April 24, 2019

Identify Unmet Needs to Improve the Patient Experience

By evaluating the entire patient journey, marketing can identify opportunities to improve the patient experience and collaborate with clinical and operational leaders.

Marketing builds brand awareness, reputation and brand loyalty. However, in many health systems, marketing does not play a major role in improving the patient experience. This disconnect creates challenges. As marketers, we communicate the promise of our organization’s brand. So shouldn’t we help ensure the delivery of the brand’s promise?

What is marketing’s role in the patient experience?

Marketing influences patients’ early experiences by building awareness and engagement and communicating the promise of our brand. There are several ways marketing can help the organization better deliver on those promises throughout the patient journey.

Here are four ways marketers can impact the delivery of experiences to better match the brand promise.

1. Use metrics to identify gaps in the patient journey

When we think about the customer acquisition process, we often discuss the “sales funnel” –  from Awareness through to Decision and, ultimately, Usage. Marketing typically analyzes “top-of-the-funnel” activities such as impressions, unique site visitors, page views, click through rates and more. But we often don’t gather data much farther down the funnel, all the way through the patient journey.

Let’s use Total Knee Replacement (TKR) as an example. When promoting your TKR program, you are likely doing some community outreach or promoting education seminars. Do you track attendance or participation at these events? Do you know how many consultation appointments were made by attendees? Are you tracking conversion from consultation to scheduling surgery? And how many patients that had surgery would recommend your program to family and friends?

As with any sales funnel, consumers drop off throughout the process. Studying these drop-offs helps identify gaps in the patient journey. By tracking norms for activities throughout, we can see where people disproportionately fall off.

For example, if 50 people attend a seminar on total knee replacements, but only one person calls for a consultation, was the event effective? If only four of the last 15 patients who met with a surgeon actually schedule surgery, are there opportunities to improve the experience with the surgeon? If your net promoter score is low following the entire journey, what could have been done differently?

This gap analysis informs the steps in the patient journey that require deeper exploration. While actually delivering the experience may not be the role of marketing, it is certainly marketing’s role to identify gaps in the data leading to patient loyalty. By continuing to track metrics further down the funnel, you will identify areas of weakness, or gaps, that can be addressed to improve brand performance and ultimately ROI.

To learn more about the top KPIs marketers ought to track, read this tip sheet.

2. Gather the Voice of the Customer

Understanding consumer perceptions and emotions regarding their experience is another opportunity for marketing to influence the patient experience. The metrics will tell you WHAT is happening and WHERE the gaps are, but they won’t tell you WHY. Qualitative research can tell you why the experience delivered didn’t meet patient expectations or needs.

While consumer research can be large and expensive, it doesn’t have to be. In the TKR example, you might call five people who attended the seminar but didn’t follow-up in any way. By talking to them about their expectations, needs, and perceptions, you may identify the opportunities to better meet future patients where they are.

The same approach is true for people who met with a surgeon but never scheduled surgery. It may be that people are requesting appointments with surgeons before they are clinically ready. Or maybe the surgeon did not instill confidence about the procedure. Again, by understanding the perceptions of a handful of people, you can learn about their impressions and make appropriate adjustments.

Obviously, this small sample size is not projectable. But the insights can be rich with opportunities to better meet consumer needs. Some health systems will conduct more research to quantify these opportunities, but it may not be necessary.

3. Share the Voice of the Customer

In our experience, these marketing insights regarding potential patients are well received by other departments. Verbatim quotes are particularly compelling. Similar to the effect managers have when viewing patient focus groups, it’s often eye-opening to learn consumer perceptions.

Sharing this information is also the beginning of the next conversation between marketing, operations, and clinical leaders. Collaborating to develop a plan is helpful to bridge the gap between patient needs and the actual delivery experience.

4. Experience Redesign

Once gaps in the patient experience are identified and the voice of the consumer is captured and shared, it’s time to redesign the patient experience. Because marketing communicates the brand promise and shares the voice of the customer internally, marketing should also play an active role in the experience redesign. The experience delivered should match or exceed the experience promised by the brand.

While there are several techniques to design experiences throughout the patient journey, most begin with collaborative workshops. Here are a few tips to be sure your workshops are a success:

  • Engage the right people in the initiative
    • Those who directly deliver the experience in question
    • Clinical and/or operational leaders of the services
    • The marketing team involved in driving growth for the discipline
  • Prepare for the workshop
    • When including consumers in a redesign workshop, remember consumers are better at reacting to ideas than developing solutions. Create workshop materials for the teams to respond to.
  • Define the boundaries for the future systems
    • What are the clinical, safety or operational requirements?
    • Are there budget parameters regarding additional resources?
  • Find the appropriate location
    • Space with comfortable seating for interacting in teams
    • Whiteboards or post-it pads for capturing ideas

This approach gets a few things right. The people who must buy-in to the new approach have an opportunity to weigh-in. The people delivering care participate in the solution. Marketing not only participates but ensures the brand promise is kept. The final output should be a detailed journey map of the portion of the experience being redesigned.

As marketers, we may not participate in the clinical components of delivering patient experiences. But as protectors of our organization’s brand, we must collaborate with our internal partners to identify unmet patient needs and deliver on our brand’s promise.