Treat Your Patients as Customers by Meeting Their Expectations


Treat Your Patients as Customers by Meeting Their Expectations

Kansas City, MO—At the 12th annual National Organization of Rheumatology Managers conference, held September 14-16, 2017, practice managers, physician managers, and other healthcare administrators gathered to network with their peers and attend educational sessions on the future of rheumatology management in the age of value-driven healthcare.

During his presentation, Cameron M. Cox, President and Chief Executive Officer, MSOC Health, Chapel Hill, NC, discussed the role of patients as customers in healthcare, the innovation of telemedicine, and the importance of online reviews.


Patients as “Customers” Versus “Consumers”

Consumerism is taking hold in healthcare. Patients’ expectations in 2018 include telemedicine, and having easy access to appointments and other information. As such, a pathway that incorporates efficient use of technology and convenient access to care will drive patient retention, Mr Cox told attendees.

Enrollment in consumer-directed health plans has jumped to 23%, he said. The high deductibles in such plans are meant to give employees a financial incentive to shop carefully for health services. In this sense, Mr Cox prefers the term “customer” to “consumer” because a customer is someone who purchases the commodity or service.

Attracting a customer is costlier than retaining an existing one by a factor of 5, because most people are averse to change, he said. Healthcare marketing strategies to attract business are typically absent, instead relying on word of mouth.

“We don’t do a lot of branding,” said Mr Cox.

“I believe the customer pathway is going to drive quality and value at a faster pace,” he added.

Indifference toward the customer (ie, patient) is a major reason that customers leave a business or practice. Approximately 67% of customers leave a business because they are upset with the treatment they have received; 3 in 5 Americans say that they would try a new brand or company for a better service experience; and 89% of customers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.

The healthcare industry rarely asks, “What do customers want?” Having 1 answer for a diverse patient population is a mistake, Mr Cox said. Whereas older patients may not be comfortable with the use of technology, millennials practically demand it. Millennials are the most sought-after customer population, and will be driving sweeping changes in healthcare access.

Telemedicine in Demand

During his presentation, Mr Cox promoted telemedicine as a technological innovation that should be used more frequently; in 2015, 64% of Americans indicated that they would be willing to have a video visit with a clinician, and 70% indicated that they would prefer an online video visit to a physical one to obtain a prescription. Young parents in particular desire telemedicine, especially when both are working. The cost of a telemedicine visit is approximately $45.

The notion that telemedicine is subpar medicine is largely a myth.

“What matters is that you are engaging your patients. That’s what matters, because if you don’t do it someone’s going to beat you to it,” Mr Cox told listeners. In 2016, Cleveland Clinic and CVS Health struck a deal to deploy a telemedicine platform, he noted.

Telemedicine is an engagement tool that should be considered a complementary service to traditional medicine. When introduced to a new concept in patient care, physicians are often concerned about reimbursement, Mr Cox said, and miss the bigger picture of patient retention. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.

Facilitating Access to Care

Enabling access to care, through online scheduling and rescheduling, is another tactic that will drive patient retention.

“We’re the only industry in which the schedule is designed for the doctor,” said Mr Cox.

“The patient is on the schedule, the patient is supposed to be seen at 9:00—well, sort of. It’s ‘9:00-ish,’ because that’s a doctor’s schedule. What’s going to happen? The patient is going to get mad. Why are they going to get mad? Because their time is precious. This is one of the things that, for me, is mind-boggling,” he added.

As an example of patient-oriented scheduling, Mr Cox cited Walgreens’ retail clinics; patients have online access to schedules at multiple Walgreens sites, as well as an estimation of wait times. According to data from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, retail clinics are capturing a larger portion of market share, with 24 visits to retail clinics per 1000 Blue Cross members in 2015 compared with just 12.2 retail clinic visits per 1000 members in 2011, he shared.

The front desk can also be reconfigured using technology to allow patients to check in for their appointment without interacting with a person, which Mr Cox described as another preference for millennials.

Are You Being Reviewed?

Satisfying the needs of millennials is also important because they tend to use online reviews. According to a 2015 study conducted by Software Advice, 84% of patients surveyed use online review sites to evaluate physicians. More than 50% of millennials and Generation Xers incorporate providers’ online reviews into their shopping process.

“If you’re a physician and you don’t show up in the first 5 results of a Google search, you might as well not exist with millennials,” Mr Cox said.

Approximately 50% of patients indicate that they are interested in undergoing physical examinations in a location outside the physician’s office, 64% said that they would receive routine care in an alternate location, and 79% said that they would consider the same for care of minor episodes. These locations include not only discount retail stores, but grocery stores as well.

Patients are ready for changes to healthcare delivery, he concluded.

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