Patients as consumers: 5 healthcare take-aways from other industries


Chris Hayhurst

Essential Insights contributor, healthcare writer

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (known as OSUCC or "The James") has long been known for its high-quality care, but when the facility was rebuilt its leadership wanted a space designed to help improve the well-being of patients, families and staff. A 21-story complex part of OSU's Wexner Medical Center, The James draws patients seeking expert consultation from its world-class oncology specialists. But when those patients arrive at its new front doors, they find a place designed with them, and their families, in mind.

Among other things, The James is now home to restaurants, retail shops and banking services, free wireless Internet, large windows in rooms with expansive views, and casual “family lounges" where visitors can rest. Rooftop gardens complement a park across the street, and there's even an onsite Patient and Family Resource Center, run by staff and volunteers ready to answer any questions. “It's meant to make you feel more at home—and less like you're in some kind of institutionalized medical facility," said Corbin Shaw, a healthcare innovation specialist at Fuse, Cardinal Health's innovation center.

The James is just one of a growing number of hospitals and health facilities that have sought to bolster their standing by improving and amplifying the patient experience. Taking a page from the playbooks of other industries, and especially from the worlds of retail and hospitality, such organizations are now marketing their amenities alongside their reputations for care quality. “A lot of it has to do with increasing deductibles," Shaw noted. “Patients are more cognizant of where their money is going, so when they have the choice, they're shopping around."

So what have hospitals learned from their industry counterparts as they've looked for new ways to keep their patients happy? Here are five of the most important takeaways:

1. Convenience is key.

Anyone who has stayed in a hotel while traveling knows how nice it is to have free airport shuttle service. But trips to and from your local healthcare facility? Some hospitals are giving it a shot. MedStar Health in Washington, DC, for example, has partnered with Uber  to bring the ride-hailing service to its patients (for some, insurance covers such trips, but others have to pay out of pocket); and up the coast in New Jersey, Hackensack University Medical Center has done the same , offering financial support to those who need it and $20 credits to first-time riders. In a competitive healthcare marketplace, these services and others like them (think same-day appointments, walk-in care, on-site pharmacies, etc.) could be what it takes to get patients in the door.

2. Consumers want transparency.

Price transparency is behind much of the success of retail giants like Amazon and Zappos, and now some healthcare organizations are following suit. “If you know you're going to buy a flat-screen TV," Shaw explained, “you find the best-quality device at a price you can afford. People are starting to do that with healthcare, so price transparency is extremely important." One player in the industry that understands this well is CVS: the company's MinuteClinic  walk-in service lists all of its prices on its website. Want an annual physical? If you're paying out of pocket, it costs $89. (See the American Hospital Association's "Achieving Price Transparency for Consumers: A Toolkit for Hospitals"  for case examples and price transparency tools.)

3. Engagement is everything.

When consumers shop at retail stores they're involved in the decision-making process—choosing products they think will best meet their needs. Healthcare is moving in this direction as more studies show that better patient engagement leads to better outcomes . Also giving such engagement a boost: new technologies like telehealth and patient portals designed to facilitate patient-provider communications.

4. Personalization pays.

The fact that Netflix has nearly 94 million  subscribers is largely attributable to the company's personalized service. Stream a movie or show using your account, and Netflix will use an algorithm to recommend others that fit your tastes. Health systems are also learning to crunch the data to improve “patient-centered care" and tailor individual treatments through personalized medicine. Leading the way: The National Institutes of Health's Precision Medicine Initiative , which plans to leverage advances in genomics, data analytics, and other technologies to accelerate biomedical discoveries.

5. You have to deliver.

As anyone in retail or hospitality can attest, success in a competitive industry requires more than bells and whistles. In the end, you must deliver the goods, whether it's a room in a hotel that meets every expectation or better outcomes for the patients you see. Some organizations, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, are publishing patient-satisfaction scores on their websites to highlight how well they're meeting patient expectations. And companies like Healthgrades publish doctor reviews and annual lists of hospitals that qualify for their “Outstanding Patient Experience Award."

The James has also zeroed in on results, and even maintains a “Patient Experience" hotline that visitors can call to offer feedback to their providers. The idea: Listen to what patients have to say and then implement changes that will lead to improvements. “What patients really want is the best quality of care they can get," noted Fuse innovation solutions manager Kristina Redgrave. As providers add more amenities to attract patients, Redgrave encourages them to remember to stay focused on what matters the most: patient outcomes.