Recently, I read an article referencing a study by The Journal for Patient Safety that stated "…when patients are shown Hospital Safety Score grades and cost information together, consumers will choose safer hospitals 97% of the time, regardless of cost."
When people choose a hospital, they want to make sure it is the safest one out there. That seems logical, but it doesn’t explain what actually happens. If this were true, then 97% of patients would flock only to the hospitals with top quality scores… but that’s clearly not the case.
This study showed that safety is more important than cost to patients when choosing a hospital. However, it ignores the fact that patients have more than just these two factors impact their choice.
So, how do patients choose a hospital? What factors impact their decision? And what can you do to win their choice and grow?
You can crack the code of patient choice in five steps:
- Define your goal for growth
- Define the customer choice
- Gather customer feedback
- Analyze and strategize
- Measure impact
Define Your Goal
First, outline your goal for growth. This subsequently defines the specific patient choice being made and will ensure the results of your research result in the outcome you’re aiming to achieve.
This sounds simple because you know what your goals are, right? “We want to grow patient volume�?… “We want to increase referrals from our physician network�?… “We want to grow the positive reputation of our hospital within the patient community�?…
All of these are great growth aspirations, but they aren’t goals. There are four key areas that need to be defined:
- Offering. What is the specific service you are providing to patients? “Patient care�? is too broad. Are you looking at a specific service line? Type of treatment?
- The amount you want to grow within a specific timeframe. This is how you’ll measure your success.
- The type of patient. Is there a certain segment of your patient population of interest? Current/returning patients or prospective patients? Private pay or Medicare? Inpatient, outpatient, or ED? Within a certain geographic region?
- The competition. If there is no competition or alternative, then there is no choice. The competition could be the hospital down the street, or it could be deciding not to receive medical care at all – but patients are making some sort of choice.
When you define these four areas, you might come up with a statement for your growth goal that looks something like this:
Now, this is focused and actionable! With this, we now know who is making the choice and what competing options they are considering. Now it’s time to dig into the factors that impact their choice.
Define The Patient Choice
When we make decisions, we weigh various factors that are important to us and rate the options available to us on those factors. Whichever option that performs the best on the most important factors wins our choice.
Let’s think about a patient deciding between two emergency departments. They might consider factors such as the following:
- Location is near me
- Short wait times to receive care
- Friendliness of staff
- Private patient rooms
- Attractiveness of facility
- Low cost
You get the idea. Some of these are probably common to all patients deciding between emergency departments, but there are likely some that are unique to your local market as well. And what will be different for each hospital is the importance that various segments of your patient population place on each of these choice factors.
Now, armed with your list of choice factors, you’re ready to capture some real patient feedback so you can determine a) how important each of these factors actually is to their decision, and b) how they think you do vs. your competition.
Gather Customer Feedback
The only way to get good, reliable data about how patients make choices so that you can confidently create strategies to win their choice… is to ask them.
How many patients you want to ask depends on how you plan to use the results and how many data points you need to feel confident in making your strategic decisions.
You’ll want to ask:
- Imagine you are in an emergency medical situation. When deciding which Emergency Room to go to, how important are following attributes to you...?
- Do you associate the following factors with ?
- Do you associate the following with ?
Analyze And Strategize
Healthcare is data rich. Clinical, quality, operational, financial, patient experience… you have all sorts of data. You probably also have some nice charts and graphs or even complex scorecards.
What’s often lacking is the ability to understand intuitively what the data means so you can quickly make decisions. Specifically, when trying to understand the patient choice, you’ll also need to be able to slice and dice the data to understand differences amongst your patient population.
We like to visualize the data in three circles:
Factors within the yellow circle are most important to patients. The blue and red circles represent the value you and your competitor provide.
By viewing the choice factors in this way, we immediately understand:
- Where you have an advantage (green)
- Where patients perceive unmet needs (yellow)
- Where there is perceived parity between you and your competition (gray)
- Where the competition has the upper hand (orange)
- Where patients place less importance (blue, purple, red)
Each of these areas has implications for strategy development to reach your growth goal. Now you can brainstorm and prioritize tactics to impact patient choice.
- What can you do to build and defend your green zone?
- What can you do to neutralize your competitor’s advantage?
OK, now you’ve implemented your strategy. But did you do it? Did you crack the code on patient choice? Only time will tell.
Strategy is a process, not an event. Today’s healthcare market demands agility. You have to run fast just to keep your place in the market.
Organizations have to be continuously monitoring changes in patient perceptions to evolve with their patients. Ongoing measurement like this allows you to capitalize on opportunities quickly (before your competition) and make real-time adaptations to your strategy to reach your growth goal.
It’s all about winning the patient choice. By learning what impacts their decision-making, you obtain actionable intelligence to build a formidable advantage. Growth happens when the customer's voice drives organizational decision-making. Crack the code on your patient choice!