Patient Experience: The Biggest Transformation in Medicine Since the Stone Age

By Agata Piekut, chief executive officer, Healthy Culture Action Tank; a HIMSS Non-Profit Member and National Health IT Week Partner

During National Health IT Week, champions from across the industry are uniting to share their voices on how health IT is catalyzing change in U.S. healthcare. The following post from a National Health IT Week Partner is one of the many perspectives of how information and technology is transforming health in America.

Agata Piekut

The digital transformation of healthcare is going mainstream, promising a higher quality of care at a lower cost for all. And its right on time, as only a couple of years ago the World Health Organization calculated the cost of not taking action to address the spread of noncommunicable diseases as 7 trillion dollars in 20 years.

Telemedicine allows for a cheaper infrastructure of medical consultations, connected hardware means remote monitoring 24/7 and big data helps researchers find patterns in the spread of diseases and better target preventive activities.

But the biggest change happened to the model of patient relations. It has changed irreversibly as the digital transformation of healthcare turned patients from passive beneficiaries into active decision makers. For the first time since the Stone Age.

The Internet brought with it the emancipation of patients who gained a much wider access to information, which led to the rise in decisiveness. Companies in healthcare are no longer primarily in business to business communication with other medical entities and public administration but in business to consumer – having to work hard to gain patients' trust for the first time.

With noncommunicable diseases epidemics, the more engaged patients are, the better for early prevention. But there’s also the dark side to this transformation when extreme emotions come into play and patients don’t know who to trust, the internet has the answer. On a public policy level, it is crucial to regain control over the quality of communication in the outside environment. Building patient experience is no longer just an option, it’s an essential element of healthcare strategy.

What is Patient Experience?

Like in the case of customer experience, it’s best described by the Cambridge dictionary definition: “the way someone feels at all stages of doing business with a company or organization.”

What differentiates patient experience from customer experience are the emotions that come into play and the legal restrictions in communication. In no other industry, does one have to deal with such a wide spectrum of emotions, from indifference to preventive activities to the most extreme when fear kicks in. On the other hand, the restrictions in advertising and marketing make it harder to combat medical lies (like anti-vaccination movement) as it’s health professionals and companies who face charges.

The necessity of including patient experience into your strategy will mean that you need to change how your organization functions. As Adam Richardson wrote for Harvard Business Review: “Crafting a great customer experience requires enormous amounts of collaboration across groups in a company that often work independently and at different stages of product development. In many cases marketing, product design, customer services, sales, advertising agency, retail partners must all be working in concert to create even a single touchpoint.”

Patient Experience in Digital Transformation

Patient experience before digital transformation happened mostly only in two channels: medical facilities or pharmacies. So the patient journey was linear, fully controlled and top-down.

Patient experience after digital transformation became multichannel, nonlinear, happening 24/7, interdependent and collaborative.

Healthcare not only has to deal with multiplication of available channels – from doctors’ offices and pharmacies to retail, online and mobile platforms, as well as social media. They also need to address different trust levels as well as emotional levels – when in doubt we tend to trust more those who are valued members of our social circles.

With the abundance of channels, companies need to accept that each stage of the journey may take place in every channel – customers may base their decision on the quality of post-sale service or turn to social media platforms for customer support. Shopping trends apply also to health tech – when customers go to stores to test devices and then look for the cheaper offer for the same product online.

Emergencies can happen late at night or on weekends. With social media, we’re now used to easily accessible and immediate forms of communication, meaning those responsible need to address problems quickly and, most important, emphatically.

Patients are often looking for a second opinion, not only by visiting another professional but also in various health-related sources. This means that businesses and professionals need to concentrate as much on the channels of communication that they control as on those where they’re only guests.

Patients are active decision makers so companies and professionals need to win their trust. They’re no longer beneficiaries coming for top-down recommendations. They’re equal partners looking for explanation and conversation. After all, it’s their health and life that’s at stake here.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

National Health IT Week | October 8-12

Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities

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