“As healthcare goods and services become more commoditized, healthcare organizations – and even nations offering medical tourism – will compete on experience.”

Patient Experience: The Key to Real Transformation in Healthcare

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Thiam Hwa Lim — Healthcare Director at SAP

Major forces at work

Patient experience is huge. And it holds an important key to real transformation in today’s healthcare industry.

The experience economy

One of the major forces pushing patient experience to the forefront of healthcare is the experience economy. A state that was theorized by the Harvard Business Review two decades ago, the experience economy has arrived. Today, ease of connectivity has resulted in widely available access to healthcare information and patient feedback. This has radically influenced how modern patients perceive and consume healthcare products and services.

In this new landscape, experience is as distinct from services, as services are from goods. As consumers move away from viewing healthcare as commodities (which many competitive healthcare institutions offer), they now choose organizations deemed to offer better experiences.

Other critical dynamics – Affluence, aging populations, sensitive policy issue

But there are more drivers than that. Over the years, critical dynamics have been at work. Southeast Asian economies are becoming more prosperous with a growing middle-income population. Aging populations are climbing in several countries. Increasingly demanding citizens are rendering healthcare a sensitive public policy issue which requires deliberate governmental action and outcomes.

All these compel the need for better healthcare and a dedicated focus on patient experience.

A more important reason: Key to real transformation

But beyond the overarching demand drivers, why is patient experience so important to genuine transformation in healthcare?

It’s simple if we look at the fundamentals of healthcare.

Healthcare is about physical, mental and emotional wellness, as well as prevention of disease, and optimal human function. A positive experience transforms a patient’s sense of self and well-being. By helping individuals to move from a state fraught with anxieties over their illnesses to one where they feel empowered to live healthier and more fulfilling lives regardless of the prognosis, healthcare institutions answer to the sacred mission of medicine and healthcare.

Understanding patients: A new paradigm

To be able to deliver superior patient experience, however, organizations first need to understand patients and customers. This entail observing and gathering feedback across the entire patient journey.

But such feedback data goes beyond the traditional operational data (O-data) that healthcare providers collect. O-data such as high readmission rates, nurse response times, wait times or number of complaints merely show that there are issues. Understanding the reasons behind the problem areas typically involve a complex, manual process such analyzing data from paper surveys.

To better understand the emotions and sentiments regarding their experience, healthcare providers need experience data (X-Data) in-the-moment. Such X-data can be gathered today, for instance, via a simple satisfaction rating along with free text response where patients can leave feedback such as “I didn’t understand the costs” or “I had to wait 3 hours”.

The ability to combine X+O data is powerful – unlocking a new paradigm to understanding patients.

With O-Data, healthcare institutions can identify where challenges are most prominent. By overlaying it with X-Data, they can also grasp the key experience drivers behind a bad patient experience. This allows them to act accurately on insights to refine internal operations where it matters or address patients’ feedback in real-time.

UnitedHealthcare: A winner that turn experience challenges into opportunities

UnitedHealthcare is one such example that tapped on the power of X+O data to turn its experience challenges into opportunities to delight customers.

The healthcare provider realized the frustrations patients have with healthcare. It’s complex, expensive and lacks transparency. In fact, one key factor that consistently created a negative impact on one of its customer service KPIs is surprise or high out-of-pocket costs. Tami Reller, CXO and CMO of UnitedHealthcare gave an apt illustration, “Imagine if you ordered something online and it didn’t tell you how much it cost until after it arrived on your doorstep. Traditionally, that’s how healthcare worked.”

Recognizing it needed a better and more proactive way to educate and help patients navigate the health system, the organization worked towards combining data, technology and clinicians to redefine patient experience in the areas that matter.


Digital and mobile experience: Personalized, yet more affordable

One of the initiatives is a new digital and mobile experience for patients to get what they need in an intuitive way. At the same time, it retains the personalized human touch that’s so critical in healthcare.

The telehealth app allows a patient to meet with her doctor for a minor ailment in the comfort of her home. It’s convenient, affordable and allows human-to-human interaction. Any feedback is also easily captured via the app post session.


Prescription transparency: Lower costs, higher care availability and satisfaction

Another example relates to giving providers the tools they need to take proactive action based on a personalized, whole-person-care approach.

Take the instance of where a healthcare professional needs to prescribe a drug to a patient. The clinician can see, from within his own system, the drugs that are covered for this patient, including the lowest cost options and the best way to procure that.

The optimal recommendations are there with the patient still in the exam room. This allows the clinician to discuss the drug alternatives with his patient – leading to a greater sense of participation and empowerment. Which in turns translate into greater patient and provider satisfaction. Putting these tools into the hands of UnitedHealthcare’s providers also helps patients experience fewer cost surprises when they pick up their prescriptions at the pharmacy.


Diverse opportunities highlight urgency to start now

The possibilities are wide-ranging. We haven’t even yet addressed use cases that allow hospitals to serve patients like luxury hotels. Where staff, knowing a patient’s preferences, go out of the way to provide a personalized hospital experience that’s doesn’t break the bank but is more pleasant than staying at home.

As healthcare goods and services become more commoditized, healthcare organizations – and even nations offering medical tourism – will compete on experience. The diverse opportunities patient experience can be harnessed as a competitive differentiator highlight the urgency for healthcare institutions to address patient experience now.

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