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Healthcare stress test

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner knew that the financial system was facing a new era of risks. To make sure that banks could survive it, he devised “stress tests”—a series of questions designed to determine if banks had the capital and the wherewithal to make it through another crash.

In 2017, there’s value in taking a similar approach to healthcare organizations. The industry is facing a new era in healthcare consumerism. Patients are savvier and more cost-conscious, and have higher expectations, than ever before. Organizations will need to show resilience and adaptability if they’re going to thrive.

With that in mind, healthcare leaders may want to have a look at the stress test below. These questions will help you determine if your organization is ready for the new ways that patients are approaching their care.

Do you understand your patients’ expectations?

The internet has permanently changed the way consumers approach every industry—including healthcare.

In the past, hospitals could survive and thrive by being default providers for a given region. They took a market, adopting an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. For a time that seemed to work, as patients had few options and limited means to explore them.

But that’s no longer the case. The number of choices available to consumers has exploded, and thanks to the internet, they can now effortlessly compare providers—in both traditional and non-traditional care settings—before they make a decision.

This has elevated their expectations. Healthcare expertise, once the driving criterion for consumer choice, has become table stakes. Modern patients expect something more. They want a refined, comfortable, personalized experience, from the moment they enter the building to well after they are discharged home. If your organization can’t provide it, they will seek it out elsewhere.

Does your organization project a strong web presence?

As mentioned above, the internet has enabled consumers to shop around for care. It’s the age of Amazon, and there’s no going back. If you want to draw customers in, you have to give them an Amazon-like experience.

Patients expect you to help make their decision-making process easier. That means a full reckoning of what your hospital has to offer, in a digestible format easily discoverable by the average person.

Consider your hospital’s website. Does it make it easy to find any given service? To browse the providers that work at your facilities? To make an appointment?

Even more important, does it give patients the relevant consumer information they want? Can they find reviews from other patients like them? Reviews are a critical part of Amazon’s success, and they’re the most important thing that patients want to see on your website. In fact, over 77 percent of consumers trust ratings and reviews as much as personal recommendations, according a 2015 NRC Health Market Insights study.

How about social media? That’s an avenue no organization can afford to neglect any longer. 43.87 percent of consumers have used social media platforms to gather information on their healthcare. So do you know where you stand online? Do you have a reputation monitoring program in place? Does your organization have healthy, active communities on Facebook or Twitter? What could you do to cultivate that?

If you want to thrive in the consumerist age of healthcare, you have to meet patients where they are. And more and more, they are found on the internet.

Does your community know and respect your brand?

Patients are continuously reviewing their health status—assessing their needs, deciding what services they want, and choosing where to get them. Organizations hoping to capture a consumer’s business need to participate in this evaluation process. The first step is to ensure that your brand has consistent messaging—something that only 19% of hospital systems manage to do.

Do patients know about your organization? And if they know about it, do they believe in the care that your organization offers?

These are not trivial questions. If your brand leaves only a murky impression on the patients in your area, your brand won’t be top-of-mind as a patient’s health problems arise. Your organization must be crystal-clear in communicating what your brand stands for, and what services you can offer.

For example, many large academic hospitals work with primary-care physicians (PCPs), but have trouble communicating that to the public. For the community, such hospitals are seen as specialist facilities, places to go for serious, specialized care. They don’t think to check these hospitals for PCPs. This is as detrimental for patients—who face needlessly limited care options—as it is for the hospital.

Better brand communication could solve that problem—but only with a smart strategy, informed by solid market and consumer research.

Does your organization invite patients in?

Barriers to care are incredibly frustrating for patients. When needs arise, they want to resolve them as soon as possible. If your organization puts obstacles in their way, that’s a surefire way to frustrate and alienate them.

Consider the steps that a patient must go through to start receiving care at one of your facilities. Make sure it’s easy to secure an appointment. Have a web portal with a modern interface that all demographics of patients can work with. When they arrive, try to minimize the time they spend waiting. Many patients interpret wait-times as disrespectful.

Finally, provide clear, up-front information about billing and insurance. The byzantine process of approvals and finance is often the most confusing part of the care experience, and patients will be immensely grateful if you can simplify things for them.

Are you working on the patient experience?

This question may seem obvious. Improving patient satisfaction, after all, is heavily incentivized by CMS, and will likely be on most leaders’ minds.

But improving patient satisfaction is far from simple. To keep patients happy with their care, it’s important to understand what patients actually go through at your hospital. Government-mandated survey instruments like HCAHPS, while valuable and important, do not give a complete picture of what patients experience at any given facility.

Your organization needs a thorough grasp of what happens to a patient from the moment they try to book an appointment, to well after discharge. But traditional HCAHPS surveys suffer from low response rates, because they fail to reach patients within their preferred time frame. NRC Health’s research has found that 73% of patients prefer to give their feedback between a few minutes and a few days of an episode, while the experience is still fresh in their minds. They’ve lost patience with mail-in surveys that can take a month or more to reach them.

This means your organization should augment HCAHPS with modern, tech-enabled feedback platforms that can immediately—and thoroughly—capture how patients felt about their experience, and allow your organization to engage in service and clinical recovery in real-time.

Are your employees engaged?

Clinician burnout is becoming a full-blown crisis—51% of physicians are already burnt out, and nine out of ten doctors discourage others from joining the profession.

Part of the problem lies in a disconnect between clinicians’ view of their vocation and what management expects from them. Doctors don’t want to spend their days on bureaucratic tasks. They want to feel that the health institution they work for aligns with their primary reason for becoming a doctor in the first place: caring for people.

How will does your organization connect to a spirit of service? Do its leaders visibly commit themselves to patient care? Do they make efforts to understand the perspective of clinical front-line workers? Do they include physicians, nurses, and support staff in the institutional decisions that will shape their working lives?

All of these efforts eventually trickle down to what matters most: the patients. Clinicians need to feel engaged at work in order to give their all to those whom they serve.

Have you embraced transparency?

Transparency is not the future. It’s the present. If you haven’t adopted it by now, you’re already behind. The longer you wait, the more your competitors will outpace you. The worst sin in today’s market is to be anything less than forthcoming.

Transparency is the cornerstone of healthcare consumerism. Patients now expect accessible information on how you can serve them. This desire for transparency extends across all aspects of your organization. Consumers want transparency in price, in quality, and in patient experience. Live up to these expectations, and you will capture their attention, patronage, and ultimately, loyalty.

How did you do?

 If the questions above concerned you, frustrated you, or gave you pause, remember: the stress test is designed to help.

When Tim Geitner devised stress tests for banks back in 2008, he set out to answer some hypothetical questions, like “What would happen to banks if GDP dipped to X%?” or “Could consumer credit survive if unemployment fell to X%?”

But the rise of healthcare consumerism isn’t a hypothetical issue. It’s happening now, and it will affect your business. The biggest question that confronts you today: “Are we prepared to meet the needs of the modern healthcare consumer?”