The healthcare industry has long been characterized by change and evolution. Yet, new requirements introduced by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as changing demands and expectations among patients, have created new pressures for today’s healthcare organizations. Healthcare providers that fail to address this new reality and meet the call for more value-based healthcare that focuses on the patient will struggle to remain sustainable in this changing world.
So, what can healthcare management do to prepare their organizations to deliver more customer-centric care? Although a recent study found that the vast majority of healthcare CEOs plan to improve their ability to innovate, change technology investments and better manage data, very few have made significant headway in these areas. As with any large-scale change, the move to customer-centric healthcare needs to start at the top. To ensure an effective transition, C-level executives, whether the CEO or chief medical officer (CMO), must take the lead to get their teams on board and ensure they can create a sustainable model for the future.
A New Approach to Patient Care
Today’s patients have greater choice in the care they receive, meaning that organizations that don’t provide a positive experience for their patients will struggle to compete. The onus to improve falls on the CEO and CMO, who must revamp the typical patient experience of waiting a long time, only to spend five to seven minutes with the physician. Healthcare leaders can improve the process by making the operation more like a concierge service—scheduling appointments at literal points in time to minimize waiting, enabling patients to enter their information only once and treating patients as valued customers. They should also strive to offer more flexibility by way of extended hours, home visits and telehealth programs that enable patients to have a remote, video-based conversation with their physician.
In addition to optimizing the patient experience, healthcare leaders must also change their cost structures. Rather than the typical process of determining prices behind closed doors and putting a margin on it, costs need to come down, be determined by performance and quality of service and be delivered with greater transparency. More and more, the industry is shifting to a value-based operating model. One such example is the accountable care organization (ACO) model, whereby healthcare providers join together to deliver a payment and care delivery approach that ties provider reimbursements to quality metrics, while driving down costs for an assigned patient population.
The ACO approach links payment to quality improvements that can reduce costs for patients; data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that the ACO model has led to savings of $417 million since the program began in 2012. As the model continues to evolve, healthcare organizations will be managing a particular portion of the population whom they see regularly. When patients are part of a healthcare organization and receive frequent care, fewer patients will need emergency room service, resulting in lower costs. The industry is increasingly moving towards value-based operating models, but as with any change, implementing the associated customer-centric practices may be easier said than done.
Best Practices to Deliver Customer-Centric Care
To ensure their organizations remain competitive and sustainable in the face of unprecedented change across the healthcare industry, the CEO and CMO must implement the strategies that can lead to positive transformation. Though large-scale changes don’t happen overnight and inevitably will be met with some resistance, healthcare leaders should consider the following best practices to deliver a customer-centric approach:
- Meet patients where they are: Today’s healthcare consumers increasingly expect the same level of service from their healthcare providers that they receive in other areas of life and business. Healthcare leaders must spearhead the process changes that meet this demand, by providing greater flexibility, extended hours, home visits and telehealth.
- Set the tone for employees: To implement effective change management and overcome employee resistance, CEOs and CMOs must provide strong guidance throughout. Working with other C-suite executives to identify transformation needs, communicate these changes, introduce tools that can facilitate the transition and explain how each employee can contribute to delivering customer-centric care is essential.
- Revamp cost structures: To be successful, CEOs and CMOs must deliver on two key priorities: keeping patients healthy and providing service at reasonable costs. This entails designing a fundamentally different operating model and driving down costs for activities that do not provide value – all while offering higher-quality care to their target population.
- Seek outside help when needed: Healthcare leaders might not always have the internal senior-level capacity and capability needed to accelerate change. Leveraging the help of an executive talent provider to ensure the organizations have the support and expertise to deliver a more customer-centric patient experience can make all the difference.
Meeting Demand for a New Level of Care
As the ACA has given more people greater access to healthcare—and more options in how they receive that care—healthcare leaders must rethink their current processes to deliver high quality care. If patients are unhappy, they can always switch to another provider. In this age of empowered patients and increased competition between providers, the CEO and CMO must communicate a transformative vision throughout their organizations. This starts with having qualified leadership at the top to guide these changes, the right technology to facilitate the processes and the best team to deliver on this goal. With these factors in place, healthcare organizations can deliver the customer-centric care necessary for success in today’s healthcare climate.
About the Author: Nick Christiano is responsible for the overall execution of the National Healthcare Practice for Tatum, a Randstad company. The Healthcare Practice provides executive leadership solutions to healthcare provider organizations, heath plans, private-equity backed bio-tech firms and affiliated organizations where subject matter expertise is critical to a successful client engagement. Christiano is recognized as a leader in the pursuit of optimum patient care, productivity, efficiencies, cost management and navigating new challenges in the healthcare field. He has an M.B.A. in MIS/Finance from the John Hagan School of Business – Iona College and a B.S. with a dual major in Computer Science/Electrical Engineering from N.Y.I.T.
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