon of choice in the digital economy is information.

3)  The Four Forces of Information Technology will transform PX, as they transformed CX.

CX has been forever transformed by information ubiquity, so let's examine how the four horsemen of the digital economy will shape PX as well.  Who are they?  They are: social, mobile, big data, and cloud.  Each technology occupies an important section of the modern IT puzzle, whose beauty and utility is driven inextricably by the others.  What IT has done for CX in a single generation is nothing short of humbling.  I will summarize it here by making a bold observation:  today's information-soaked consumer is the most powerful collective force for change that humanity has ever known in recorded history (an easy statement to make for Time magazine readers older than four).  Entire global economies, trillion-dollar industries, political regimes -- let alone the mere trillions of dollars in the balance sheets of the Fortune 500 or the market caps of the Dow Jones Industrial Average -- all have been irreversibly rearranged in less than a generation... by the simple power of ubiquitous information in the hands of billions of well-informed consumers.  And now those same informed consumers are walking into a doctor's office armed with literally the same data their doctors have, thanks to the wealth of information made ubiquitous by social, mobile, big data, and cloud.

Just as Amazon, Google, and Apple all became the titans of innovation by focusing on the customer experience, so too will healthcare go.  Providers, suppliers, payers, and information aggregators in the healthcare industry that embrace the patient experience stand to be the juggernauts of their rapidly changing industry.  Understanding how the forces of IT changed CX via mobile, social, big data, and cloud -- and how each creates value for the patient -- will allow healthcare companies focusing on PX to gain an irreversible competitive advantage in building the dominant healthcare brands of tomorrow.

These are exciting times in healthcare!

 "The Doctor Will See You ... Eventually," The New York Times

"Family Medicine Patients’ Use of the Internet for Health Information: A MetroNet Study," Journal of American Board of Family Medicine

"You — Yes, You — Are TIME's Person of the Year," Time Magazine

Pharma Ad Budgets, AdAge

American Academy of Pediatrics: Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents—Third Edition

Topics: Healthcare, Patient Engagement, User Experience