Patients Vs. Consumers: Why The Word Doesn’t Matter — But The Argument Does
There’s nothing that gets my blood pressure going like calling the cable company.
Chock-full of scripted apologies, sales pitches, and roundabout conversations, the customer service of cable companies is notoriously awful. I’m almost certain that if half the companies didn’t have a semi-monopoly in their respective areas, they wouldn’t stay in business.
Customer service pervades all areas of our lives from who we begrudgingly choose as our utility providers to where we shop for clothes or groceries. Now, the concept of consumerism has made its way into one of the largest industries in the country — healthcare.
Healthcare is no longer just about the well-being of patients. Patients don’t stop being opinionated consumers once they put on that hospital gown, and they certainly don’t stop being Twitterers, Yelpers, or Facebookers.
The debate on whether to call them patients or consumers is a hot one. And the answer is that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the conversation is even being had — and that good customer service in healthcare depends largely on the patient/consumer experience.
Whether you choose to call them patients, consumers, or pat-sumers, improving their experience should be high on your list of priorities. Here’s how you can do that.
Show Your Patients You Care — And Help Them Understand Their Condition
When I was 15, I went to my annual eye doctor appointment, during which my optometrist noticed my pupils were two different sizes. A few eye tests and an MRI later, my doctors were able to say that this condition (which I now know is called anisocoria) isn’t caused by a brain tumor and is also nothing to worry about.
Now, over a decade later, my primary care provider starts every annual visit with a quick check of my eyes. Every. Single. Visit. Maybe she has an awesome memory or maybe she references my medical records (more likely), but it doesn’t matter. This 60-second action makes me feel noticed and cared for.
It doesn’t take much to show you care — a friendly greeting, an empathetic tone, even a few extra minutes answering questions. In fact, a study that was done in Germany, the UK, and the US showed that for about 3 out of 4 patients, the top contributing factor to perceived better care is time left for discussion.
Keep in mind — patients might come in already believing they know what’s wrong. In the era of the internet, self-diagnosis is rampant, and almost 44% of Americans actually self-diagnose rather than visiting a healthcare provider.
While a patient’s idea of their condition may be a little off base — if not all the way in the outfield — the goal of healthcare remains the same. They should leave their physician’s office with a solid understanding of their health and why some websites can sometimes be misleading.
When a patient walks into your office, they’re putting their trust in you. Maybe it’s a few extra minutes of discussion or maybe it’s remembering a patient’s obscure medical condition. Either way, seemingly tiny gestures can have a huge impact on their experience in this consumer-driven healthcare world.
The Power Of The Internet: How To (Effectively) Stay In Touch With Your Patients
Listen. People go online. A lot. Nearly 30% of Americans say they are online “almost constantly” () — and over 80% say they go online daily.
This means they’re frequently checking their email, going on social media, and generally surfing the web — all places you can develop an online presence. A robust online presence is great for helping you build your organization, as over 80% of patients look up a doctor online before making a decision about their care.
As for your current patients, the internet can help you connect and communicate with them to drive loyalty. There are plenty of options to stay in touch, including an email newsletter, a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram account, a wellness blog, or a podcast.
No matter the method of communication, the key is to make your content valuable for patients. Nobody wants to read boring healthcare content, which can make patients quickly leave the page or never even open it at all.
Some ways you can make your content more beneficial and relevant to patients include:
- Providing general — and timely — information about staying healthy and common conditions, such as how to avoid the flu during flu season
- Choosing an enticing title that encourages them to open the content in the first place (think “5 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight” vs. plain old “Weight Loss”)
- Encouraging interaction by asking patients their thoughts and feedback via comments or reposts
- Connecting them with the right resources if they have more questions or want to set up an appointment
Don’t forget — you can start small. For instance, you might want to choose just one platform to build your online and social media presence (most hospitals use Facebook) and go from there. After that, you might feel more comfortable branching out to other modes of communication.
The patient/consumer experience exists both within the walls of your building and online, and it’s up to you to take advantage of opportunities in both worlds.
The healthcare experience has the potential to be enjoyable, and whether you’ve landed on the term patients, consumers, or something else entirely, it’s time they get the attention they deserve.