Healthcare consumers are not happy. Unlike other industries, healthcare has not had the need to be consumer friendly. Consumers didn’t have a choice before, but now that they are paying more for their care because of high deductibles, they are sitting up and taking notice of where they are spending their hard-earned dollars.

In the past, the hospitals’ biggest fear was not having enough of the right patients. Today, not meeting the expectations of consumers should be much more frightening. Thats why many hospitals and providers are finding that the consumer experience is becoming very important to their business.Marathon Med

Most people who come to the hospital don’t have the history of having been in the hospital before. Yet most hospitals refer to them as patients. Hint: Many people do not want to be referred to as a patient. To someone who is rarely or never ill, it connotes someone who is sick. A customer, on the other hand, is someone looking for services, such as lab, imaging, or an elective procedure, but they don’t consider themselves as ill. The solution? Speak to them and treat them as prospective buyers.

Hospitals also now have competition. It comes in the form of urgent care centers, surgical centers, and speed retail clinics. Urgent care clinics are now offering telemedicine visits making access to care more convenient and accessible than hospital emergency rooms.

Customers are your hospital’s pipeline of patients. Keeping the pipeline full means that consumers must know what is important to their care and be knowledgeable about their care options, so that they can evaluate the options and make an informed choice.

So how can you build a competitive spirit? Here are six actions you can take to keep consumers coming to your hospital:

  1. Decide on your target customers — e.g., consumers seeking maternity, cardiovascular, or orthopedic care. Each customer category has needs that are different from the others. A 70-year old man with a chronic disease is different from a pregnant woman who is different again from a 30-something male weekend warrior. Decide what you want their experience to be before they arrive at your front door.
  1. Make transparency happen. Quality and safety ratings should lead the feature list of why a consumer should be interested in your hospital. De-confuse the hospital bill: Hospital bills that are confusing leave a lasting negative impression on the consumer.
  1. Create the conversation on social media. Market to the consumers you want to attract by being where they are and communicate in the way they prefer. Use social media to inform and educate. Encourage patients to rate your organization on ratings sites, monitor the sites, and respond to posted comments. Don’t let others create your social media image; get ahead by actively managing and participating your image.
  1. Implement a 360-degree style of communications. Learn how to communicate with both consumers and patients. Consumers are used to other industries and businesses that have set a high level of expectations for service. That translates to being able to tell customers how much something is going to cost before they choose where to go for outpatient services and treatment. Communication internally also demands attention. Rounding is one practice that improves communication within the provider team for inpatients.
  1. Create a superior customer experience. This must be a strategy supported by the organization’s leaders and executives in order to provide an integrated experience. Without a strategy, tasks and projects are disjointed and the full potential of a seamless experience for the target customer categories will fall short. Create a staff position that says you care about the customer — a customer care genius or concierge or specialist. Empower your staff to resolve customer concerns and issues. The Ritz Carlton allows employees up to $2,000 to make a customer happy when something has gone awry. This also requires a different way of thinking among every employee that may require training.
  1. Use technology to create an extraordinary customer experience. The ability to schedule appointments, manage prescriptions, email doctors and other providers, and receive care via telehealth are all necessary to meet today’s minimum level of service. Virtual office visits using video provide convenience and efficiency. Access to electronic health records 24 hours a day through provider portals or through a health information exchange is expected. Mobile apps that support these functions demonstrate that the customer is the focus of your services.

Hospitals need customers today. They didn’t have customers in the doctor/hospital-focused past. In the person-focused healthcare world of today, the healthcare customer needs to be treated like a customer. They have expectations of quality, safety, service, and value similar to other industries. Competition is rising from non-hospital providers who meet and exceed these expectations.

What is your hospital doing to standout and beat the competition?