Learning from UX: Finding a doctor is the tip of the patient experience iceberg

9 June, 2016

[Part 2 of a 3-Part Series: Success converting consumers to patients]

Before the internet, the patient experience seemed much simpler.

Consumer to patient conversions were chiefly driven by referrals, mild advertising, and being flat-out closer than the other guy. Consumers just picked up the phone and became patients. Phone call, waiting room, paperwork, nurse, doctor, inhale, exhale, prescription: The End.

This apparent simplicity was actually quite misleading.

Not only were the critical “pre-visit” and “post-visit” phases of the patient experience nearly absent in those days, but the “during-visit” phase was deceptively complex. Unpredictability was a problem when it came to providing the patient a quality experience. Interactions with receptionists, nurses, and doctors, long waiting times, clerical errors, etc. are all difficult to control, and a patient’s trust can easily erode when those uncontrollable factors go awry.

Another shortcoming was the lack of data. Covered in last week’s post on the importance of data, with next to no tracking in the consumer to patient conversion process, it was difficult for providers and doctors to know what factors drove their patients to pick up the phone in the first place. With few learnings, there’s not much to do other than blindly press on.

Today, there are massive opportunities for an excellent patient experience, but the majority of consumers aren’t experiencing it.

According to a GE study, 75% of frequent health care users are frustrated with their experience, and these consumers have now been empowered. Whereas in the past, choices were limited, they are now vast. If a patient’s experience is poor, they can now voice this, warning other consumers. Many companies in other industries have “modernized” by creating entire departments labeled “User Experience.” Some would argue they deserve just as much of an investment as marketing. For now, understanding it’s importance in health care will do.

Putting oneself in the patient’s shoes doesn’t start (or end) when they walk into the doctor’s office

When we talk about optimizing the User Experience (UX), there is a tendency to lump it in with the “customer is always right” sales philosophy. User experience is not, however, about continually doling out good news and lollipops, giving customers whatever it takes to please them. User experience is a holistic approach for the purpose of best serving the patient, as opposed to just selling.

A great UX prizes the consumer’s needs, and after conversion, the patient’s needs, thereby building trust, and ultimately, nurturing loyalty. This could still include lollipops.

User experience needs to be a holistic approach because it certainly is a holistic experience for the consumer. Nielson Norman Group, who coined the phrase in the late 1990’s, defined UX as “encompassing all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products.”

In health care, especially, the User Experience approach has sprawling implications for how we understand the Patient Experience.

The online searching, researching, and scheduling, hospital visit, parking (yes, parking!), paperwork and waiting room, nurses and doctors, the horrifying coldness of the stethoscope, prescriptions fulfillments and tracking results in the weeks and months following the patient’s visit, need to all be considered a part of the patient experience, because they are for the consumer. That sounds complicated, and it should: now you’re seeing it from the patient’s perspective.

While pre-visit, during-visit, and post-visit are all vital phases of the patient experience, this blog series primarily tackles converting consumers to patients in the pre-visit phase. It also makes sense to begin designing quality patient experience where the consumer begins: pre-visit. This is dominated by online searching and scheduling platforms and the design of those interfaces.

Providers and doctors now have groundbreaking opportunities to provide consumers a predictable, and trust-building patient experience. An elegant yet easy-to-use, patient-centered online search and schedule experience is quite repeatable, and goes a long in way in building that trust. Before patients walk in the door or even park their cars, they could already be having a smooth journey.

Consumers have champagne tastes and the market is ready to pop

In the next several years, it will be the providers and doctors with strong pre-visit patient experience in place who will be converting more patients. As time moves forward and others adopt customizable and robust online search and scheduling platforms, patients’ expectations will increase. The message will become increasingly clearer: adopt or flop.

Not only catching up with, but eventually exceeding consumers’ expectations is tethered to designing a rewarding patient experience from pre-visit to post-visit.

Remember:

1. Patient experience is a patient-minded approach that the empowered consumer expects

2. Patient experience has to be holistic: pre-visit, during-visit, and post-visit

3. Begin designing a quality patient experience where the patient begins his/her patient experience: pre-visit

Providers and doctors can either choose to lead the charge in pre-visit patient experience by innovating with online search and scheduling platforms consumers can use intuitively.

Those that do modernize their patient experience will see revenue boosts, an increase in patient conversions, and more loyal customer relationships. Patients may just forgive the startling chill of that stethoscope due to an otherwise warm experience that started before they walked in the door.