Prioritizing Care in the Healthcare Customer Experience

The best experiences show that a company truly cares and values its customers and employees. Two healthcare organizations that prioritize patient and employee experiences shared their strategies at the recent Customer Experience Ecosystem: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange event. And any organization that wants to deliver empathetic experiences can follow their lead.

Here are four essential strategies for offering standout experiences — for your customers, patients and employees.

1. Having 20/20 Vision

If everyone in an organization looks at customer experience (CX) differently, no one will have a clear view of the company’s vision. Experience leaders need to set a distinct direction for the business.

“What do you want your customers to think and feel when they interact with your brand?” asked Vinod Varma, SVP, Patient Experience and Service Operations at Oak Street Health, during his presentation.

The staff at Oak Street Health, a primary care provider for older adults, shares a common purpose of making patients feel respected, confident and delighted. “Together, Oakies create a sense of belonging and inspire confidence,” said Varma.

2. Creating a Care-Centric Culture

Even the clearest vision will get blurry if the culture isn’t there to support it.

Oak Street executives have built a culture that enables its staff to treat patients with respect and dignity (e.g., no rushed appointments). They demonstrate they have each patient’s best interest in mind (e.g., 24/7/365 access to care). And staff surprises and delights patients with new experiences (e.g., community rooms instead of waiting rooms). That culture is built on a set of values that aligns with its vision.

Its values include creating an unmatched patient experience, driving clinical excellence, taking ownership and delivering results. Staff are also relentlessly determined, radiate positive energy and assume good intentions, added Varma.

NYC Health & Hospitals, the largest public healthcare system in the United States, has a set of guiding values called ICARE – integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence.

These values support the organization’s mission to serve all people equally. And it’s the foundation of the healthcare system’s culture, said David Weisman, Ph.D., Chief Experience Officer at NYCHH, during his presentation.

“We turn no one away. Whether someone is homeless or [wealthy], we give everyone the same level of care,” he said, adding that this includes serving patients in over 100 languages, so everyone can feel heard and understood. “We’re caring for human beings, and we need to keep that top of mind — 24/7.”

ICARE values guide decision-making at every level of the organization, as well as interactions with patients and their families, with staff, and with those in the communities NYCHH serves. So, it’s crucial that NYCHH employees understand what each of those values means in terms of behaviors — and that senior leaders clarify this with their own actions.

“What is the patient experience? It’s not just about making patients happy. It’s about the sum of all interactions,” said Weisman. “And it starts with empathy at the top.”

3. Thinking Differently

It’s easy to get caught up in old patterns, even as you try to implement a fresh approach to being customer- and employee-centric. Varma and Weisman see the benefit of thinking differently. They’ve overseen approaches that set their experiences apart from competitors.

Oak Street takes a design-centric approach to CX, explained Varma, incorporating Voice of the Customer and journey analytics reporting. It supports a care model that aims to create a virtuous cycle: improve patient experiences; drive patient engagement and retention; deliver outstanding care; keep patients healthy and out of the hospital; increase new patient growth.

The senior care company also created a Center of Excellence for Human-Centered Delight to support its CX efforts.

Targeted initiatives to improve the patient experience include building what Varma called “essential capabilities and enablers for long-term impact that deliver differentiated experiences.” He cited as examples:

  • Fewer appointments per doctor than industry standards
  • Community room with activities, including line dancing, instead of a waiting room
  • Scribes to take notes so doctors can focus on their patients
  • Patient relationship manager at each site
  • After-visit summary with information and instructions
  • Contact center staffed with nurses and pharmacy technicians to answer patients’ questions
  • Proactive digital interactions such as 24/7 live messaging, automated appointment reminders and scheduling notifications

For Weisman, thinking differently meant shifting NYCHH from focusing solely on patient centricity to developing what he calls a “whole care experience for patients and staff.”

“Patients expect top care. They judge the touchpoints throughout their journey. To them it’s one experience. We need to think about it that way and provide that seamless experience,” said Weisman. “We also need to care for the caregivers. If not, how are they supposed to care for the patients?”

Weisman’s care experience team focuses on engagement, wellness, and emotional and psychological support for patients and employees. By leveraging data, the team creates “impactful and meaningful initiatives to optimize the experience for the community we serve.”

The ICARE values are one element of this. Another is “iRounds” — leaders do rounds to check in with their staff like doctors do with patients. One program that launched specifically to help reduce the trauma that staff experience (especially related to the pandemic) is Helping Healers Heal (H3). This includes a staff wellness coordinator, wellness room, onsite yoga and breakout sessions on self-care topics.

4. Using Metrics That Link CX to the Business

All these initiatives feel good, but they also perform — increasing engagement, loyalty and business outcomes. Weisman emphasized the importance of leveraging data to show the benefits of a care-centric approach.

“We have data that shows focusing on staff well-being translates into improved patient experience,” he said, adding that H3 exceeded its expectations.

Oak Street has a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 90 in an industry where the average NPS is 3. And its hospital admission rates are 50% lower than Medicare’s average, noted Varma. And its readmission rate is 42% lower than the average.

Results like these have prompted Oak Street to incorporate patient centricity into onboarding, training, recognition and communications to sustain how its staff shows up for patients and their caregivers every day.

All the data shows that it’s time for fresh perspectives on engagement, wellness and emotional support for customers and employees, Weisman said. “Placing employee engagement at the heart of CX strategy is crucial,” he said. “It should be person-centered care, not just patient care.”