Healthcare Consumerism: Amazon, Nordstrom & Aetna–Who Is The Odd Man Out?

If you were asked what the biggest difference is between the game of chess and playing poker, how you respond? In most games of poker, the players are the only ones can see their own cards.  In chess, you and your opponent both see the same thing.  You see their pieces, and they see yours.

Yet which game is more deceptive?  I believe chess is far more deceptive than poker even though you can see everything.  The only thing you cannot see is what is going on in your opponent’s head.  The entire strategy of your opponent’s play is too try involve you in an intellectual sleight of hand, to believe he or she is going to do something other than what he has planned.  Their goal is to convince you to alter your strategy to defend a phantasmal strategy. And you know that is what you are doing, but if your opponent is better than you, you won’t be able to stop yourself from falling into their trap.

Now permit me to ask, how would you respond if you were asked to describe the biggest difference between your healthcare organization and other top companies?  Amazon. Disney.  FedEx and UPS. Nordstrom. Southwest Airlines.  Apple.  Marriott and Hilton.

Those companies are on lists; on multiple lists.  The health system you work for, or the health plan you work for are not on those lists.  Neither are the providers you use for treatment, or the payers you use.  And they are a long way from even being considered.

The most respected companies. The most customer-friendly companies.  Ritz Carlton is not on the list.  Neither are American Express or Coca-Cola.  Nor Aetna, Cigna, Hopkins, or the Cleveland Clinic.

Missing in action.  The difference between the best companies and your employer, between them and your provider or payer is not that your companies are not on the lists of the best companies.  The lists simply serve as scorecards.  The difference is that none of the firms in other businesses are trying to imitate how healthcare firms run their businesses.

The best firms got to be the best as a result of deliberate, exacting business strategies.  Other companies figure out what the best firms are doing, and then they try to apply that business model to theirs.

None of the companies in other industries try to imitate the business strategies of the best providers or the best payers—assuming that phrase even makes sense. There has never been a strategy meeting during which someone states, “We need to change our consumerism approach to be more like Aetna’s.”

The business strategies of the best firms are built around supercharging the notion of consumerism. I define consumerism as giving the purchasing power and the decision-making to customers and potential customers.

The most consumer-friendly firms do not even have call centers for people to call.  Why?  Because those firms engineered away all of the business processes that would cause people to call. The vast majority of inbound calls to every company are initiated because something that should have been done correctly further upstream of the call wasn’t.

Take Amazon as an example.  There are no phone numbers for customer service. There is no one to call to ask questions or to resolve complaints.  That is not because there are no questions or complaints, but because Amazon designed an interactive, online customer portal to meet every one of their customers’ needs.  And even without a call center, or in spite of not having a call center, Amazon is rated as the most customer-friendly firm in the U.S.  Amazon’s customer portal, when viewed from the perspective of their customers, is the face of the company.  Everything happens through the portal.

If healthcare began tomorrow with a full-court press to design and implement a consumerism business model, one that includes a customer portal and a mobile strategy, it would take two years for healthcare just to be able to do what the best firms were doing five years ago.  Health care is so far behind the consumerism curve that it can’t even see the curve.

Your firm’s executives can say “We are not in the consumerism business.”  And technically, they would be correct.  However, being correct and being right are different things.

Healthcare consumerism may or may not be essential to providers with regard to patients in the ED, at least for ED patients with a real emergency.  People seeking treatment for a real emergency don’t have time to worry about the wait times posted on your website; heck, they don’t even have time to visit your website.  When I was gazing at the ceiling of the ambulance while being rushed to the hospital, I was not asked to which hospital I wanted to go.  We simply went.  This was no time to discuss patient experience or issues surrounding consumerism.

Giving the purchasing power and the decision-making to customers and potential customers. What happens if your organization doesn’t give it?  Customers will take it anyway, or they will find an organization that does give it.

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