A Patient Is Not A 'Customer'
I can’t quite recollect where I heard it, but the anecdote goes that in the years when there was still a USSR, a bunch of Soviet scientists went to the US for a conference. They had heard much about the economy of abundance and looked forward to their shopping trip to the nearby supermarket.
They had come with huge bags to haul it all away in.
Guess how much they splurged? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Why? They were so overwhelmed by the rows and rows and rows of brands in each category that they just could not make up their minds. They went back empty-handed that first trip.
But in the consumerist society of today, we want variety. We want alternatives. And we want to make our own choices. We don’t want to be told what to do. Even as children we rebel when parents `decide’ for us.
That is human nature. Then why was I feeling helpless and inadequate as the doctor looked at me expectantly? Waiting for my answer on whether to schedule the surgery for my father or put him on medication and wait. There were patients who managed on medication for years. But then there were also those that had to be rushed in for emergency surgery despite being on the medication, he said.
And I had to make that choice. Now. Go ahead with surgery that, ultimately, maybe totally unnecessary or take the risk of waiting. Put a person who was mortally afraid of doctors and hospitals through an operation or on medication that had possible side effects? My mind swimming I wondered how I should even begin assessing my choices here.
As a customer actively seeking to buy a product you appreciate information availability, variety & the right to exercise your freedom of choice. Right? And the hospital was doing just that. Giving me the alternatives and leaving the choice to me. Then why am I not enamored?
Because a patient is not a customer. When it comes to designing patient experience it helps to NOT apply the standard Customer Experience norms blindly.
The nature of the product, curative healthcare, is not something the patient is actively seeking to enhance his life. It is a disruption in his life that he wants to quickly and painlessly overcome and RETURN to his normal life.
The last thing a patient wants is more stress and responsibility, especially in an emergency type of situation. He wants to surrender to the specialist. At this point giving him information and choice paralyzes him.
• Is not in a state of mind to absorb the information
• Even if absorbed, it is difficult for him to process it
• Even if he processes it he is unable to make an `informed’ choice because he does not have the specialized knowledge required to assess the alternatives competently.
So is all the information giving a bad idea? No!
Information in the nature of admission procedures, hospital navigation, support services provided is useful, important and desired by the patient/caregiver. In fact, they help the patient retain a feeling of control over the situation. Information sharing is good where the patient shows an inclination for it – because of their background or resources have made it possible for them to use it effectively.
In non-emergency situations: Here information sharing interactions need to be designed to help patient comprehend the choices, their outcomes and hand-hold him through the decision making process from all facets – medical and non-medical.
Irrespective of the nature of the situation, emergency or non-emergency, the doctor is the specialist. The patient wants to be able to trust him to make the right decision – on his behalf. Not to abdicate choice and responsibility to the patient.
Desirable patient experience is not the same as desirable customer experience in other situations. One needs to craft how much information, what type of information, when and how to impart it to the patient and caregiver so that they are not overwhelmed and yet retain a feeling of control.
As a healthcare provider have you put in place a different experience for emergency and non-emergency situations? Do you overwhelm your patients or do you treat patients as `customers’?