Once upon a time, healthcare was primarily a physician-driven world. However, the sands have shifted, and now, patients, as consumers, increasingly hold the power. More informed and more inclined to take control of their own healthcare, they have become “pro-sumers” – meaning they are proactive before consuming. These “pro-sumers” read, research, talk, surf and even chat online to gather information before making decisions, including those about their healthcare. They do their “homework” first and want to learn all they can about their health concern, the physicians and treatments available to them, and what others in similar situations have done.
So, practicing medicine today means viewing a patient not just as someone who is ill and needs your help, but as a true consumer making a purchasing decision. That decision just happens to be related to the health and well-being of themselves or a loved one. And as the most successful businesses in other industries already know, the customer should always be your number one priority.
From P’s to A’s
Healthcare today is a business – like it or not. And any basic business marketing book or course will talk about the “four P’s” – product, price, place and promotion. These elements are still the building blocks of any successful enterprise.
However, what patients believe they want, deserve and expect has really become the driving force in healthcare purchasing decisions. Over the years, service has become an increasingly important part of the “product” physicians provide. Healthcare has become a competitive marketplace. You can have stellar credentials and provide the highest level of care available, but if you can’t keep your patients happy, many will simply leave and find someone who will.
As a result, the true key to any physician’s survival and success in 2010 and beyond is what I call the “four A’s:”
Patients want to be able to easily reach the highest level of care available when they need it, where they need it. And they want the freedom to choose and be involved in decisions about their care. Access is the primary reason behind the explosion in “walk-in” clinics that can be found in familiar community locations throughout the country, including inside pharmacies, grocery stores and big-box retailers. These businesses have capitalized on the simple fact that many patients could not get access to their regular physicians in a time they felt was reasonable. And many of these businesses are booming. While most patients would prefer to see their personal physician, many are willing to give this up in exchange for access to care.
Closely related to access, patients want availability. They want convenient appointment times, and they don’t want to wait. They also expect their physicians and other healthcare providers to be approachable and readily communicate with them about their condition and treatment options. They want both phone and face-to-face exchanges to be unhurried and compassionate. To address patient demand for availability, many forward-thinking practices now offer non-traditional appointments times, including early in the morning, at lunchtime, evenings and even Saturdays based on the needs of their specific patient population. And others offer express or fast-track walk-in care during certain times of the day.
Patients want accountability. They are looking for someone who will take responsibility and provide accurate answers and explanations. Typically, patients are already anxious and under stress when they turn to you. Often, they are experiencing a health problem. They have questions and concerns, and are looking to you and your staff for answers and solutions. They don’t want to get passed from one person to another. They expect leadership, assistance and guidance in navigating what can be a complex maze.
One example of how many healthcare providers are addressing this need for accountability is the rise in care coordinators or care teams. This approach provides each patient with a single point person in your office who handles all questions related to their care. And it also helps to put patients at ease because they see the same familiar face and hear the same familiar voice each time they interact with your office. By doing this, you are building relationships and loyalty because you are providing a more personal level of care. This can make even large, multi-physician or multi-specialty practices feel “small.”
Finally, today’s patients expect that you will accommodate them. They want convenience and genuine concern for their well-being – someone who understands their unique, individual challenges and makes it easy to get the care they need. They don’t want cookie-cutter care. They want customization and personalization. They want to feel engaged and personally recognized during the time they are connected with your practice.
So how can you incorporate the “four A’s” into your practice? Spend some time walking in your patient’s footsteps. Really listen to their needs and learn from their situations. What do they need? What do they want? What do they like and dislike about your practice? Then, examine your current systems, identify potential opportunities and be sure to engage your staff in developing creative solutions to providing exceptional service.