As patients become increasingly involved with their healthcare decisions, they expect better communication with their providers and more personalized care. The relationship between healthcare organizations and patients is evolving, and to accommodate the changing expectations of patients, it has become important for healthcare organizations to adopt customer-centric policies. This helps them focus on patient education and engagement, improving clinical outcomes and patient journeys.
Understanding customer centricity
Customer centricity is already quite well understood and established in industries such as retail and hospitality. In healthcare, however, it is still a relatively new concept. With patients expecting a personalized and open healthcare system where they can be involved in decision-making, many healthcare organizations are adopting customer-centric approaches that focus on what the patients want and need.
In healthcare, customer centricity means that hospitals consider healthcare as a service and patients as their customers. A central feature of this approach is educating staff about patient expectations and engaging with them positively and directly. This helps deliver services that truly meet the needs of the customers.
One approach used by many healthcare organizations is administering surveys designed to assess a patient’s experience during their hospital journey. The data collected by these surveys can be used in a variety of ways, such as identifying areas where the services need to be effectively tailored to suit the patient’s needs. In addition to providing greater value to patients, customer centricity also improves clinical outcomes, hospital services, and employee satisfaction levels.
Focusing on the patient experience works along the same lines as many value-based healthcare ideals where strategies are designed to reduce healthcare costs while improving patient satisfaction and health. Although an increasing number of hospitals are adopting a customer-first approach, implementing this practice requires a lot of flexibility and changes. This may require adopting new patient outreach methods, new solutions, modified procedures, and staff training.
It is often challenging to transition to customer-centric policies considering the number of procedural and operational changes that are required. Staff members play a crucial role in this transition as they are central to any hospital organization. Nurse practitioners who are trained to understand the importance of customer centricity and how it applies to healthcare play a vital role in this transition. Programs such as the AGACNP programs available online from Rockhurst University are specifically designed to provide this training.
It is also important for healthcare organizations to have a clear understanding of patient expectations and the elements involved in creating true customer-centric service.
Digital communication and tools
Patients today often prefer to interact with healthcare organizations through digital channels. Digital communication tools provide customers with control and flexibility so they can interact in a way that is suitable for them. Most brands allow customers to access information digitally and chat instantly with bots, but this is not usually the case when it comes to healthcare. Instead, most patients are still required to call their healthcare providers and must stay on hold for an extended period to get answers to their questions.
Providing customers with the communication channels and tools they need is an important part of customer centricity. Communications should be accessible, transparent, and customized to provide value. Technology and people can work together to create a robust and cohesive communication platform that meets the needs of customers.
Proactive personalized care
Modern patients do not want to be treated like everyone else. Every patient has unique healthcare needs, and they expect to receive personalized communication and care. Healthcare can be quite complicated, and patients want someone who can help them navigate it with ease. They seek professionals who will help them get the right treatment.
Personalized care entails much more than just referring to the patient by their name. Today, it involves using data to truly understand the needs of the customer and meet their needs proactively. Healthcare companies today are using data to proactively reach out to patients and ensure they are getting the care they need. This also enables healthcare professionals to treat conditions before they worsen and prevent conditions in the first place.
Why customer centricity is important in healthcare
Many healthcare organizations hold the belief that their priority should be treating the sick, preventing illness, and saving lives. While this remains true, it is also important to understand that healthcare organizations are running a business. Although their priority should always be care provision, there are many other factors they need to consider. Here is a look at some of the important ways in which customer centricity helps an organization.
- Cost efficiency
Healthcare costs are a major challenge, and regulations are often centralized to stay cost-efficient. This can negatively impact personalized treatment and the quality of service. Customer centricity in healthcare can be used to reduce the burden on overstretched budgets. When patients are given agency, the responsibility of service providers is reduced, which boosts staff morale. When patients are allowed to be active in their own care, they are engaged and motivated. Patients will often then take responsibility for staying on track with lifestyle changes and medications, providing substantial financial savings in the future.
- Improved quality of care
When consumers are treated as partners instead of just patients, it empowers them. This enhances their quality of life and self-esteem. In addition to being cost-effective, this provides the additional benefits of holistic care. Customer-centric care allows patients to play an active role in decision-making. Putting patients at the center means understanding and prioritizing their needs, and this allows healthcare organizations to shine where it truly counts.
- Better patient engagement
For hospitals to be efficient and effective, it is important for staff to connect with patients to better understand their expectations and needs. Improved patient engagement allows healthcare professionals to meet these expectations. Patients who are engaged are more willing to stay committed to their own care and follow treatment guidelines.
- Effective communications
The customer-centric approach focuses on effective communication. Patients today expect to stay updated on relevant information about their own care and procedures. They want to receive clear and effective communication from their healthcare team.
With smartphones and the internet, it is easier than ever to enhance communication with patients. Providing them with relevant information through the communication channels they prefer also helps hospitals save a lot of time and avoid frustrations. An automated communication system or virtual assistant will also free up a lot of time for nurses so they can focus on important hospital tasks.
Understanding healthcare customers
To meet and exceed customer expectations, it is important to first understand who the customer is. In the healthcare industry, customer profiles can be incredibly diverse compared to other industries. Creating targeted, customized solutions for a variety of customer profiles can be daunting but equally rewarding.
Healthcare services operate on a large scale, so there might be a limit to how many services can be personalized. Mass personalization, however, is still a viable goal. First, study the customer base and set categories based on their needs. Staff members such as receptionists, nurses, and doctors will then play an important role in customization. Customer empowerment is an important piece of customer centricity, so it can be helpful to understand healthcare customers of different profiles so their care can be designed accordingly.
Here is an example of some categories that might be used:
- Patients who are healthy, active, and invested in their care. These types of patients understand how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and may be more invested in preventive healthcare. They might keep track of their fitness and diet and may also be following health guidelines regularly. They want to take control and play an active role in their health.
- Patients who are currently healthy but not invested in their care. These patients may not have any current health concerns, but they may be too confident in their health status. They might believe that they don’t need to actively do anything to ensure their well-being in the future. They might not get health screenings on a regular basis and may be resistant to preventive care.
- Patients who are currently not healthy and not invested in their care. These patients are considered to be at risk. They are currently ill but are unwilling or unable to be engaged with their healthcare plan. They might have chronic illnesses and may be dealing with high treatment costs. This may further discourage them, making them delay seeking help.
- Patients who are ill but invested in their care. These patients may have poor health, but they take this opportunity to become more involved in taking care of their health and establishing healthy practices. Some of these patients may have had a health scare, making them change the course of their lifestyle. They may be willing and highly motivated to change their lifestyle so they can get healthy and improve the quality of their life. This helps them as well as their healthcare team.
Customizing efforts for different patient profiles
When trying to design customer-centric policies and procedures for an organization, it is crucial to understand that all patients are unique. One-size-fits-all solutions may not work for all patients. Depending on the type of patients you are targeting, the way in which you approach this transformation will change.
Organizations should take the time to first understand their current customer base. They should also know the profile of the potential customers they might want to target in the future. Knowing who you need to reach will allow you to tailor your outreach and marketing efforts and create effective partnerships.
The customer profiles discussed above provide a good starting point for research into customer profiles. Once the population has been defined, it is also important to consider the best ways to reach them. This will help define how they can be drawn into the organization’s network. Although this process may seem very time-consuming and challenging, it is an important foundation on which all future decisions and policies will be based.
The marketing departments of most hospitals today focus on advertising. Consumer research is often neglected, even though the findings of such research can be important in creating a successful operating strategy. Research can also help tailor advertising communication and messages that will resonate better with target customers.
Hospitals often miss the opportunity to connect their strategy to their values and mission. Customers are what keep healthcare organizations in the business, yet hospitals often lack consumer-focused core values. Without having a set of values to depend on, marketing efforts are often misguided and ineffective. This equation has to change to customize efforts for different patient profiles.
How to implement customer centricity
The advantages of customer centricity are clear, but many healthcare organizations may not be set up to accommodate these changes. Involving patients in their healthcare decisions takes a lot of time, effort, and resources. Many practitioners may not even feel that these efforts provide much value in the long run.
Healthcare administrators and professionals first need to take the time to assess their organizational capacity. This will help them determine ways in which they can support customer-centered efforts in the future. To effectively accomplish this, organizations need a deep understanding of their own capacity as well as their practitioners. They need to clearly understand how involving patients can support broader public and organizational missions.
The healthcare industry is lagging when it comes to engaging customers. Many are dealing with organizational challenges that they may try to rectify by strengthening management capacity, but this can be counterintuitive. A better way to deal with these challenges is by delegating more responsibility and authority to the front-line staff members and patients who are most affected by such decisions. This means that customers and providers can work together to identify and achieve health goals. Both sides are invested and can share the responsibility of the process, as well as the results.
Focus on the big picture
While identifying target audiences, understanding their profiles, and finding ways to effectively reach them are important, it is also helpful to focus on the big picture. When it comes to implementing customer-centric policies, this translates to thinking about staffing capacity and service lines to meet existing needs.
Many hospitals are driven by the product and not the market. They focus on individual specialties such as oncology and base their approach on what the hospital offers, then seek customers who require those services. Instead, the reference point should be reframed by first conducting a survey of what needs currently exist. Knowing which needs you can fill and how you can do it effectively is a better way to ensure long-term success.
Healthcare organizations not only need to know their current consumers but also potential consumers they can serve in the future. Customer-centric research and evaluation can help organizations uncover potential areas they can serve. This information can be used to evaluate which markets to serve in the future and which ones you would like to avoid. Developing policies and procedures in this manner is a future-proof way to ensure organizations remain profitable, relevant, and better equipped to serve the changing needs of patients.
Developing a healthcare service plan that focuses on patients
The first step of the process is having a clear idea of what healthcare customers look like and identifying their needs. The second part of the process is knowing what potential customer profiles your organization would like to serve. Then, it is time to consider a few important questions that will help you develop a service plan to effectively target your identified segments. Here are a few useful questions to ask before you develop a customer-centric service plan:
- What are the experiences of each patient profile at different stages of their medical journey? How do these experiences affect their well-being?
- What are the specific needs of different patient types? What motivates them, and what pushes them away from seeking help?
- Do you currently meet the expectations of your patients? Do they rate their experience positively?
- Have you recognized any areas of discord or conflict?
- Do you currently collect any feedback from patients? How is the feedback collected, and are there any procedures in place to respond to feedback?
These questions will provide you with a starting point in prioritizing customer centricity and understanding how healthcare providers are currently operating. This, in turn, will lead to better results for medical professionals and patients.
Like any other industry, customer centricity in healthcare means putting people first. It puts patients at the forefront and profits second. Inviting customers to voice their opinions and taking action based on their feedback can be challenging, but it is a revolutionary approach for improving the effectiveness of healthcare organizations.
Trying a different method may not be easy at first, but it can be extremely rewarding in the long term. Organizations do not have any other choice but to evaluate their current values and status to start their journey toward becoming client-centered.