During last month’s AHA Executive Forum for The Value Initiative, PillPack’s Chief Product Officer Elliot Cohen shared an insight about consumerism that stuck with me.

He said that as a field, we often focus more on economic incentives than we think about how we can improve the consumer experience. If we were to switch gears and focus on making health care more convenient and enjoyable for our patients, he said, we would automatically arrive at lower costs and better outcomes.

Honestly, this message resonates.

For PillPack (an online pharmacy that Amazon recently acquired), improving the consumer experience means trying to meet customers where they are by creating as many touchpoints to their pharmacy as possible, and by measuring their success with customer experience-related metrics.

But how does that translate to hospitals and health systems as we care for patients, often during their most vulnerable times?

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, health care continues to trail other industries in customer service1. So, we know things need to improve. But what’s a good first step?

Speakers at the Executive Forum offered tangible ideas. Kate Walsh, president and CEO of Boston Medical Center (BMC) said we should ask consumers what they want — even if their answers are not what we want to hear. For example, BMC instituted a written social needs tool that includes the question “I do not want to answer these questions,” which allows patients to opt out of sharing.

Liz Salmi, senior strategist at OpenNotes, said it means giving consumers the information they need to make informed health care decisions. Just as hospitals and health systems require metrics and tools to make business choices, patients need data to decide how to best manage their health. And, giving them that information up-front can make them more engaged and empowered, which leads to a better experience.

Hospital leaders at the meeting also discussed the need to improve accessibility — think care on-demand, portals, virtual care, etc. — as well as improved access to primary care and mental health services, among other ideas.

They said we should focus on convenience. This includes telehealth services that bridge the gap between distance and travel time to health care access points; providing transportation to ensure consumers attend their appointments; and using care navigators to ensure compliance with medication orders.

Although the field’s focus as a whole on consumerism could stand to improve, plenty of hospitals and health systems have risen to the occasion and implemented thoughtful changes within their organizations. What’s more, many of them have done it in low-tech ways, which makes it easier for us to replicate.

For example, Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas listened to their patients’ concerns about wait times for medications and responded by creating a volunteer pharmacy courier program. The program gets medications to patients more quickly and also enables nursing staff to spend more time at the bedside.

Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital quite literally meets patients where they are by treating them in the comfort of their own homes, which has boosted value and resulted in fewer clinical interventions for patients.

And Mount Sinai Health System in New York City created a single point of contact for all patients in its Joint Replacement Bundled Payment Program from before admission to the recovery process, leading to a more coordinated, lower-stress experience.

What are the top consumer demands in your community? I’d love to hear about them and how you are addressing them. Contact me at pbathija@aha.org. Or, better yet, join us in Denver on Sept. 26 for our next AHA Executive Forum, hosted by The Value Initiative. We have an exciting lineup of speakers at this complimentary, AHA-members-only event that will spark discussion around how hospitals can improve value through consumer-driven innovation and collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders. View the full agenda and register here.

 

Priya Bathija is vice president of AHA’s The Value Initiative.

 

 

 

1 American Customer Satisfaction Index 2018 www.acsi.org/acsi-benchmarks/benchmarks-by-industry

 

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