Nothing drives business planners crazy more than a trend that’s as slippery as a banana peel. Case in point: the crazy-making concept of consumerism, which is now in the spotlight as a key factor in patient experience scores.
It’s crazy-making because it means different things to different people. Wikipedia alone lists five different definitions of consumerism, ranging from “the concept that consumers should be informed decision makers” to “a force which destroys individuality.” Yikes!
The problem is that culture is changing so roles are changing. If you’re not aware that change is underway it will make you nuts, because people will talk about the same subject using the same words and mean opposite things. But if you are aware, you’ll have all the power that clarity can bring. You might even ace out some competitors - by thinking more clearly. (That is why you read this blog, right?)
I’m a former marketing guy who almost died of cancer but survived by being highly engaged in my care, doing everything in my power to help my doctors and nurses. As such, I see consumerism both from the business perspective and as someone who really, really had a need and took action to get what he wanted. Medicine saved my life, and I want to give back. I wrote a book called Let Patients Help, and I hope you love it when a patient steps up and says “How can I help??”, because patients like that can improve what’s possible. And who doesn’t want that?
Here are five ways to understand and make the most of consumerism.
1. Offer convenience.
It’s really hard for us out here to fit proper care into our busy lives. Convenience factors like online scheduling are not just a nicety - they make it easier for us to do the right thing. And if you don’t think convenience matters, ask yourself why every coffee shop and burger chain has shifted to drive-through … and so have pharmacies and now even many supermarkets. Convenience is a powerful market force.
Convenience features can include anything that suits your business model: live chat, nurse help lines, video chat, or just more convenient hours, especially outside the 9-5 workday … because that’s when it’s more convenient for people to seek care! Look at it this way - if you don’t, a lesser competitor could steal the business by being more convenient.
2. Promote it!
If you run ads, in print or online or other media, be sure to stress how easy it is to access your service. One of the best ways to capture a new customer is when someone has an unexpected need spring up, which always seems to be at the worst possible time. If you have top-of-mind name recognition at those moments, you could be a winner.
3. When we arrive, be great to work with.
This might seem obvious but I speak from first-hand experience when I say some healthcare providers are way, way too wrapped up with their own pressures, to the point where they can seem totally NOT concerned with my needs. Please, please treat me like you realize I would rather not be in your office; I’m only there because I have a problem, and I really, really hope the experience will be as not-unpleasant as possible.
4. Post your self-pay price lists.
Transparency is too often impossible in the perverse and tangled world of payment in US healthcare today, where nobody’s sure who’s actually paying whom how much. But a growing number of people are learning that their self-pay price may be lower than their co-pay under insurance. (Just look at the award-winning site ClearHealthCosts!)
Why not take advantage of that? Post signs that say “Did you know … your self-pay price may be lower than your co-pay?” with some examples. Helping people save money - without lowering your prices - is a great way to win friends and grow business, without changing your prices - just by putting them in the spotlight. Most consumers don’t know they could have a choice - help them feel the power, and they’ll feel understood.
And that brings us to the ultimate consumerist tactic:
5. Ask people what they’d like!
So often a medical practice will think it’s their job to be smart enough (to have all the answers), not to ask questions. That’s a perfect setup for avoidable disconnects. Go out into the waiting room and sit next to someone and have a simple conversation, if they’re willing. Or invite your staffers to ask patients in the exam room, at the start or end of the visit, how it’s all going, or if there’s any way you could be even better to do business with.
Here’s a summary - think how simple these concepts are: offer convenience, promote it, be great to work with, post self-pay price lists, ask people what they’d like. Each is a different way of expressing the reality that in today’s world, the consumer’s voice has increasing impact, and for forward thinkers, that’s not a real opportunity.
For more info on connecting with today's consumer-based patients, check out "7 Research-Backed Steps to a Patient Friendly Practice."