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Three predictions for the patient experience in 2019

The last quarter of 2018 has certainly given healthcare leaders much to consider.

For one, it was an election year. As a result, a divided Congress will be setting the tone for the country’s healthcare policy challenges. If that weren’t enough, a recent court ruling has challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Sweeping reforms could be on the horizon.

Policy questions aside, the industry is making moves of its own. A new mega-merger between hospital groups could see the creation of the nation’s second-largest non-profit hospital group in 2019. And who could forget the headline-dominating healthcare venture from Amazon, Berkshire-Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase?

All told, 2018 was another year that suggested that healthcare leaders can’t take the status quo for granted. Change is coming, and quickly. To help prepare for it, here are three predictions, drawn from some of the industry’s sharpest thinkers, of what may happen for the healthcare industry in 2019.

1) Patient experience and marketing will move closer together

In many organizations, patient experience falls under the purview of quality or safety. This structure has brought about an incredible level of alignment between patient experience and outcomes. But in the last few years, organizations have begun to see the enormous potential of the marketing department’s impact on the patent experience—with the alignment of formerly siloed groups, ranging from partnerships to a single department, under the leadership of a Chief Experience or Consumer Officer.

Leaders have grown to understand that the care they provide accounts for just 20% of patient wellness. The rest is attributable to broader social determinants of healthcare. This means that if hospitals want to keep patients healthy, they’ll have to consider experiences that patients have outside the hospital walls. Hospitals will need to continually engage and inspire patients to take a more proactive role in their own well-being.

As the hub where much of this engagement happens, marketing departments will play a pivotal role in the outreach. Preston Gee, VP of strategic marketing at CHRISTUS Health, shares that sentiment. “We can’t just wait for people to show up at our doorstep anymore,” he says.

Instead, health systems will need to ensure that every time a patient interacts with their brand, that interaction keeps patients satisfied and delivers on the fundamental promise that hospitals make to their patients—to keep them well.

The only way to achieve this is to broaden the consensus on what constitutes a care experience. Which is why integrating patient experience with marketing will be so important next year.

2) Proactivity will rule the day

Measuring patient experience has come a long way. From strictly observing satisfaction with care encounters, new methodologies have brought the nuance necessary to grasp every dimension of a patient’s experience.

Still, though, these efforts can only look backward at encounters that have already happened. The next step will be to fashion care experiences that have yet to come.

New technological strides—particularly in artificial intelligence—make this possible. By using predictive analytics, health systems will be able to precisely tailor their care experiences to suit the needs of specific patients. It will be, in effect, an era of mass customization, curating healthcare in the same way that Netflix or Amazon curates experiences for their customers. And, those customers expect the same ease of use from healthcare.

Creating this ease starts with targeting a few common arenas of patient dissatisfaction. Speeding the flow of patient information, showing providers where to direct their attention, and bringing clarity and transparency to billing are all elements that predictive analytics can augment.

This technology is young yet. But starting in 2019, it could bring an unprecedented level of convenience and ease to healthcare consumers.

3) Health leaders will put less emphasis on quantitative measures of satisfaction

A little over 50 years ago, Albert Einstein said that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Today, that wisdom is taking root among healthcare leaders.

CAHPS, with its quantitative approach to measuring care encounters, was an invaluable first step in improving patient experiences. But improving satisfaction scores will not deliver the changes that patients seek.

Scores, after all, don’t drive compassion. They don’t put providers in an empathic frame of mind. Patients want to be seen as human beings, as deserving of a personal level of care, and over-emphasizing satisfaction scores can sometimes discourage that perspective.

So says Julie Kennedy Oehlert, DNP, RN, the chief experience officer at Vidant Health. “I understand why CAHPS is necessary,” she says, “but what it’s measuring is totally irrelevant to our work in building relationships. It doesn’t get us the information we need.”

Like many leaders in her position, she believes that while it may be an uncomfortable step to take, health systems must embrace less-quantitative measures of provider performance. The biggest question that Julie wants patients to answer: Did you feel that we really cared about you?

She gives her staff a message that will likely soon begin to circulate in health systems across the country: “It’s time to stop looking at scores, and start loving your patients.”

In 2019, healthcare organizations will put this credo into practice. Fewer HCAHPs surveys will be filed than in any previous year—and health systems will better understand their patients for it.

To another year of service

It’s possible that none of these predictions will come true. Patient experience could remain a segregated part of health-system operations; predictive analytics could be further away than we thought; and whether from caution or devotion to rigor, hospitals may increase the HCAHPS surveys they file.

What’s undoubtedly true, however, is that human understanding will be the animating ethos of 2019. Health systems already acknowledge that they want to hear their customers better, to more thoroughly grasp what they need and expect. The disagreements are on how to accomplish this—not on what needs to be done.

2019’s challenges and opportunities will largely center on the consumer’s increasing influence on the industry. Consumers will be better met with meaningful insight and incisive customer intelligence. Which is why, this year and every year, NRC Health devotes itself to advancing a vision of human understanding in healthcare.