Dr. Anil Bhan is an accomplished cardiac surgeon based in New Delhi. He was till recently the director of Cardiac Surgery at the upscale Max Hospital and has now moved to Batra Hospital, which is an older establishment and certainly no match for Max Hospital in spit and polish and customer service. The staff is not as well trained, or smartly turned out and lacks the quite efficiency, which characterises patient service at Max Hospital.
Recently the father of a close friend of mine needed bypass surgery. I unhesitatingly recommended Dr. Bhan. We went to see Dr. Bhan at his office at Batra hospital. As usual he inspired confidence and my friend and his father were both in agreement that Dr. Bhan was the best bet for them. We checked out the room where he was to stay after the surgery, enquired about the critical care support, blood bank and the nursing care. As we were stepping out my friend whispered that he wished Dr. Bhan was operating at some other hospital.
This of course is all in the mind. There was nothing that we found wrong with Batra Hospital. It was just that the hospital experience that he was hoping for seemed a long way off.
Traditional thinking has always held that patients will be happy to choose a hospital that offered the best clinical care and other factors such as location and ease of access, friendliness of the hospital staff, food, billing, amenities for the attendents of the patients and pricing are not really important determinants in the choice of the hospital.
I suspect this does not hold true in the fast evolving ‘experience economy’.
The customers today believe that ‘clinical excellence’, (which includes medical care, nursing, infection control and hygiene) at the hospital is a given. A hospital, which does not offer the best medical care possible does not make it into their consideration set. Most hospitals today will have top notch physicians and surgeons all of them trained abroad, will have sophisticated equipment sourced from companies known for their high standards and will have medical processes that allow them to deliver medical care, which can be compared with the best in the world.
A hospital will have to have a lot more going for itself than just clinical care if it is to differentiate its services from its competitors. The new age hospital will have to deliver a unique and complete customer experience combining both medical and non medical parameters.
The delivery of this experience will have to be controlled and aligned with the brand promise of the hospital.
A new McKinsey research published last year surveyed more than 2000 patients in the US about their attitudes towards patient’s experience. The research revealed that most of these patients were willing to switch hospitals for better service and amenities and many asked their physicians to refer them to specific facilities. (‘ A Better Hospital Experience, McKinsey Quarterly, Nov 2007, Grote, Newman and Sutaria).
I have identified 6, essentially non medical parameters, which I believe are singularly important from the perspective of a satisfied customer. A hospital must aim to deliver great experiences in these areas if they hope to have a delighted customer.
Punctuality: The patients hate waiting for doctors, to get done with all the paperwork and be escorted to their rooms, for someone to collect a blood sample, for the food to be served or the bill to be ready. This is in my experience of healthcare services in India one of the biggest causes of customer grievance. To a patient this reflects a callous, devil may care attitude, the last thing a hospital professing to provide great care would want !
The Communication with their Doctor: I have seen in my experience that patients always speak well of doctors who communicate well, who talk to them on a one on one basis and in a language that they understand. Moreover, they appreciate if nothing is hidden from them and the doctors keep them abreast with whatever is happening to them. Bad news might be a setback but it is always better than the suspense of no news and ceratinly better than discovering something disconcerting after the doctors have constantly assured the patients to the contrary.
The Admission Process: In many hospitals the admission process is cumbersome and involves filling multiple forms in duplicate or worse, signing consent forms written in language, which would be incomprehensible to all but the lawyers who wrote them. Sometimes it takes hours to get through all this and have a room assigned only to be told that the room is not ready and is being prepared. This can really be a big put off as a patient would like nothing better than to move to the assigned room quickly and rest.
The Patient Room: Patients spend a lot of their time in the room assigned to them. A nice, warm, cheerful room not only helps the patient get into a better mood, quite often I reckon it helps them recover faster.
The Hospital Food: The hospital food is a bugbear that most hospitals struggle with. Patients are usually very demanding about their food. The quality of the food, the presentation, how warm or cold it is, the time of the day it is served and the quality of food all have a very significant impact on the customer experience in the hospital. many hospitals these days offer a choice of cuisine. I would be happy if the food is simple and nutritious, served well and on time by a smiling individual. Goes a long way in ensuring a happy patient.
Billing: Billing practices in a hospital must be transparent and a running bill should be available for a customer to inspect, as and when he wishes to see it. Insured patients have to wait for hours in suspense for Third Party Administrators to authorise the bills so that they may leave the hospital. This can be tortutous for a patient once advised discharge from the hospital wants nothing more than to leave the hospital as soon as possible. Very often the hospitals goofs up here and the customer goes away with a bad experience at the fag end of his interactions with the hospitals thus spoiling all the good work done earlier.
These are 6 touchpoints, where a hospital must never allow a bad experience. Individuals responsible for these services must be selected carefully, groomed well and trained to ensure that all patients interacting with them have a great experience.
The designer experience is no longer a luxury. It is the pressing need of the hour.