Forget Patient-Centric. Be Patient-Responsive.

Are you sick as I am of hearing healthcare organizations claim that their number one goal is to be “patient-centric”?

First, no business of any kind is truly customer-centric. Even if they’re a non-profit, they have to be revenue-centric, or the lights go out and everyone goes home. Most organizations are lucky if they don’t come across as customer-hostile.  So why pretend that you can build a business with the customer at the literal center of operations?

Then there’s the question of which customer you’re allegedly putting at the center. In the case of healthcare organizations, a strong argument can be made that both physicians and patients share top billing as end-users.

While the two groups’ interests overlap, they certainly don’t match up completely. I’d go so far as to suggest that being patient-centric might ultimately work against patient interests if physicians are not content. Put another way, when a healthcare organization claims to be focused on patient-centered care, what are they giving up in their relationships with physicians? This is a serious issue.

What’s cool, though, is that as healthcare organizations become increasingly digitized, it allows us to meet patients more than halfway to make care more convenient, affordable and accessible. The digital transformation of healthcare allows us to meet patient needs and adapt to change to a degree that would seem almost miraculous a few decades ago.

Earlier generations of technology aimed at being patient-friendly haven’t necessarily accomplished what they set out to do.  One example that comes immediately to mind is the patient portal, uptake of which has been slow and not that steady due to a simple lack of interest. Telemedicine, too, has taken a number of years to become popular with consumers, in part, certainly, because many of their insurance plans wouldn’t pay for it.

However, with portals, mobile health apps, telemedicine and remote monitoring technology becoming consumer staples, we’re now in a position to not only meet patient needs but also respond to them as well. As patients increasingly use and become comfortable with these tools, they’ll begin to discover what they need and how this technology could be improved to meet those needs.

A patient-responsive healthcare organization could see to it that these channels integrate easy-to-use ways for consumers to offer feedback on their experiences before, during and after their interactions. There’s no better way to gather data on what patients actually think and feel in the moment they’re using a tool or service.

Ultimately, developing a flow of real- or near-real-time patient feedback will allow sufficiently agile healthcare organizations to evolve digital care almost on-the-fly. Of course, by their very nature, certain parts of the care experience need to be delivered with strict consistency, but even if the first wave of responses simply improve the user experience and interface that would be a large step forward.

All of this cuts back to my initial premise, which is that we should forget patient-centricity. Let’s be honest enough to admit that there’s never been a business in the history of the planet which focuses entirely on the customer.  But if we cultivate and respond rapidly to feedback online, we can become a truly patient-responsive organization, and that will be something to see.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.