Greater Expectations

[I was invited to write this post as a guest blog for Pete Crutchley at Medical Healthcare Management. It was published on his blog in November 2015]

Healthcare is changing.

But not many of us appreciate how significantly it is changing. A substantial shift is taking place driven by increased consumerism in many sectors and healthcare is not going to get away unscathed. Consumerism, in turn, is being driven by factors such as increased access to information in an ‘always on’ world, customers sharing ratings and reviews of services with each other, greater competition (and some from potential disruptors who will come from left field – have you heard about Überdoc?) and greater expectations from consumers. Healthcare is shifting from a traditionally product-focused, transactional industry to one that is more end-user focused where people’s preferences, needs, experiences and expectations are all that matter. The days of the disengaged, un-empowered healthcare customer are dwindling. This might sound like doom and gloom but, on the contrary, this shift creates enormous potential for growth and presents opportunities to do more for patients, families and communities.

Greater consumer expectations are not only about wanting ready access to high quality care but are also about consumers wanting more from the organisations with whom they will chose to interact and share their wallet. Increasingly, consumers are looking for more meaning in organisations. They are more likely to feel confident in an organisation that doesn’t simply push out messages about what they do and how they do it, but rather in those that are able to articulate why they exist and the impact they have on the lives of the people in their communities. Many organisations might say that ‘The patient is at the heart of what we do’, without meaning and delivering on this. This simply won’t be good enough in the ‘age of the customer’, however well intentioned. Organisations will have to stop configuring themselves around internal needs and products and make sure that they are set up so that the customers’ experience pre, during and post any intervention matches their expectations.

Mounting a response to these forces is not going to be easy but will need to happen. Most healthcare organisations know that they have to do something, but don’t know how to tackle this. Far too many, in my experience, are complacent and unfortunately risk being left behind.

The good news is that there still is time to do something about this. The ‘to-do’ list to move from product-focus to end-user focus is long and complex and will involve a lot of new thinking both in terms of culture, strategy and implementation. Here are two simple things that can break the inertia and get you started:

  1. Spend time considering your purpose. It is not the same as mission. Purpose is about why we exist while mission is simply stating what we do and how we do it. Understanding and articulating your purpose is not just about having a cool strapline for your business. It should drive behavior of the Board, Executive and wider teams and should determine how the business shifts itself away from product-focused operations toward systems and processes that are fully centred on the end-user. A great example of this is Skype. They recently re crafted their purpose as ‘Doing things whenever you’re apart”. It clearly says this is what we enable you (our customer) to do. They don’t say we are a global telecoms company offer video-conferencing facilities, blah, blah, because their purpose is about the customer and how they are focusing on the customers’ experiences and not the organisation’s products. Skype has now realigned many of its business functions internally to deliver on its purpose.
  1. Consider the narrative you use. How we use language is really important and can be extremely powerful. Product-focused narratives like “We have the best 3T MRI scanner” mean very little to consumers and will need to be replaced by narratives that do mean something, like “Feel more assured – get quicker, more accurate answers to your questions”. Simple tweaks to commonly asked questions can neatly capture what being end-user focused is all about, as beautifully demonstrated in a recent tweet by Professor Sir Muir Gray. He suggests that we ask every individual ‘what matters to you’ and not just ‘what is the matter with you?’

Thank you for reading this post. I’d be interested in any comments or discussion that it might have inspired. This has been ‘Away from the Heard’: The Saffron Steer blog.