The Half-Life of Patient Experience

My twelve-year-old son commented as I was ready to depart for my run. “Are you really going to wear those shorts?”

“What is wrong with my shorts?” I asked.

“People want to see a lot less leg and a lot more shorts,” he replied.

“How long do my shorts need to be?” I asked. He pointed to a spot between my knees and ankles—capri-length.

If I wore something of that length in red or blue in most major cities in the US I might be mistaken for a gang-banger. Except for the briefcase, the ultra-notebook, and my tan Allen Edmonds wingtips.

That is what got me thinking about forming a management consulting gang, marauding through C-suites wearing white, highly-starched, Egyptian-cotton, below the knee shorts with the Allen Edmonds wingtips—hair gel and manicures are optional.

You probably know that the half-life of something is the time required for a quantity to fall to half of its measured value from what it was at the beginning of the time period.  Its most commonly used with exponential decay, like measuring the age of rocks based on the decay period of radium to lead-206.

The satisfaction with one’s patient experience is the inverse of half-life.  The level of satisfaction of the experience does not diminish over time, it actually grows, and with social media it grows unbounded, at least the bad experiences do—sort of like telling your friend how large the fish was you caught; over time the size of the fish gets bigger.  A story of an unsatisfactory or a bad patient experience has legs, and patients who had a poor experience do their utmost to get their story to the most readers.

A friend of mine who reads this blog called me to relay her story. She is being treated for cancer at a major institution in Baltimore—I’ll leave it to you to figure out which hospital.  She tried to make an appointment to see her doctor because of the side-effects from her anti-nausea medicines.  She said she spent three hours on the phone trying to schedule the appointment.  While she acknowledged that the hospital was the best place for her to be treated she stated that she was going to make it her mission in life to tell people not to go to that hospital simply because they could not handle a simple business process like scheduling an appointment.

Think about the most inane stories someone ever told you.  People, guy people in particular, have a tendency to exaggerate and to add a flourishes that grow over time.  The bad news for healthcare providers is that once patients’ stories hit the web they multiply.

If you want to know how others view your hospital, much more information can be learned from Google than from CMS.  And the opinions on Google, whether accurate or exaggerated have no half-life, that genie is not going back in the bottle.

Hence, the only influence you have over someone’s experience is while they are having the experience.  Once they’ve had it your chance to manage it is over.  And the thing that should concern hospital executives the most is that they do not even know that people are having these bad experiences.

These experiences are not learned from a Ouija-board secret-shopper exercise.

Ninety-percent of the experiences people have regarding their interactions with a hospital are unknown to the hospital, unmeasured by the hospital, and unreported. Companies like Amazon track the successfulness of each interaction of each person.

 

 

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