Sooner or later someone had to write this, and there was little doubt it was going to be me.
I was speaking with a patient experience executive at one of highest rated US News & World Report’s Best Hospitals 2013-2014. The conversation came down to her telling me that they are on top of the patient experience issues and that because of the financial pressures being exerted by CMS their entire focus was on raising their HCAHP scores from 8.2174284 to 8.2174265. I will not waste your time or mine calculating the ROI on that exercise, but if you are so inclined begin your calculation with negative infinity.
Just in case someone’s experience with her hospital had nothing to do with HCAHPs, what was I to do other than to go to their website?
My first test point had to do with the fact that fifty, that’s a five followed by a zero, percent of people go to a hospital’s website to determine whether they are going to purchase care from that hospital, or seek a second hospital.
Brief segue. Hospitals and healthcare aficionados use the term “seek” care because they provide care. Lay people, patients, purchase care.
I went to the search function and entered ‘testicular cancer’. I did so because at the time I was treated for it Al Gore had not yet invented the internet. The site returned a few dozen hits, all sorted by relevancy—probably a good way to sort them as opposed to sorting by favorite astrological sign.
Once I got past the requisite Lance Armstrong link, and dated white papers, way down on their list was a link for what the hospital did to treat it. Three clicks later I actually got to the link. I was provided with information in an overview—click here, how to diagnose it, and treatment. The information provided in each link was pabulum, but at least they provided a number to call in case I was afraid of dying from testicular cancer.
Why the cynicism? I have been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. When I self-diagnosed in 1984 in a motel in Amarillo all I wanted was answers; was I going to die, what happens next, what are my options, how long will it take, what will the experience be like, and when do I have to start? My only resource for obtaining those answers was the Yellow Pages—younger readers may want to Google the term—in the night stand next to the Gideon Bible.
To assess whether I was being unfair with my criticism I went next to WebMD. WebMD had more than 250 links, every one of which provided more helpful information than did the hospital’s website. There were videos, PowerPoint’s, survivor comments. WebMD knew why people would search for information on testicular cancer. The hospital knew that being a US News & World Report Best Hospital was sufficient enough. The hospital was wrong.
Were I seeking treatment today I would have immediately looked for an organization that understood what I needed from them than one that did not.
Next I tried to see what it would be like if after several rounds of chemotherapy I wanted to schedule a follow up appointment, or if as a prospective patient I wanted to schedule an initial appointment. I found a link on the website and followed it to where you and I know it would end—a phone number to call to schedule the appointment.
My review of hospital websites tells me initially that this hospital is no worse than the others in its ability to schedule appointments online—that is why the person actually clicked the link. (Please note this is not a ringing endorsement of any of them.)
But the story gets better. When I clicked the link I am taken to the page with the phone number to call to try to schedule an appointment—they made no mention as to whether this could be done with Bluetooth. In addition to not meeting my need to schedule the appointment, I was presented with the following information—to me this is a lot like being on hold with Comcast when I am complaining about my cable service and being forced to listen to a recording of all of the other things they want me to buy.
- Ethics and complains
- Web services
- Supply chain
- International commercial services
- Media relations
- Referring doctors (they used ‘physicians’ but I am trying to be obsequious—I can’t believe I spelled that correctly0
- Email support
- International patients
- Health plan
- Medical records
- And a dozen other links
The one thing I set out to do, schedule an appointment, I could not do. My experience was poor, and it is not even worth asking about whether I was satisfied with my experience. This is what happens when you present your hospital online but do not involve people outside of the hospital in its design.
This could easily be your hospital. So, here’s my point. If you are going to have a website, why not have a real one? One that serves patients, one that actually allows them to complete a task without having to pick up the phone or one that requires them to drive to the hospital. Why not have one that is functional enough that if a patient went there wondering if they should seek a second opinion that they would choose your hospital? Why not have one that if a prospective patient went there they would choose your hospital? Why not have one that an existing patient, a sick patient, a paying patient, could complete a simple task online on their iPad?
Why not have a website that provided a remarkable experience for every person every time on any device?
Shift your thinking. Take your bricks and mortar functionality and make it available online. The only other question remaining to be answered is whether the woman I spoke with will happen upon this narrative.