Experts weigh in on trends behind growing discipline.
A Google study released this month finds that customer experience is the primary reason consumers choose to travel with a particular brand. Easy-to-use websites and online reviews are second and third.
What does this have to do with healthcare? Quite a bit, according to experts in customer experience, a field that is becoming increasingly important to health systems. Thanks to new ways to gather and organize data, health systems now have actionable information to improve patient experience, often in real time. These processes are enhanced by technology that uses natural language processing to detect patterns in that data.
I spoke to several representatives in this field attending the Health:Further conference in Nashville this week about the trends behind this burgeoning practice.
"Customer experience is the number one thing driving retention in business today, says Lindsay Neese Burton of Reputation.com, which works with health systems including Ascension, Banner Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Ochsner Health System and Sutter Health. The Google travel study about building brand loyalty through experience is just as applicable to healthcare, she says. To enhance opportunities, systems need to "move away from traditional ways of thinking and doing things, and move more towards the personalized healthcare experience that I think everybody wants," she says.
Improving the patient experience begins with data. Many start with the HCAHPS hospital survey, but that's not enough. Organizations often don't have a mechanism to gather and organize unstructured feedback from those instruments or from social media, which plays a substantial role in influencing consumers—particularly star ratings, according to the experts.
Star Ratings Build Patient Volume
Star ratings "definitely impact revenues and volume," says Aaron Clifford of Binary Fountain, who formerly worked for HCA Healthcare and helped the system, which has 178 hospitals, build its reputation management practice.
"We did a study looking at the star ratings of [HCA] physicians," Clifford says, which occurred during his tenure with the hospital system. "Those physicians who had a lower star rating on review sites actually had a lower new patient volume. Physicians with four-and-a-half stars or higher had new patient revenues of 17%, compared to 2% for those with three stars. [Boosting star ratings] is a volume-building initiative."
Influencing Consumer Behavior
Methods to enhance ratings demonstrate the discipline of reputation management has matured into a new realm of influencing behavior.
Today, healthcare systems want to "resolve issues and build loyalty with their existing patient base, but they also can use these experiences to attract new patients at the digital front door," says Andrew Rainey, also of Binary Fountain, which works with HCA, Intermountain Healthcare, Providence St. Joseph Health, and Tenet Healthcare.
They want to know how to "not only make operational improvements to maximize the patient experience, but also make sure that they're represented appropriately online," says Rainey. "[More than] 70% percent of patients are going online to look at the reviews and ratings. It's one thing to be making process improvements to the patient experience, but how are you driving more patients to share that story online as well, and how can you make sure that those validated patient stories are also represented on your own website, as well, to guide the overall consumer choice?"
Room for Growth
Many healthcare organizations have embraced these practices, but with competing priorities for resources, others have yet to do so.
"I have a background in consumer products, and we see a blind spot in health systems," says Mary Kay O'Connor, founder and CEO of PatientsVoices. "They haven't yet learned how much patient feedback can help the system make the transitions that they need to go through over the next few years in a way that improves the experience for patients and for the financial health of the system."
Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.