Shifting Health Care Mindset from “Patient” to “Customer”

Our opinions, beliefs and values influence our choice of words and phrases. However, we are not always conscious of the reverse — that our choice of language can influence our opinions, beliefs, and values. This is a highly overlooked factor in humans’ adaptability to change. When we use terms that have a significant and emotional meaning in one context to another, we bring that context with us. In doing so, that context can mask the changes that are occurring around us and prevents us from adapting in a changing environment.

For example, the term “patient” originated for all the right reasons. Derived from the Latin root “patiens,” it means to suffer or bear, born out of compassion and the desire to help someone who is suffering because they are sick. A patient is someone in need of care, empathy and kindness. What could possibly be wrong with that definition?

Unfortunately, it leads health care providers to unintentionally see the patient in a very narrow light. First and foremost, they are seen only as it relates to their ailment — someone who is sick — and the objective of the provider is to help them with their ailment. Additionally, this perspective prevents health care organizations from reimagining themselves as proactive partners who also are focused on helping individuals and their communities stay healthy.

But that’s not all. The historical mindset that comes along with the term “patient” is that there are more patients than there are resources to immediately treat them all.  An example of this concept in practice is “waiting rooms” — why do we have waiting rooms instead of welcome lounges? Is the goal to remind our patients that we expect them to wait?

You can see how this mindset, and the words, unintentionally creates an atmosphere where it’s the patient’s job to be accommodating, respectful and compliant. Patients must interact with a provider on the provider’s timeline, perhaps waiting weeks for an appointment.

Patients are often viewed as an endless supply of individuals needing care. Organizations don’t have to compete — just by existing, the patients will come. And, if there are too many patients for the organization’s capacity? Well, they’ll just have to wait patiently and gratefully.

As an industry, we need to do better. Health care organizations must begin to think differently about the critical role they play in people’s lives, how they define success and how to ensure they remain competitive and financially viable. The term “patient” existed for all the right reasons, but it’s time to adapt and evolve. A term like “customer” is much more fitting.

The “customer” in context

The term “customer” refers to an individual who makes a choice to use particular goods and services based on their evaluation of how well they will meet their needs. As such, organizations must compete for customers, and prove their value by consistently striving to exceed their expectations when serving them.

Additionally, a customer isn’t always patient, compliant or grateful — especially when they’re sick. And even on their best days, they want to be met on their own terms and schedule. Providers who treat their patients as customers will work to not only understand their physical condition but also how it may affect their family and offer solutions.

Customer-driven growth is required to stay relevant and thrive for years to come

Health systems must recognize customers as active decision makers and focus their growth strategies on earning customer loyalty.

Get started on your customer-driven growth strategy with these tips:

  • Begin the journey by creating a roadmap for embracing the customer-centric mindset and recognize that it must happen incrementally.
  • Reorient your business model toward a customer vs. transaction-based growth accounting framework and elevate customer acquisition and retention as the key growth metrics.
  • Set Total Customer Lifetime Value (TCLV) and Customer Loyalty, as measured by Share of Wallet (SoW), as the North Star to guide all your investment decisions.
  • Invest in customer insight and relationship building capabilities to maximize your ability to differentiate your value proposition by methodically tailoring everything that you do around the needs and pain points of these customers.
  • Invest in low-hanging fruit opportunities such as customer access to specific services to demonstrate early wins and then use the incremental near-term revenue gains to fund the more transformative and innovative investments.
  • Prioritize both strategic customer acquisition and customer retention. Customer loyalty is not all about retention — it is about investing into acquiring the customers who are most likely and naturally to be loyal to your organization because you are a good fit for their needs. Acquire customer relationships, not transactions. Retain customers by exceeding their expectations with comprehensive solutions and superb customer experience.

The competitive and financial pressures on health care providers have been more intense than ever and are further exacerbated by consumer-savvy, novel disrupters who are taking away share and revenue by providing customers (patients) with tailored solutions and streamlined experiences. It is imperative for the long-term viability for health systems to pivot their thinking about their growth strategy and adopting the term “customer” is the first step in changing the mindset.

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