Patients desperately seeking ease: Why exceptional experiences require a consumer effort strategy

Diane S. Hopkins

Founder and CEO of ExPeers Consulting & Author

Patients desperately seeking ease: Why exceptional experiences require a consumer effort strategy

12 January 2022 | 6min

Quick Takes

  • Simplifying healthcare experiences and making processes and procedures easy can lead to improved satisfaction, patient engagement, and compliance

  • To improve the patient experience, healthcare leaders need to focus on the six dimensions of ease: understanding, navigation, interpersonal, physical, time, and financial

  • If healthcare organizations can incorporate comprehensive ease strategies, they can identify the areas that cause patients to defer to competitors and avoid “Fiction-Defection Progression”

Improving the patient experience by reducing customer friction points

Healthcare has an unfortunately well-deserved reputation as an industry that forces customers and patients to face many barriers to getting in, getting care, and getting on with life. Although health systems and physician practices have expanded attention and resources to improve the patient experience over the past 15 years, it’s rare that the strategy includes a customer effort focus.  

Customer friction is a common consideration in many other industries, but healthcare providers have not typically integrated this crucial focus with all aspects of customer contacts.  The physician referral app company, ZOCDOC confirmed the high-friction reputation in the industry with their new tagline: “ZOCDOC is healthcare, but easy”.1  The current state of the complex healthcare landscape indicates that ease can be an important driver of exceptional healthcare experiences to improve satisfaction, patient engagement, and compliance.2 

We live in a time where instant gratification is an everyday expectation and over the past 20 years, consumers have become more involved in “shopping” for care. Consumerism is well established in healthcare and patients rarely blindly follow recommendations from a physician.3,4 In addition to the compelling waves of consumerism, providers risk the loss of significant reimbursement from insurers if the care provided does not meet the expected thresholds of satisfaction and quality.5,6 

It’s easier than ever to access information about what’s available, and there is now unprecedented transparency about the quality and effectiveness of various providers. Families with high deductible health insurance plans or who must pay cash for medical services are strongly motivated to find healthcare services that are accessible and provide high value for their needs.    

The combination of consumer demands, transparency, regulations, and increasing competition has created an environment where providing reliably convenient and easy-to-navigate patient experiences is no longer optional for hospitals and physician groups. Paul Johnson, CEO of telemedicine company Lemonaid Health, is building the organization around the customer effort issue. “We’ve all felt the pain of costly, inefficient, and inaccessible medical care,” said Johnson. “Lemonaid’s fully-integrated online service allows anyone to reclaim their health from the comfort of their home.”7   

Six dimensions to simplifying patient experiences

Six dimensions to simplifying patient experiences

A commitment to simplification of how patients get in, get care, and get out is a good first step to launch a thoughtful customer effort strategy and improve the patient experience.  Extens-Consulting has identified six dimensions of ease that can be adapted by healthcare leaders and applied to all operations decision-making.8 

  1. Understanding – “the level of mental energy and thought that must be mobilized” to get the meaning of a word, a sentence, a text given by a physician, a nurse, an insurer
  2. Navigation – “the different steps to be taken to handle a request” such as an appointment with a physician, a dental program, a medical transportation, a refund of medical cost 
  3. Interpersonal – “the ease of communicating with one’s interlocutor” such as with a nurse, a clinical assistant, a physician, a pharmacist
  4. Physical – “the physical energy that must be deployed” such as standing for too long, listening if impaired hearing, reading if impaired vision 
  5. Time – “the perception of time at the different stages of the journey” such as waiting at the doctor’s office, queuing at the hospital’s reception, scheduling an appointment
  6. Financial – “gains or spendings incurred to obtain satisfaction” such as to improve an individual’s quality of life, taking time off, paying for parking or going by foot, sending information by email or stamped letter

The overall goal is to avoid the Friction-Defection Progression™.  This model begins when a patient expresses initial interest in a service and they are confronted by friction which can progress to customers defecting to a competitor.  

The Fiction-Defection Progression model 

The Fiction-Defection Progression model

Identifying friction points to help make healthcare easy 

Friction identification can begin with a review of customer complaints, interviewing frontline staff for their observations on the topic, and comparing and contrasting competitor offerings.  Some perspectives to consider in accelerating friction identification are questions such as:

  • What processes are redundant?  
  • Where are we slow?  
  • What paths are confusing?
  • What’s not automated that should be?   
  • Where are we inflexible?  
  • What’s not online that should be?   
  • What should include digital or remote access?
  • What should be touchless?   
  • Where would human pathfinding make a difference?

4 key considerations to help improve the patient experience strategy

For healthcare organizations ready to pursue customer ease as a promise within the customer experience strategy, here are 4 key considerations:

1 Alignment. Leaders must be aligned around the importance of ease as a promise for customers and design accountabilities, resources, and incentives around the promise. If the expectation to deliver a low-effort experience isn’t seen as a priority, the impact will be unreliable.
2 Commitment. A commitment to enhanced consumer effort requires systems in place to review operations, policies, and procedures to identify the potential impact to consumer effort. Some teams must be responsible for raising the question of customer effort anytime new programs or procedures are launched to hopefully prevent added effort whenever possible. 
3 Cocreation. Since the entire workforce has the potential to influence patient effort and reduce friction points, a commitment to co-creation and leveraging the insights of all staff will accelerate effort innovations throughout the enterprise. Offering ongoing training for new and existing staff to build the case for ease will build enthusiasm and solutions.
4 Communication. The low-effort promise must be well communicated to the frontline and management. In order to prompt new staff behaviors that support effortless experiences, memorable messaging is important. One interesting view of effort is the Japanese concept of Shibumi where you strive for elegant simplicity, effortless effectiveness, and that even though a process or offering is complex, make sure the complexity is not evident to the customer in the final result. 

Ease the path to improved patient satisfaction

High patient or consumer effort is a true barrier to satisfying patients, engaging them in their care, and becoming a most preferred competitor.  As outlined in the book, It’s Hard to be Easy, a comprehensive ease strategy involves aligning goals, incentives, operations, policies, procedures, distribution, marketing, and human resources to anticipate potential customer ease or friction.9 To improve the patient experience, the aspiration for any healthcare organization should be to create a culture that is committed to “clearing all paths for customers.”  

Diane S. Hopkins is the founder of ExPeers Consulting where she works primarily with healthcare clients on patient experience, market communications, and innovation strategy. She was one of the first Chief Experience Officers in the US healthcare industry and is a nationally known thought leader and speaker, and is author of It's Hard to be Easy, Unleashing the Chief Moment Officers and co-author of Advice from a Patient. She is a certified Experience Economy Expert.

References

  1. Zocdoc, Inc. (2021). Website available at https://www.zocdoc.com/ [Accessed November 2021]
  2. Becker’s Hospital Review. (2018). Article available at https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/patient-experience/ease-is-the-new-experience-why-making-care-easy-will-keep-patients-coming-back.html [Accessed November 2021]
  3.  Brin DW. (2017). Article available at https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/why-don-t-patients-follow-their-doctors-advice [Accessed November 2021]
  4. Stirratt et al. (2018). Journal of General Internal Medicine 33, 216–222
  5. Tevis et al. (2015). Advances in Surgery 49, 221-233 
  6. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (2021). Website available at https://qualitynet.cms.gov/inpatient/hvbp [Accessed November 2021]
  7. Lemonaid Health, Inc. (2021). Website available at  https://www.lemonaidhealth.com/about-us [Accessed November 2021]
  8. Extens-Consulting. (2021). Whitepaper available at https://www.extens-consulting.com/en/white-paper-forget-effort-choose-ease/ [Accessed November 2021]
  9. Hopkins DS. (2021). Book available at https://www.amazon.com/Its-Hard-Easy-Competitive-Advantage/dp/1955750106/ 
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