Healthcare Doesn't Listen

The headline that caught my eye read U.S. Healthcare Execs Prefer Site Metrics to Patient Feedback on Content Marketing. It appeared in an edition of eMarketer, the newsletter of a research firm that looks at all things digital.

Even if the closest you come to your healthcare organization’s online efforts is seeing its website displayed on a monitor hung on a wall in a waiting room, it underscores a lesson the industry has yet to fully learn. Let me share a few of the data points from a report cited in the story:

  • Nearly eight in 10 U.S. healthcare executives surveyed overwhelmingly use website traffic as the method used to determine content marketing success;
  • some 20+ percentage points below that is the metric of time spent on the website; and
  • qualitative feedback from patients/prospects was well both of those measures.

The findings of another study suggest that if healthcare executives are having trouble measuring content marketing effectiveness, “... they ought to listen to consumers more often.” This research “gem” was uncovered by MarketSherpa, another firm that looks at ways to improve digital marketing effectiveness.

Unfortunately, overlooking the thoughts and preferences of patients is not limited to content marketing efforts. And neither is it a new phenomenon.

A few years ago, Dartmouth College looked into this dynamic and found too often doctors and other healthcare professionals don’t listen to patients. The research found the lack of listening to the patient had a detrimental impact on their treatment decisions.

Consumer Reports surveyed 1,200 people who had hospital stays and learned most of the respondents felt alienated by clinical staff. After all, they’re the ones being treated. Disquietingly, this deaf ear syndrome often resulted in errors in treatment and care.

More recently, a debate appeared in the pages of The American Journal of Managed Care that went beyond aspects of care and bedside interaction with patients. Keith Roberts, a patient engagement expert, drew the discussion over to the business side of healthcare. He cited a four step approach to improving the consumer healthcare experience. In a highly condensed form, they are:

  1. observe — be empathetic
  2. segment — recognize different people will have different attitudes
  3. understand and respond — realize in this era of High Deductible Health Plans, it’s very much the patient’s money, and transparency on pricing/cost and s/he has every right to be a central part of the decision-making process
  4. achieve improved outcomes — making the healthcare journey more positive for the patient, results will be better for all involved

Further, Deloitte Consulting found a rise of consumerism in healthcare. People are no longer blindly accepting what’s being recommended to them. They’re challenging course of treatment and the associated cost. This isn’t a show of disrespect for the doctor, her/his skills or intent. Patients are essentially saying they are “the customer.” If the customer isn’t listened to, s/he will go elsewhere which is becoming increasingly common today.  

The healthcare industry has not listened to how customers prefer to get their bills. Assessments of consumer preference have found at least 70 percent of patients want to get statements electronically. Oddly enough, electronic payments have historically been underutilized as a form of payment in consumer healthcare transactions. Evidence of that is the fact that 98 percent of all healthcare bills are sent in paper form through the snarkily labeled “snail mail” operated by the U.S. Postal Service, which notes its own research found 60 percent of Americans prefer to get bills electronically.

The balance in healthcare has shifted. The patient is no longer a mindless sheep following the prodding of providers. The patient is a healthcare consumer, involved in decisions about her/his care and in how that gets paid.

On that, let’s listen to patients for a change and see what they want.