Sitting patiently in the waiting room for a better customer experience
Why patient experience is poor, and how 1stavailable.com.au is making a small but significant improvement
This blog starts with a sad personal story but ends with an upbeat business one. My mother was recently in a public hospital for nearly 3 weeks. Not something you'd wish on anyone, and it's a real reminder for all of us to look after our health and your loved ones.
Professionally speaking, it was also a reminder that providing a good patient experience is not a high priority in healthcare delivery. Hospitals are very good for providing treatment, but quite poor at providing care, and the same is broadly true for most doctors, dentists and so on.
Why do I say this? Some simple examples from my recent patient experience and our firm's research:
- Wards are not designed for patients. They are designed for the health workers. E.g. Patients need rest, but wards are never quiet and the lights never go out. Patients may like to sit up in bed but the bed control is at the feet (for the nurses' convenience) not near the patient.
- Hospitals are not designed for visitors. Visitors are key to a patient's comfort and confidence, but basics like parking and signage can be very poor. A family visitor to a hospital generally feels lost finding their loved one, and finding a nurse or doctor to speak to is too difficult.
- The market is very fragmented. Most doctors, dentists and other practitioners work in small businesses, in a small practice on their own or with a handful of others. So to change the way the sector behaves means gaining the agreement of 1000's of decision makers in 1000's of different businesses.
- We are patients, not customers. For both good and bad reasons, many medical practitioners maintain a superior standing to their patients - "we know best". Accepting that there are or should be elements of 'customer' in the relationship is a challenge.
- Fear of litigation. Ever tried to send or receive an email with a doctor? Good luck. Very few will engage in this form of communication, mainly for reasons concerning the provision of written advice and fear of litigation, though also perhaps because a free email exchange might replace the need for a 10-minute consultation chargeable at $100+.
- Doctors and nurses are inexperienced. Doctors and nurses on the hospital floor are very well trained in medicine and nursing, but have little experience or emphasis placed in the general skills needed to run a large customer-facing operation, e.g. people management, operational processes, customer management.
- No feedback. There is no such thing as customer feedback or Voice of Customer in most hospitals or practices. Patient feedback is rarely sought and even more rarely acted on.
However, I recently came across an Aussie start-up which is making progress in this field - First Available or rather www.1stavailable.com.au.
One of the daily annoyances in the sector is the inability to easily make bookings with practitioners. In a world where we do everything online, just about all doctors still need you to call their office, during business hours to make an appointment. That's quite an inconvenience, and if you're busy or embarrassed to call from work, you may not make that appointment for some time. Something as small as an inconvenient booking system can cost lives in this field. But it's changing. Whilst only about 3% of practitioners have online booking today, this number will follow the adoption curve of other internet trends and reacxh 50% in 5 years, according to Klaus Bartosch, the co-founder and MD of 1stavailable.
The success of this kind of innovation is signalling the beginning of larger change. Customer thinking is arriving in this un-disrupted sector, and the patient experience will be changing in all sorts of ways over the coming years. Good customer design and customer-centric culture practices will help shift the rest of my seven improvement areas above.