Improving Patient Access: How To Waste 30 Seconds

Someone asked me how I was getting along in my new role. I replied, “I am growing and learning, meeting new challenges with confidence and enthusiasm while developing good work habits and people skills.” I thought that sounded pretty good.

I’ve been told I have the gene for sarcasm, which I’ve taken to mean shows intelligence and good mental health; I think my wife believes it means something else.

I thought we could begin today’s post by asking everyone to take thirty seconds—you won’t need forty—to go the website of your favorite health system or your favorite payer and complete all of the tasks or transactions the site lets you perform.

I am willing to bet that on more than ninety percent of health system websites the only interactive task (a task where you can actually enter data) available to you would be clicking “Like” on the health system’s Facebook page.

Why do I like harping on this issue? Suppose you purchase a shovel from Home Depot. The reason you bought the shovel is because Home Depot does not sell holes. If you have a think about it, you will find there is actually a lot of depth to that statement—you need ‘A’ but you cannot create ‘A’ without using ‘B”. The logical healthcare analogy is needing an appointment, but not being able to get the appointment without making a phone call.

“This is my shovel. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

You take the shovel home, and you see that there is a pamphlet taped to the shovel’s handle. The pamphlet tells you all about the history of shovels. It describes the different types of shovels. There is information about how to go to their website and select a shovel. It tells you about the company that manufactured the shovels, the people who are on the board of the shovel making company, and about all of the different tools they make. There is even a sentence telling you what hours you can call the manufacturer if you have questions about your shovel. And, there is a paragraph in the pamphlet about touring the shovel manufacturer’s plant, and the hours the shovel gift shop is open.

After reading all about shovels, you notice that a blunt safety device has been attached to the business end of your shovel. You cannot use the shovel until you remove the safety device. You try a number of ways to remove the device but you cannot get it to budge. You then reread the pamphlet to see if you overlooked the information about removing the blunt object. The information is not there.

Where does that leave you? It leaves you knowing everything about your shovel but without a way to use it to benefit you. The utility you gained from reading the pamphlet just nosedived. There is no reason to ever read the pamphlet again.

Now think about your health system’s website. Chances are it is a lot like your shovel pamphlet. People—customer people and patient people—can read about the history of the health system, they can read who is on the board, read about the different services—shovels—the system offers, read about the gift shop and about taking a tour. They can read about what hours to call the organization. Heck, anyone who is interested could read about the health system for hours.

However, when they are done reading, they are done. There is no reason for them ever to return to the website because there is nothing for them to do when they are there. In most health systems the only reason for a person to visit the website more than once is if they forgot to “Like” the system on Facebook during their initial read-through.

Consumer and patient access are absolutely worthless unless your customers can do something once they have accessed your health system. Calling is not access. More often than not it is a barrier to entry.

The great features of accessing a health system through its website are that there are no wait times, no dropped calls, and no wrong answers.

The bad feature of accessing a health system through its current website is that once you have been there, there is no reason for you to ever access the health system through its website again.

Every health system has a website, but it often seems that few people have asked the question, ‘Why do we have a website?’ I think too many health systems built their website because someone felt a need to check the We have a website box.

More people—customer people and patient people—go to your website every day than ever walk into the health system’s expensive lobby. Yet nobody pays any attention when they are designing the website to the fact that people go to the site hoping to be able to do something.

They go the site hoping to avoid calling the health system. They do so because they have tried calling on other occasions, and that experience was painful. In all likelihood, the people who designed the website have never tried calling the health system. Had they tried calling, they would have designed a better website. They would have made access to the health system a priority. They would have made it actionable. They would have made it a place where people—customer people and patient people—could accomplish any task they set out to accomplish with the possible exception of having their knee replaced.

And the really silly thing is that when hospital executives go the websites of other vendors they use—vendors like airlines and hotels and phone companies and retailers, they go to those sites to accomplish tasks.

Roemer’s Immutable Patient Experience Laws: There are only two types of people who go to a health system’s website; those who are deciding will I buy healthcare from this provider, and those who are deciding will I buy healthcare again from this provider.

Please permit me to offer an observation. People go to the website with the expectation that they will be able to complete tasks. Tasks like Referrals, Authorizations, Registration, Scheduling, Refills, Triage, Billing, Payments, Admissions, Discharge, Disputes, Claims, Insurance, ED, Labs, Primary Care Provider, Clinics, Medical Records, Imaging, Therapy, Pre-surgery, Find a Doctor, Payment Plans, Pharmacy.

They leave the website, never to return, because they could not accomplish anything. Never to return. Never to be a new patient. Never to be retained as a patient. Never to refer the health system to anyone.

The lifetime value of the person who had a bad experience is around $200,000 dollars. The lifetime cost to the health system that provided the bad experience is around $200,000.

Multiply that by one hundred thousand disappointed callers and website visitors a year and all of a sudden the cost of not providing good access is pretty high. The good news is that all of these problems can be fixed.



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