Healthcare Consumers, Their Wants And Needs

  • Written on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Geoffrey Cooling 

Healthcare consumers, our existing customers and Patient retention

I read an excellent article on a blog site called Healthcare Success by Lonnie Hirsch recently. It related to the change in Doctor/Patient relationship and its effect on the wider healthcare industry. In essence and reminiscent of hearing healthcare, Doctors and patients have adopted new roles for themselves in the healthcare delivery system.  He said that “the “new normal” for patients includes a stronger and more proactive participation in personal health matters. More than ever, the role of the patient is that of an informed consumer”.

A familiar story

Does that sound familiar to you? Patient-centered care has become the standard model in the wider healthcare arena. Healthcare providers have increasingly become customer-responsive businesses. I don’t think that this is something new to our profession, for a long time we have had to be customer focused businesses. What is new is that our Patients will now expect it.

Cost of acquisition and changing expectations

We all are aware that the cost of acquiring a new Patients has gone through the roof. I have said before and I am sure that you are all aware the retention of an existing patient is a far less formidable and costly exercise. What’s more, we are faced by the fact that not only is the competitive landscape changing but so is the consumer.

Healthcare consumers, ours included, have changed, their wants, needs and expectations have changed. The healthcare provider who understands this implicitly and then delivers to the expectations, needs and wants of the consumer will do well. I think that we, if not completely cognizant of this, are most definitely becoming aware.

But do you realise your existing Patient is a healthcare consumer?

That is a question that you need to ask yourself, because you need to fully realise the implications of your existing Patients being modern healthcare consumers. In this way, you can then begin to design strategies that will be effective in keeping them as your Patients. To do so you need to at least make them satisfied Patients, I think that satisfied is barely enough. You should be aiming for astonished, astonished with your level of care and service. Because then those Patients will generate referrals and testimonials and new customer acquisition will almost take care of itself.

Experience drives advocacy

Experience is what drives advocacy, so in order for your existing Patients to become advocates you need to deliver them that experience. Whilst we can design an experience and deliver it through a planned Patient journey and communication strategy. It may not be the right one, that is something that I have come to realise. Lets go back to the start, the experience that will have the greatest effect on the new healthcare consumer is the one that exceeds their wants, needs and expectations.

So the experience that we design has to be based on that principle, it may be that the strategy is similar or indeed the same as we have discussed before. It may be that what we end up with is something radically different from what we think is best practice for Patient retention. However we will never know unless we discuss it with our Patients and analyse their answers. One thing that we quickly learn is that their perception of quality of care is perhaps not aligned with ours.

Quality of care

We base our ideas of quality of care on testing procedures, fitting procedures and aftercare procedures. Most Patients appreciate these things, especially when the have experience of less. However, they consider this as your job, the one your qualified to do. They equate quality of care with other elements, elements that could really be called good customer care. In his article Lionel Hirsch talked about five things a Patient really wants.

Five Things That Patients Really Want

He said that the following list does not exhaust the options, but they are often at the top of recent research findings:


I think that we are all aware that clinicians who are truly empathetic do exceptionally well. The study results quoted bear this out, in fact empathy from a healthcare provider was one of the highest needs identified. According to a recent Cleveland Clinic survey of over 1,000 adults, empathy from their doctors was the biggest want. “Eighty-two percent of survey respondents said that doctor empathy was important, and many were even willing to overlook common grievances—like rescheduling shortly before an appointment, waiting to get an appointment or waiting a long time to actually see the doctor once at the appointment—if the doctor is empathetic,” reports Huffpost Healthy Living.

Waiting, waiting, and more waiting

Satisfaction takes a nosedive when there’s a long wait just to get an appointment, new patients are tempted to jump to the competition for earlier service. Compounding matters, there’s a further frustration point when new or existing patients have to wait again in the office during a secondary appointment. They want prompt appointments and for the clinician to keep on schedule. You need to deliver it.

Rush, rushing, rushed

A really common irk was when patients feel their time with the doctor is too hurried. Often, studies say, this perception—either real or imagined—works against rapport building, empathy and even quality of care. Patients experiencing less “rush” and less “wait” often give better doctor reviews. Again this goes back to scheduling, but also to style of consultation and personal presentation. You can keep a clean and check appointment to thirty minutes but because the rapport is good and a conversation is held, it can seem like a lot more.

Everyone wants email

This may not be a major concern for our profession, but I think it will become one in the future. According to one survey,“ninety-three percent of adults would prefer to go to a doctor that offers email communications,” according to Catalyst Healthcare Research. Surprisingly, “of this 93 percent, 25 percent said they would still prefer a doctor that uses email communication even if there was a $25 fee per episode.”Again, I believe this to be down to the immediacy of test results etc.

Leveraging technology

Among other survey findings by Catalyst, patients said they want

A treatment plan, a printed summary of their visit, including their diagnosis and recommended plan of action, before they leave.
An app that allows them to log in and see their test results, send messages to their physician (and presumably get those questions answered).
The courtesy of a text or voice mail message if the office is running late.
Free WiFi in the waiting room.

Although these studies were undertaken in relation to physicians, I believe that they hold strong messages for us in our profession. In particular as we begin to target a younger tech savvy demographic. A practice that is responsive to what consumers actually want will do well. It would appear from the lists that the associated costs of delivery of those wants is relatively low. However the cost of not delivering upon those wants could be catastrophic. Clinical excellence, best practice and outcomes aside, it’s simply good business to ensure the experience you have designed meets the needs and wants that patients value the most.

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