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Becoming Consumer Friendly In Five Easy Steps...Or Not

An article at offers hospitals 5 steps to becoming more consumer friendly.

If you still think there's a secret sauce to your hospital becoming more "consumer friendly," these 5 steps are as good a place to start as any.  Unfortunately, it's a little like that old Steve Martin comedy bit where he says he'll teach you how to be rich. The first step is to go find a million dollars.

Step 1 from the article is realizing that "...a Medicare beneficiary with chronic conditions is different from a young mom who brings her kids in for an annual check-up." This is market segmentation for beginners, and, yes, one size decidedly does not fit all. I'm sure your marketing team's been saying this for a while.

Steps 2-5: have a strategy, metrics, a champion and resources. OK. Hard to argue with any of those.

But those things, alone or together, won't overcome culture. They're important components to be sure, but insufficient without a dash of cold water to your organizational face.

My advice: begin with culture, which, I'm told, eats strategy for lunch. In this case I believe it.

Broken cultures prize nothing more than stasis. Metrics proving the dysfunction won't help. Research and new segmentation schemes will fall on deaf ears.  As a lone voice, will that newly-appointed champion stick around? And how often, really, does more money cure culture? Doubtful, on all counts.

I'd submit that better first steps are honestly acknowledging that you've got work to do, that consumers are not stupid, and then challenging the culture that treats them as if they are. What do I mean? Well, when did consumers EVER win in your organization? 

Name one time. Go ahead. I'll wait. (And fancy private rooms don't count.)

It's no accident that there's NO hospital branding itself as "the easiest with which to do business."

Name one. Go ahead. I'll wait.

[...sound of crickets...]

Which is your board more prone to approve: a $100 million bed tower or a $1 million investment in the digital connections that your customers have come to expect from every other organization in their lives? Did you even have that conversation? Yes, you have a consumer portal but, absent Meaningful Use dollars, would you?

If your consumers wanted, say, early morning urgent care hours and your doctors didn't want to provide them, who won?  I can hear the excuses: "Well, yes, but the doctors refuse to...and we can't force them to..." 

Consumer-friendly organizations don't let excuses drive the conversation.

When consumers wanted easy, convenient, online registration but your revenue cycle team wanted more forms, more boxes checked and increasingly complex processes, who won?  More excuses: "Well, yes, but the days in AR might..." 

Collecting cash is terribly important, but consumer-friendly organizations don't let AR metrics alone drive the conversation.

Do physician appointments run on time? Or do you explain away delays, or, worse, say nothing to an increasingly irritated waiting room?  Excuse du jour: "Consumers just don't understand how difficult this scheduling thing really is. And our docs are so great you should be happy to wait..." 

Consumer-friendly organizations run on time and are honest and transparent about those FEW times when they don't. Period. End of conversation.

Yes, it's difficult. But leaders solve the difficult problems, beginning with culture.

This requires making decisions explicitly and publicly in FAVOR of consumers. Fixing little, frustrating problems as practice, but then fixing big, difficult problems, the problems nobody else is even tackling.  Using Lean/Toyota methods, 6 Sigma, whatever your preferred flavor of process excellence. The technique matters less than getting started. (While you're at it, don't benchmark against your competition across town or a database of other hospitals. Could be that the only reason you're still in business is that everybody's pretty mediocre. You want to be better than they are, by a wide margin.)

Making things easy and fast, not complicated and failure-prone. And while 5 steps won't overcome 50 years of active indifference, you can arc the curve in your favor by publicly linking 'easy and fast' to being consumer-friendly. Make it intuitive for your organization to connect the dots from these actions to those outcomes. Your organization won't get it if you don't TALK about it.

Above all, don't outsource the job to a newly-hired "champion." Initially, this is on YOU, dear leader.

Or make it easy on yourself. Change your branding to "We're no worse than anyone else." Brutal honesty might just be that first step in cultural change.


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