Recent discussions with hospital executives convince me that there remains more unknown about Patient Experience Management (PEM) than what is known.
I think it would be helpful to separate PEM into two parts:
- The business of healthcare (the process of running the hospital’s business)
- The healthcare business (the clinical processes)
Most of the current internal PEM programs focus on the clinical side and are targeted at discrete clinical processes within functions like ER and Radiology.
While implementing PEM in those areas will benefit the hospital and improve the patient experience, their overall impact will be minimal. The reason is that the total Patient Experience is comprised of literally dozens of functions and interactions. It is possible to improve one aspect of the experience and have it be relatively unnoticed by a single patient and totally unnoticed by all the patients who not require that service.
Here is a real example. One hospital ranked among the leaders for labor and delivery for its clinical offerings was rated poorly by those delivering at that facility. The good news is the hospital’s consultant solved the problem. The problem? The doctors and staff had all the choice parking spaces, and the expectant moms had to lumber across a rather large parking lot—why they needed a consultant to figure this out is not something I can explain. However, the experience of all the hospital’s other patients remained unchanged.
A recent Mckinsey study reported PEM is the first or second priority of hospital CEOs and COOs during the next 3-5 years. It also reported most have not done much about PEM because the C-Suite did not know which part of the organization “owned” the initiative.
There is no reason why the CIO cannot take ownership of PEM and deliver major improvements. How? First define which processes touch the most patients. Here are three:
In most instances, patients are not familiar enough with the clinical part of their visit to know what could be done better. If they have to wait twenty minutes for an MRI then they have to wait twenty minutes. After all, it is not like they had anything else to do during those twenty minutes—they are a captured audience.
However, if patients have to wait twenty minutes to be admitted, or have to make five calls to get someone to help them understand their bill, all of a sudden they start to equate their experience to the same negative experience they had the last time they waited for the cable repairman.
An argument can be made that much of PEM has to do with how effectively and efficiently a hospital operates its business processes. The two key benefits from improving PEM are:
- It decreases hospital costs without incurring a substantial investment
- It decreases patient churn
PEM is an opportunity for the information technology department to take charge of an important area. It is an area that does not require much clinical expertise in order to deliver results. It is all about improving patient-facing business processes. It offers an opportunity to deliver dramatic change.
When I approach opportunities like this, I never do so from the perspective of what would have to happen to make the number of patient billing complaints drop by 10 percent. I look at the problem from a perspective of how this issue would be handled in a perfect world, and try to build a solution to meet that.
In a perfect operating environment, the number of patient billing issues would be zero, not simply a reduction of the current number of issues. What would the process model have to look like to create zero billing issues?
A perfect operating environment would not be shaving five minutes off of the admissions process, it would be making the admissions process go away. What would the process model have to look like to enable that?
While the solution will not be as simple as reallocating parking spaces, it will not be nearly as difficult as implementing EHR, and the outcome will be much better.