Managing the Six 'I's of the Patient Experience

October 9, 2011

These qualities form the foundation of patient experiences that either help or hurt your practice every day.

We all remember learning about the four “P”s of marketing: price, place, product, and promotion. That has served us well as a society for selling mass-produced products like boxed cereal and bath soap. What if what you're selling, though, isn't actually a product but rather something highly personalized like medical care? A couple years ago, I was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, the dean of the University of Kansas Business School. It occurred to me that patient experiences can indeed be categorized and managed like that of the four “P”s - but in the form of six “I”s. These qualities form the foundation of patient experiences that either help or hurt your practice every day:

1. Inconsistencies. Consistency and reliability are the foundations of any trust-based relationship. Patients are very perceptive to the inconsistencies that are often invisible to your medical staff. The mood and morale of the staff, fluctuations in appointment availability, variations of skill across nursing assistants, wait times - all these inconsistencies create challenges that may harm the patient's willingness to recommend your office to others. Do patients have the same experience with your office every single time they visit?

2. Intangibles. When selling boxed cereal, marketers create a high-quality picture of what the consumer is going to get and place it on the outside of the box. However, inherently intangible services like healthcare require consumers to infer the quality they will receive through the tangible cues around them. What patients see, hear, read, and feel become significant factors that determine their perceptions of the quality of care they're receiving from your office. Think about what it is that you want your patients to remember about your office when they leave.

3. Interdependence. Medical practices have a unique challenge. The quality of the patient's experience - and more importantly, quality of care - is highly dependent on the quality of the patients themselves. The best physician in the world is beholden to the patient's compliance with the treatment plan for improved health results. The more physicians can engage their patients and help to simplify complex medical concepts and instructions - the more effective the partnership. Ask yourself: Do you honor genuine partnership with your patients and believe in its power?

4. Interdisciplinary. One of the challenges of patient care is that it requires multiple practitioners to fully diagnose, treat, and care for a patient. From the perspective of the patient, these hand-offs are where gaps in communication occur, variations in protocol manifest, and differing approaches to a service-oriented mindset are experienced. Whether you're transferring a patient from room to room, from nursing staff to physician or from the practice's office to a lab - it's critical that you have one question front and center: Does your quality of service continue when patient accountability changes hands?

5. Interpersonal. Few activities in life are as personal and intimate as an individual's health and medical care. With such high personal involvement, patients become both rationally and emotionally connected to their care. Patients need to feel a personal connection to you and your staff. Watch to see if your team is filled with passionate people who deliver positive and memorable experiences for your patients.

6. Inventory. When traditional product companies review their balance sheets, one of the largest assets they carry is the value of their inventory - the dollars tied up in unsold products. From the perspective of a medical practice, inventory is key as well. The difference is that the inventory in a medical practice is time. Managing time effectively to maximize that asset is not only critical to your success, it's also critical to your patient's experience.

When managed correctly, these six “I”s will translate into longer-tenured patients, patients who seek medical advice from you as a trusted advisor, and patients who refer friends and family to your care. On the flip side, performing poorly in these areas can lead to increased complaints, patient attrition, and lower patient satisfaction scores. Over the next several weeks we'll take these concepts apart one at a time, providing examples and solutions to make a solid improvement in your patients' experiences.

George Taylor is the president of Beyond Feedback. His firm helps medical practices gain insight on their patients’ experiences by going beyond traditional survey approaches to provide recommendations and action plans that improve patient retention and referrals. Email him here.