November 29, 2016

Patient Zero: How to Find What Your Patients Really, Really Want

This is Jen. She’s the Chief Marketing Officer of Acme Health System.

Jen spends most of her day in meetings.

But Jen’s a go-getter. She’ll head to the parking lot this evening with a sense of accomplishment.

She finished reviewing the quarterly prospect conversion report, hosted a media event at the new freestanding ER project that just broke ground and batted down a colossally stupid idea from a particularly verbose cardiac surgeon.

Life is busy…but life is good.

But Jen doesn’t know about Pearl.

She doesn’t know that Pearl just destroyed her day.

Because Pearl had an appointment today with one of the health system’s orthopedic surgeons.

Due to back pain, she can barely take her poodle for walks anymore.

Pearl isn’t just the Assistant Treasurer of her garden club any more.

Pearl is now Patient Zero.

Patient Zero Defined

In medical science, Patient Zero is the patient that begins an epidemic.

Bad word-of-mouth about your brand often comes down to one unhappy patient, which can destroy years of work and millions of dollars of advertising.

In a marketer’s world, Patient Zero is the patient that sets off a firestorm of negative reviews and word-of-mouth.

In this fictitious story, Pearl is Patient Zero.

But wait a minute. According to her records, Pearl’s care was outstanding. Her doctor gave her immediate treatment options and began to educate her on surgical options. Together, they’ve tackled the pain.

Pearl should have good things to say about ACME Health at her garden club meeting tonight.

So why is Pearl talking trash about your health system over saltines and box wine?

After all, her doctor is solving Pearl’s problem.

But her experience before and after the encounter with the doctor is what Pearl is talking about.

Pearl told her garden club things like:

“I didn’t know where to park and I had to walk a gazillion miles.”

“The waiting room was filthy.”

“The doctor didn’t write anything down for me. And I can’t remember exactly what I’m supposed to do next.”

Pearl is just one patient. But can one patient’s words undo all of VP Jen’s hard work?

Jen is a marketing superstar. But are the promises in Jen’s ad’s being kept?

What does Pearl’s garden club rant tell us what Pearl really, really wants?

A Big Idea: Be Patient Zero

What if Chief Marketing Officer Jen walked in Pearl’s shoes before Pearl walked through the hospital doors?

What if she simulated Pearl’s entire patient experience, from visiting the website to the exam room and after care?

What if Jen was already working with the Ortho team to improve the patient journey?

What if Jen’s design team created a tip sheet of FAQs that could be handed out at each appointment?

What if Jen was Patient Zero before Pearl was?

Try This

Once per Quarter: Be Patient Zero.

Knowing your patient is as simple as being your patient.

  • Pick a service line once per quarter. (Example: Cardiac Care)
  • Develop a scenario. (I’m a 55 year-old man with high cholesterol)
  • Replicate his patient journey.
  • Report.
  • Solve.

Following are action steps you might do to put yourself in your Patient’s shoes.

  • Survey your service line’s advertising with the eyes of a non-health care expert. Is your advertising using words and phrases that a non-health care expert would understand? (For example, are you using the word “oncology” instead of “cancer”?
  • Is there enough relevant information on your service line’s website page?
  • What’s the experience of booking an appointment with the call center?
  • Go to the parking lot and walk to reception. Could a patient Pearl find her way?
  • Fill out the forms. Are they simple? How long does this take?
  • Interview doctors, nurses and staff. Where do they feel their patient experience weaknesses are?
  • What aftercare guidance is provided? Is it helpful? Is more needed?

Now, Put Yourself In VP Jen’s Shoes

  • What could Jen do with the discoveries she makes?
  • What new initiatives could she leverage?
  • How could Jen as Patient Zero help bridge the divide between marketing and operations
  • How would Jen’s value be enhanced when Jen takes ownership of the patient experience?

Let’s close by going back to Pearl.

She’s not Patient Zero, because you already were Patient Zero for her.

Sure, she’s talking about your health system and she’s still probably griping about the food, but other than that she’s got nothing but good things to say.

At the end of the day, isn’t that the most important thing a health care marketer can achieve?