Every fast food restaurant has a menu item called a Number 1, none of them start their menus with an offering called a Number 2. And the Number 1, is always the most ordered item simply because it is first. In most instances, being first is good.
This weekend I watched a fascinating documentary about the annual Army-Navy football game. Just to be transparent, I should note that I attended the other military academy, the Air Force Academy. To say I attended it is a bit unfair to what these young men and women did; I stayed long enough for several haircuts. The Midshipmen and the Black Nights featured in the documentary really attended.
During the two-hour presentation, an important phrase was stated, one that could have easily been missed unless you were paying attention closely. Cadets and midshipmen alike mentioned that their goal for the game was to sing second.
Sing second. Those two words are sewn inside the uniform collars of Army’s football jerseys. One of the many traditions of the game is that at its conclusion the two teams, along with the entire corps of cadets from each school, out of mutual respect and admiration, sings their school’s alma mater. The losing team’s alma mater is sung first. The losing team’s players face their fellow students, and the winning team stands respectfully behind.
Then the players of both teams cross the playing field to where the entire student body of the winning team is seated. The winning team’s alma mater is sung, and the losing team’s players stand respectfully behind.
While this may be the greatest rivalry in sports, part of what makes it so special is that once the players leave the field of competition they do so with the knowledge that they are brothers and sisters in arms. Duty, honor, country.
Win first; sing second.
In most of the rest of the world being second can be reworded as being the first loser. Being the second person or organization to do something is never good, especially in business.
This will prove to be true with healthcare, with patient access, engagement, and experience. Suppose the competitor to your health system reinvented patient access, engagement, and experience? Suppose they made it easier for people to do business with them, and they did it by creating a remarkable online interactive experience?
Using their system’s customer and patient portals, people could access that health system. And that health system could access people; patient people and consumer people—two-way access. People could store and manage their health data, daily data about their health. People could easily conduct all of their business with that health system without ever having to call someone.
It would be like doing business with any other large innovative company.
If your health system becomes the second health system in your area to offer this type of user experience you have already lost.
Why? Think about your bank. Think about all the work it took to set up your accounts, all of the work it took to set up all of your online banking transactions. Once you have set up your online services with your bank, how likely are you to change banks?
Not very. If a competitor to your bank offers a free toaster you will not change banks. Why? Because you are all settled in; you are comfortable. Banks have figured out how to lock in their customers, how to retain their customers. And they did it by making it easy for people to do business with them. I have not walked into a bank in more than a decade because there is no need to.
The first health system in your market to make it easy, really easy to do business will win. They will win because once customers have all of their data locked into that system they will not be so keen to move it. Patient retention.
So, here are your choices if you are a health system; choose to sing second, or buy a boat load of toasters and hope you have better luck with them than the banks had.