Consumerism Isn’t For Your JV Team

Last night as I’m sitting on a hard bleacher awaiting my fifteen-year old’s baseball game, I noticed that a  mom of one of the players, who was sitting next to me, looked a little forlorn. Being naturally inquisitive, I asked her if everything was okay.

“I lost his glove,” she replied.

Noticing a glove on her son’s hand, she saw my look of confusion. “Not his, she said. “My husband’s. I had it with me last Thursday at practice, and I left it here.”

“I don’t suppose this was a new glove. Judging by the look on your face I’d say this was your husband’s favorite glove; thirty years old, supple, broken-in, folds as flat as a sheet of paper.”

“Twenty-five years old,” she corrected me as she lowered her eyes.

“It rained almost every day last week,” I told her, which caused her to grimace even more. Having nothing better to do, I waxed eloquently. “That glove must have meant the world to your husband. He probably planned on giving it to your son in a few years. He probably didn’t plan on having his glove spend a week in the rain.  The glove probably reminds your husband of some of the memorable events of his life.  Every scar on his glove, each stain on the leather, probably points to something important in his formative years. If his glove lay outside last week, field mice probably chewed it to bits.”

She brushed away a tear, and she made a beeline to the lost and found.

“Any luck?” I asked when she returned.  She shook her head in despair.

Your husband’s hurt over this will heal over time,” I told her. “But he won’t forget it. Twenty years from now when the two of you are watching something on TV, something will remind him of the time you lost his glove.”

Moving the clock backward twenty minutes, my son and I were getting out of the car.

“Is your glove in the trunk?” I asked. This is after I had previously asked him if he had everything he needed for his game.

“I hope so,” he said shamelessly. I popped open the car’s trunk. “You hope so?” I repeated.

“It’s not here, Dad.”

I left him with his friends and I drove home to look for his glove. Ten minutes of searching; no glove. I checked his closet. There it was. Death by 1,000 cuts.

“I hope so.” What kind of a response is that?

As a member of your system’s executive team, you can’t rely on “I hope so.” Will what we are doing work with work?  I hope so.

Will your system’s efforts work?  I hope so.

Can you confirm for me that what you are doing will drive consumerism?  I hope so.

Do you have someone leading the effort who has done this before? I hope so.

Do you think your system can design consumerism in a way to change patient acquisition, access, and engagement?  I hope so.

Will you still be working here next year?  I hope so.

Changing how your health system’s business model functions demands more than trusting that change to your JV team.  You would not build a new hospital without hiring an architect.  Why would you recast consumerism without hiring someone who has done it before?

Consumerism is not HCAHPS. It’s not wayfinding or valet parking. It’s not as simple as changing the aesthetics of your system’s website. Changing your system’s homepage from sapphire blue to cerulean blue does not help the person who is trying to schedule an appointment.

Consumerism requires taking your entire business model from bricks to clicks.  Your consumers—patients and prospective patients—are demanding that they are able to do what they want, whenever they want, every time they want, and on whatever device they want to use.

Your system’s consumerism strategy should be able to be summarized in one phrase. If your consumers can’t carry your health system around in their pockets on a smart device, its consumerism strategy will have failed.

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