Patients Are Customers, Not Case Numbers

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For the rest of the August 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

[This article appeared as a sidebar to the feature, "Healing the Sick."]

Ever wait—literally—a painstakingly long in a hospital waiting room? Feel like some of the words and phrases on your insurance forms came from another planet? When you think of customer experience, it usually isn’t a positive correlation—especially when it comes to healthcare.

At Forrester Research’s Customer Experience Forum this past June, a panel discussion entitled “Leading the Customer Experience” included three women responsible for customer experience at their respective organizations. Two of the three were in the healthcare and insurance industries—speaking to the great leaps and bounds some organizations are starting to make in those segments. “Customer experience transformation takes leadership,” said Bruce Temkin, principal analyst at Forrester and moderator of the discussion.

The three women recalled for the approximately 600 attendees some of the efforts they’ve spearheaded to foster customer experience at their companies, sharing not only best practices but a few missteps they each made along the way. One panel member, Dr. M. Bridget Duffy, became the chief experience officer at Cleveland Clinic in July 2007. Despite her official responsibility for “broad-based institutional change to transform the patient experience,” she said it was clear she couldn’t do it alone. “I would only take the position if the chief executive officer agreed to take the torch to further patient experience,” she recalled.

Having the support of the C-suite is important, but not the only—or even the first—influence you need, added CIGNA’s Chief Experience Officer Ingrid Lindberg. She explained that when she was first tasked with architecting the end-to-end customer experience in November 2007, the first item on the agenda was to clarify the insurance-specific terminology that baffles and confuses anyone not in the industry. “Problem One with insurance is the horrible language we created,” she said. CIGNA put 285 acronyms, phrases, and industry jargon on a “Naughty Words List,” forever to be blacklisted from corporate materials. “We were hoping to change the language of healthcare from the bottom up,” she said. “We’ve had a 156 percent increase in understanding just by changing the language.”

Another point of emphasis is remembering who the customer is, particularly in a time of medical need. “My original title was chief empathy officer,” Duffy admitted. “The group we missed completely in healthcare is the family.”

She added that a typical physician is trained to treat patients and send them on their way. Add to that Cleveland Clinic’s policy of having every physician on a one-year contract, and the temptation is to do the best technical job possible—saving lives—in order to get a renewal. “The most important thing we’ve been able to do is equate quality with experience,” Duffy said. “Now we can insert on a scorecard [the] level of employee engagement and patient satisfaction/loyalty scores.”

Despite the great strides to reintroduce the human element to the healthcare industry, none of the panelists described the journey as easy—or anywhere near complete. “Two years ago, the greatest obstacles were physicians…but now it’s nonphysicians,” Duffy said. “They’re in the 30th percentile in regard to engagement. If I had to do it over, I would’ve aligned marketing, information technology, and human resources.”

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