The 2007 Experience

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders News, December 19, 2007
When I look back on the healthcare marketing stories I've covered this year, there are two interviews that stand out from the rest. The first was with M. Bridget Duffy, MD, the Cleveland Clinic's chief experience officer. It wasn't her trendy new title that made an impression on me, but how clearly she made the case for the business benefits of internal and customer satisfaction. The second person who made a lasting impression on me was Dorothy Wooddell, the 69-year-old retired schoolteacher who volunteers at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, CA. Along with politicians, CEOs, and activists, she was one of the 20 people who make healthcare better featured in our November 2007 cover story. We chose her as a symbol for all those who make patients' experiences as pleasant as possible, given the circumstances. Thanks to these two stories and countless others, 2007 will stick in my mind as the year of the consumer.

There's one common thread that runs through all of the hot topics I covered this year, from price and quality transparency to retail clinics to medical tourism. There's a reason that hospitals are overhauling their menus, offering concierge services, installing wireless Internet and adding private, curtained beds, televisions and 30-minute guarantees in the ER. There's a reason internal communications is so hot right now. There's a reason hospitals are hiring staff and sending them out into the field to connect with referring physicians. The driving force behind all of these trends? It's the powerful patient consumer.

Consumers today have choices--and lots of them. They can comparison shop online and then go down the street to another hospital, drive to the mall for a quick checkup, or fly to Mexico for cosmetic surgery. They won't stand for green-flavored gelatin and Salisbury steak the texture of cardboard delivered at 5 p.m. whether they're hungry or not when they can order from a gourmet organic menu and choose a delivery time that's convenient for them. They won't wait in line if they don't have to.

Increasingly, hospitals are treating physicians and other employees more like customer/consumers, too. Why? Because they are the ones who interact with the patient/consumer and most influence his or her experience.

If you'd asked me to predict the impact of consumer-driven healthcare three years ago, I'm not sure that I would have gotten it right. Even last year I might have hemmed and hawed and wondered if it wasn't one of those buzzwords that's hot one day and gone the next. This year, however, Duffy and Woodell and others like them convinced me that consumerism and the focus on patient experience are here to stay.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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