Patient Experience

FocusGroupOften when I am moderating focus groups for hospital clients, I hear patients and former patients complain about the most basic things. In healthcare, we seem to forget that the patient experience starts at the beginning. That could be their experience on the hospital website or their first contact with an employee or volunteer when they walk in the front door. Sometimes that experience begins in the parking garage, minutes before they make it to the front door.

Think about it. When someone greets you warmly and puts a smile on your face, that experience has a way of impacting your entire day. It has a halo effect. It puts you in a good mood and you suddenly see things through positive filters. So why don’t we put more thought and energy into the way we welcome people as they arrive at our facilities?

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 9.32.39 PMI have a weekly meeting on the campus of Duke University. I park in one of the parking garages next to the medical center. This is a garage used by a wide variety of patients, including those visiting the Cancer Center. Each week as I pull up to the garage to get my ticket prior to parking, a smiling, boisterous woman greets me and has something positive to say. She is an employee who works at the parking deck, and her job, whether by her design or Duke’s, is to greet people driving into the facility. I don’t know if it is in her job description, but I am certain that her number one priority is to put a smile on the face of each person entering her garage that day. She always compliments me on my neck tie, and if its a Monday, she’ll ask me if I had a good weekend. Sometimes she even sings to all of us and spreads joy. That’s it. She spreads joy. It happens every time I see her.

So how do you think that impacts the patient experience? Imagine people feeling scared and intimidated as they approach this large medical center – the kind of place people go when they are really sick, maybe facing a terminal illness. And think about what it means to them to be greeted with such warmth. I don’t know what they pay that lady at the parking deck, but it is not enough. She is a brand ambassador without equal. Later in the day, as the patient and his or her family members move from one medical appointment to another, that wonderful lady who put a smile on their faces may not be top-of-mind, but I guarantee you that they have a warm feeling about Duke Medicine.

Compare that to the many hospitals I visit where I have trouble getting the employee or volunteer behind the front desk to even acknowledge me. When they do acknowledge me, they often look as if I have interrupted them from something far more important.

I don’t want to over simplify patient experience design. Everything can be perfect and if we fail with patient transport at discharge, that may well be the thing they remember. But one thing we can control, and get right, is the way we welcome patients and family members into our hospitals and outpatient facilities. We can put our best foot forward every time. The idea of a warm greeting should be institutionalized! It should be part of the culture.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 3.40.33 PMI recently wrote a blog post for the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Marketing Association. They were interested in having me share some best practices that my firm uses to produce engaging video content for our healthcare clients; that includes video of clinicians, patients and hospital administrators. We produced an amazing series of videos recently featuring hospice physicians. The videos are mind blowing and incredibly emotional. I’m extremely proud of the work. Here’s one of those videos so you can see what I’m talking about:

If you are interested in reading my blog post, Ten Tips for Creating Engaging Videos, use this link. At the very least, the tips may serve as good reminders.


Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 10.03.16 AMMy friends at Inspire recently published a compilation of patients’ stories titled: Experts by Experience 2015. This is their third volume in a series that reproduces patients’ stories from Stanford Medicine’s Scope Blog.

Here’s quote by Benjamin Miller from the foreword to the collection:

“Sadly, the patient still is being asked to “come” to the system rather than the system come to them. But this is changing. Indeed, there is a revolution underway that places the patient in a more opportune position for influence. Communities bring their stories, stories connected to data, to begin to advocate for a new way of delivering healthcare. In fact, this compilation you are reading is part of that revolution.”

I encourage you to download Experts by Experience 2015, and spend time with it. Share it with your colleagues. Make your day a patient-centered day.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 9.33.01 AMYesterday, Dan Hinmon and I held the latest in our series of webinars about the importance of online patient communities within healthcare. Our general perspective is that healthcare communicators and marketers need to become community builders. The notion of “community building” should permeate everything we do.

Here’s the video of Dan’s presentation. I was honored to once again serve as the host and moderator. The subject of Dan’s presentation was: People to People: Improve health, build loyalty, and personalize your marketing with online patient communities.

By watching the video, you’ll learn how online patient communities connect people with people AND with your hospital to improve outcomes, reduce costs, increase patient satisfaction, and build loyalty.

In this webinar Dan Hinmon, president of Hive Strategies, shares:

  • Examples of successful online patient communities
  • Techniques you can use to promote people-to-people interactions
  • 3 ways online communities can improve patient engagement
  • 5 things you must know before you start an online community

I like those moments when I am reminded to not take myself and my work so seriously. This healthcare marketing work can be intense – and I let it take on an even higher level of intensity.

It was so refreshing the other day when my friend and client, Jennifer Wilson, posted a photo of her daughter touring an ambulance while they were attending a health fair. Here’s the post:

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.33.09 PM

The next day, while I was on a conference call with Jennifer, I mentioned how cute Anna Grace looked posing in the ambulance. In the ensuing conversation, Jennifer told me that Anna Grace took a lot of time looking around the ambulance and asked the EMT nearly 20 questions about different things she observer. Then, when Jennifer and Anna Grace left the ambulance and had time together, Anna Grace had an important observation to share with her mother: She said that the interior of  the ambulance looked just like the inside of her Barbie Van. Isn’t that awesome? In the naive world of this 5-year-old, the ambulance is on par with her Barbie Van. Why not?

Remember, Barbie Vans are cool to some little girls. I know they were cool to my daughter when she was that age. (She would never admit that today.) I guarantee you that Anna Grace was thrilled when she first received her Barbie Van. And undoubtedly, she was intrigued by the ambulance. The comparison to her Barbie Van means that the ambulance made an impact. The way I look at the world, there’s an ad concept in there somewhere!

This experience reminds me that in marketing, simple solutions are often the best solutions. Yes, we begin with complex challenges, but our job is to develop solutions that are profound in their simplicity. Sometimes that requires stepping back and seeing things through a child’s eyes.

At the end of 2014 my firm began working with “A Practical Playbook,” an organization that facilitates collaboration between partners in public health and primary care for the purpose of improving population health. This is an important initiative as we move into the world of population health management, and obviously an exciting one for my team to support and market. And today it is even more exciting because we’re celebrating a milestone!

Here’s the information from the press release we sent out earlier today:

“A Practical Playbook: Public Health & Primary Care Together” is marking a successful first year of work to promote and facilitate collaboration between partners in public health, primary care, and academia. “A Practical Playbook” was founded by the de Beaumont Foundation, Duke Community and Family Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Entire Cake Photo

Over the last year, medical schools and graduate level public health programs have adopted “A Practical Playbook,” incorporating it into their population health curricula. It has also become a valued resource for public health practitioners at local, state, and federal health agencies. Organizations including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Institute of Medicine, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health have lauded “A Practical Playbook” and are committed to supporting its goal of improving population health by fostering greater collaboration between primary care and public health.

“The fundamental paradox of health care in America is that we devote our time, resources, and attention to what happens inside a hospital and health system even though we would have much greater results – and a much healthier country – if we had a broader focus that included social and environmental factors,” said Edward L. Hunter, CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation. “I applaud the institutions that are shaping the next generation of doctors, nurses, and public health practitioners for giving their students the tools they need to meaningfully address the burden of chronic disease in the United States.”

“A Practical Playbook” is also a driving force in the BUILD Health Challenge, a national award program funded by the de Beaumont Foundation, the Advisory Board Company, the Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Colorado Health Foundation. “A Practical Playbook” will provide technical assistance to BUILD Health awardees as they seek to improve population health in urban communities by addressing the social determinants of health.

“With the BUILD Health Challenge, ‘A Practical Playbook’ will be on the front lines of understanding how collaboration between primary care, public health, and community nonprofits actually takes place: what the common challenges are, what best practices can be created from these experiences, and how to replicate successful outcomes,” said Lloyd Michener, MD, Chair of Duke Community and Family Medicine.

In the coming year, “A Practical Playbook” is expanding its original offering of primarily web-based tools, information, and resources to providing thought leadership, offering in-person technical assistance, and developing opportunities to bring partners together.

This blog post has been living in my head for some time. I’ve finally decided it is time to put in in writing. You see, among other things, my firm specializes in marketing clinical affiliations between academic medical centers and community hospitals. The affiliations we market bring real value to the patients of these community hospitals. Specialists and subspecialists from the academic medical centers leave the mother ship each week and travel to these suburban communities, where they see patients in the community in which they live. So, for example, families who live 30 miles north of Boston don’t have to drive into the city to have their child see a pediatric neurologist. Rather, they can see a specialist from one of Boston’s remarkable children’s hospitals in the community where they live. For a family with a seriously ill child, this care delivery model is of great value. It is a distributed care model where care is pushed out into the communities surrounding the medical center, rather than sucked into the mother ship. (Granted, some patients inevitably end up being treated at the academic medical center.)

However, as I said in the title of this post, not all clinical affiliations are created equal. Traveling around the country I see many widely marketed affiliations that in my opinion offer little to no value to the patient. What am I talking about? Specifically, I’m talking about clinical affiliations where the patient has no access to clinicians from the academic medical center (AMC) or research center that is the “source” of more sophisticated specialty care. Usually the AMC is located in a different region of the country. I’m also talking about affiliations where patients have no access to clinical trials offered by the AMC partner. If all the community hospital has done is buy access to the treatment protocols of their AMC partner, then they should be very careful about how they represent that affiliation to the public. (Some do a good job of this.) A clinical affiliation should not simply be a positioning tool for the community hospital. It may sound sexy to say you’re affiliated with one of the leading medical centers in the country, but what value does it provide your patients. (And I’ve noticed that some community hospital make the affiliation the focus of their marketing program.)

Certainly there is a benefit to community hospitals when they align with an AMC and adopt their treatment protocols in a specific area. No argument from me there. There’s even more value when the hospital’s physicians have access to the specialists at the AMC for consults. But please don’t imply that the affiliation is any more than that. And don’t be intentionally vague, leaving the consumer to assume that there is more to the affiliation than there really is. That kind of marketing is misleading and deceitful – and some of the biggest healthcare brands in our business are allowing this to happen. Their brands are for sale and become the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” in community hospital billboards and print ads. (You can see why this post lived in my head for quite a while.)

End of rant.


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