How Experience Spurs Even Lazy, Passive Patients into Action

HealthLeaders Media Staff, October 14, 2009

I write about patient experience a lot. This week, I have a real-life example of why patient experience matters—perhaps even more than loyalty, location, quality, cost, or brand awareness.

I've been going to the same two hospitals for tests and procedures for several years now. They're in my primary care physician's network and when her office sets up appointments for me, those are the two choices they present. There's not a huge difference between the two.

Both locations are convenient—less than a 15 minute drive from my home. Plenty of parking. The both have valet service, which I've only used once when I was running late and it was raining. Both buildings are old and difficult to navigate, so that's a wash, too.

I have not been diligent about researching quality or cost data for either, except that when CMS posted hospital HCAHPS scores online I looked at their scores. Today, I couldn't tell you what the numbers were if you paid me. And if I wasn't a healthcare reporter, I doubt I would have bothered looking them up in the first place.

Finally, although the health system to which these two hospitals belong has a well-known name, the brand doesn't hold any particular sway with me one way or the other.

If I sound a little passive and lazy, well, it's because when it comes to choosing hospitals for routine procedures, I am a little passive and lazy. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

So why did I recently take time out of my busy day and make several phone calls to cancel an appointment at one of my two usual hospitals and make an appointment and transfer my records to a hospital that's a 30-minute drive from my house? I've never set foot in the facility. I don't know anything about its quality rankings and have no idea how expensive or inexpensive they are compared to the other two hospitals I've been going to. And although the hospital is affiliated with a large, well-known Boston healthcare institution, its brand name didn't influence my decision, either.

So what did influence my decision?

I heard it's a really nice hospital.

Seriously—that's all there is to it. People I know told me that the new building is modern and beautiful. Although it is a new facility, it already has a local reputation as being state-of-the-art and patient-centered. I've even heard it's female-friendly, although I no longer remember where I heard that. I'm not 100% sure what that even means, actually. But, as a female, going to a female-friendly facility seems like something I might like.

When I called to make my appointment, the woman I spoke to was friendly, courteous, and helpful. When she said I had to call my doctor and then call her back, she apologized for that minor inconvenience and gave me her direct line so I wouldn't have to wait on hold. She gave me my personal health record number—something no one from either of the other two hospitals ever mentioned—and let me know that if I used it in the future, it would make it easier to make appointments and get information.

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