If I’ve learned anything from my years collaborating with healthcare companies, it’s that everybody wants to be customer-centric, but few do it well. That’s because it’s not easy. It requires asking the right questions at every stage of the process to ensure that your team’s truly reflecting on the value they’re creating for customers – both in identifying the right opportunities to pursue and in developing and testing new products.
The intentions are there, but the healthcare industry is lagging behind other industries when it comes to accomplishing customer-centric goals. A recent survey of 1000 consumers in the US found that respondents were dissatisfied with the experience they had with their healthcare providers, blaming long wait times, confusing processes, impersonal treatment, and difficulty booking appointments. This means there are enormous opportunities for healthcare companies to better serve their customers with some of their most basic requirements when seeking care.
This pressure for healthcare to innovate in their customer experience comes from a fundamental shift – patients are now afforded choice in where and in what way they will receive the best quality of care and experience. This choice comes as a result of new technology emerging in the space that has disrupted the traditional healthcare business models and operations, creating fresh options for common patient situations, such as what to do when sick or how to manage prescriptions. As a healthcare provider, you want to differentiate because patients get to pick and you want them to pick you!
While structure or business portfolios may differ across healthcare organizations, I have identified 3 key questions that I’ve seen successful leaders in healthcare use to challenge teams, assess success, and drive a customer/patient-centric culture.
Pin them to your wall, make them your phone wallpaper, and definitely use them as trigger talking points at your next team meeting. With some practice, they should become a part of your team’s decision-making framework.
Answers to these questions should constantly evolve and improve as your organizations’ ease with being customer centric accelerates.
Health business model examples
1. How are you empathizing with all stakeholders in the value chain?
There is a difference between building a customer journey map and personas within the confines of your office and practicing real empathy with patients in a space that challenges your own biases and assumptions. You are not your user. And experience in the industry is no substitute for interviews with real consumers and patients.
For that matter, don’t underestimate what you can learn by observing and immersing yourself in the challenges of other stakeholders throughout the value chain – beyond just the patient/customer persona. Think about:
- The care teams who are addressing the psychological needs of patients in a hospital setting.
- Family members whose routines are impacted following the medical emergency of a loved one.
- The regulatory agencies who manage the compliance and safe-use of new-to-market treatments and drugs.
- The pharmacists who are explaining a new drug to somebody with a chronic illness who’s already taking 5 other medications.
The patient is often the end consumer, especially when it comes to medical devices and pharmaceuticals, but the other individuals or organizations in the value chain likely have similar challenges when it comes to meeting a patient’s quality-of-care needs.
Kaiser Permanente has invested significantly in a new model of care that’s proven to be successful in improving the health outcomes of the most expensive patients in the US healthcare system. The approach involved improving the operational efficiency of primary-care physicians, allowing them to spend the necessary time with those patients with multiple chronic illnesses or recent sufferers of a catastrophic health event.
By spending the time conducting empathy activities beyond the patient, it is possible to identify new, creative solutions that play into the needs of other stakeholders who you can use as advocates for your goals. It may be helpful to craft patient journeys and personas for multiple non-patient stakeholders and clearly connect the frustrations and challenges to those of the patient.
Give your team the time and resources they need to avoid cutting corners when it comes to empathy across the entire stakeholder map. Doing so will enable them to connect the dots required to generate unique insights and create something that fulfills the unique needs of all stakeholders.
2. How are you empowering customers to take an active role in managing their own health?
Increasingly, patients expect to be involved in the decision-making process regarding their own health outcomes. This includes everybody on the healthcare continuum: from well people looking to keep themselves healthy, all the way through to highly sick individuals who are focusing on stability and comfort. It’s a transformation that has occurred as medical knowledge has become increasingly accessible and the number of alternatives to medications and treatments has widened.
These days, it’s expected that your doctor’s appointment will involve a conversation about your individual lifestyle, needs, and situation. And together, you and your doctor will come to a decision about the best course of action. The same principle holds true when it comes to digital healthcare services such as telemedicine and drug monitoring.
Trust in healthcare is no longer given blindly. It’s something that needs to be earned – not only by those providing diagnosis and testing, but by everybody in the value chain, including medical device developers, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, biotech startups, and more. There are many ways to earn this trust, such as by providing transparency and personalization. But empowering patients to play an active role in decisions can be the most powerful because it demonstrates to the customer that they are in control.
Propeller Health, a company dedicated to providing digital health solutions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma patients, has developed a product focused on improving adherence to respiratory medication delivered through inhalers. Their solutions consist of inhaler sensors and a complementary mobile app that provides the patient with personalized recommendations and feedback based on their inhaler use. By design, this creates an actionable opportunity for the user to take ownership of improving their own adherence. In addition, it helps them feel satisfied with the product because it gives them the information that they need to make informed decisions.
Ask your team to create a list of all the intangible values being provided to the user by using your product or service. For example, you may find confidence, relief, or amusement on your list. Then ask the team to prioritize this list and ideate opportunities to further increase these top benefits in the product. Think beyond the UX of the digital solution in this ideation – adding the involvement of new stakeholders and partners is welcome!
3. How are you using patient healthcare data as a competitive advantage?
Other industries, specifically big consumer tech (Amazon, Netflix), have demonstrated that they are very good at leveraging data as a competitive advantage. But rarely do we see it done well in a healthcare context. Many healthcare companies may have the reach to collect powerful data, but they consider internal bureaucracy and regulation to be a big barrier. So they tend to avoid rather than embrace it.
Obtaining true value from patient data comes from more than just collecting it and using it to determine whether you are meeting customer needs. In order to compete, and more importantly, differentiate, product teams in healthcare need to be challenged in:
- Collecting unique patient data that you have a unique vantage point to access
- Creating a self-sustaining system that quickly and continuously implements data-learnings back into the product
- Identifying other businesses or organizations that value your data and insights – they may even be willing to pay for access to them.
To empower people with Parkinson’s disease to take more ownership of their health, UCB created an AI-powered app that monitors their progress around the clock and gives them someone to talk to 24/7.
Challenge your team in how the health data being collected and used can differentiate the product or service in a crowded market. Ensure your team sees the data as an asset, rather than a by-product.
Some of the topics I discussed here outline why differentiation in healthcare is no simple task.
Every other day a new healthcare startup emerges with the potential to completely disrupt the markets of the biggest healthcare and life sciences companies. In your pursuit to drive a more patient-centric culture within your teams, it’s important to remember that the structure and processes of your organization were likely not designed with the patient in mind. That friction you feel when you encourage your team to flex the limitations of the current process is an indication that you’re challenging this system in a way that’s essential to success. Pharmaceutical companies were built to develop drugs but are now expected to be digital product designers. Healthcare companies were built to engineer and manufacture medical devices but are now expected to be hospital service designers.
Embrace the friction that these transitions will create and be the leader in your organization who’s asking teams the tough questions and giving space for discovery to create truly differentiating healthcare businesses.