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How to Understand Patients as People to Improve the Entire Patient Journey

In 1998, Patch Adams debuted in theaters across the country. Based on a true story, the movie featured Robin Williams in the role of unorthodox physician and founder of the Gesundheit! Institute, Hunter “Patch” Adams. Almost 20 years later, a speech near the end of the movie still resonates, albeit for a different reason, when Adams says: “You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

In the face of growing healthcare consumerism, it’s not just the clinical experiences that count. Every interaction in a consumer’s healthcare journey—from the first “doctors near me” Google search and call for an appointment to post-visit follow-up and bill payment—need to meet (or surpass) expectations. The question is: How can you understand what each patient expects? 


Capture a more complete view of the patient experience

Electronic health records give hospitals a limited view of the patient. While they catalogue face-to-face clinical experiences and perhaps even demographic data, EHRs don’t look beyond those individual moments. As a result, hospitals and other healthcare providers often concentrate on clinical interactions and rely on the national Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey responses to fill in the blanks on patient experiences.

However, a McKinsey & Company whitepaper suggests that HCAHPS results lack the real insights hospitals need to address the challenges of a consumer-driven market. In an interview with FierceHealthcare, whitepaper coauthor Whitney Gretz said, “We have to look at improving the patient experience more holistically.”

The white paper notes: “To determine which factors most strongly influence patient satisfaction, health systems must accurately understand the end-to-end inpatient journey, from pre-admission scheduling and testing through to follow-up care, as well as the role that price, service offerings, physician referrals, and brand play in determining where patients seek care.”

Hospitals can borrow some tactics from retail and hospitality brands known for delivering exceptional customer experiences.

  1. Make sure you consider the non-clinical patient experience. Long wait times, confusing wayfinding signs, poor communications or a perceived lack of empathy can leave healthcare consumers feeling frustrated—even when the health outcome is positive—leading to negative patient experience scores.
  2. Tie patient satisfaction efforts to business outcomes. If you want to improve patient retention, you need to understand the parts of the patient experience that heavily influence whether a patient returns in the future — not just what is measured in HCAHPS scores.
  3. Gather data internally or through third parties to help you understand the factors that influence patients’ satisfaction levels. For example, the c2b Consumer Classifier is a simple, 12-question survey that breaks healthcare consumers into five distinct psychographic segments, each with its own beliefs and expectations for patient experiences. This tool has been used to improve patient satisfaction, medical and business outcomes across the healthcare spectrum.

One other key component, according to Hospitality Quotient managing partner Susan Reilly Salgado, is ensuring that all hospital staff—not just clinicians—understand the requirements of a consumer-centric experience.

Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve talked before about leaders in other industries—be it Ritz-Carlton or Zappos—whose corporate cultures empower employees to put the customer first. “Every person in the chain of interactions that you encounter along the way … has to have the same mindset, the same skills and be delivering on the same vision of the patient experience. And that requires the values and the belief about what the patient experience is all about to be embedded in the culture of the organization,” Salgado says.


Dig into the psyche of healthcare consumers

“One of the challenges that we see is that hospitals are invested in the electronic patient record and big data and healthcare analytics focused on the clinical domain,” says Paul Roscoe, CEO of Boston-based Docent Health in a HealthcareDIVE interview. “But there hasn’t been the same focus on creating the technology platform or the services to be able to manage the nonclinical patient experience,” continues Roscoe.

How do you get to know individual patients beyond the information captured in an EHR? Psychographic segmentation allows hospitals to anticipate the mindset that individual healthcare consumers bring to the table and tailor approaches and messaging to improve its effectiveness. Some patients want clear direction from a physician; others prefer choosing from a range of options.

By understanding what motivates individual patients, where they look for health advice, and how they want to communicate with healthcare providers, hospitals can offer timely, relevant communications that drive higher satisfaction rates, greater engagement, and better outcomes.

The PatientBond technology platform, for example, automates patient engagement beyond the walls of the medical practice through email, text messaging and Interactive Voice Response. It uses psychographic segmentation to personalize all communications with messaging and media mix that appeal to patients’ individual motivations. PatientBond has helped healthcare providers drive patient acquisition, loyalty and health behavior changes.  

Outstanding customer experiences pays off, and you needn’t look only to companies like Amazon, Netflix, or Southwest Airlines for proof. According to a report by Deloitte, hospitals that achieve HCAHPS patient satisfaction scores of excellent realize an average net profit margin more than double than lower-scoring hospitals. With the right strategies—along with consumer data related to their entire healthcare journey, their expectations and preference, and their mindset related to health and wellness—hospitals can deliver great clinical and nonclinical patient experiences.  

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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