It can be easy to forget when you are in a hospital, but hospitals are businesses and if you need care, you are a customer. The unique nature of hospitals creates dynamics that camouflage that fact - most "customers" would rather not be there, sometimes the customer isn't actually right, and surgeons don't really compete on price - but the fact remains, if you did not like your visit to the hospital down the road, you can leave a negative Yelp review.

Hospitals and health care providers at large, are beginning to take notice of consumer choice. The internet has empowered patients to share their experiences, make recommendations, and guide future patients to institutions they found to be of good quality. Suddenly a problem that has harassed restaurant owners for years has found its way to the desks of hospital CEOs around the country.

How Patient Stories Circulate

Senem Guney is a thought leader in patient experience and the Chief Experience Officer at NarrativeDX. She says the internet has numerous platforms for patients to share their experiences, and they use all of them.

"We live in a very connected world, and today consumers have platforms to express their pleasure and displeasure like never before," says Guney. "There are certainly places like Yelp or RateMDs.com, but there are also online forums and social networks where people share their stories. Bad reviews from patients can do significant damage to a hospital's bottom line."

That damage comes in the form of dwindling market share. A paper published in the American Economic Review found that hospital reputation was an important factor in their success. "We find robust evidence that higher performing hospitals--as defined either by the health outcome-based measures or the process of care measures--tend to have greater market share (i.e., more Medicare patients) at a point in time, and experience more growth in market share over time."

How Hospitals Handle Patient Experience

Healthcare, for all the money that flows through it, is shockingly behind technologically. Today, patient experience is measured by a survey called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (H.C.A.H.P.S.) The embattled survey asks multiple choice questions and aims to establish the quality of the care provided. But because it does not ask every possible question, it misses context and nuance.

As hospitals increasingly connect the dots between patient experience and revenue, they are placing more emphasis on the issue. A recent article in MedCity News suggested hospitals improve their results by investing in better communication technologies, boosting staff engagement, improving transparency, and investing in the work environment.

The author David Betts, a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, concluded saying, "Improving the patient experience can help a hospital improve its financial performance by strengthening customer loyalty, building reputation and brand and boosting utilization of hospital services through increased referrals to family and friends."

How Entrepreneurs Can Help

Today's CEOs, including hospital CEOs, rarely make decisions without data. That is where entrepreneurs can help. New artificial intelligence technologies allow hospitals to acquire real time feedback from aggregated user reviews online.

"Hospitals should view the online world of user reviews as a massive opportunity to improve their service," asserts Guney. "The sentiments that people openly express online were not nearly as accessible to decision makers even ten years ago. And when collected and analyzed properly, they reveal a wealth of very precise actions hospitals can take to innovate. By leveraging AI and Natural Language Processing, hospitals have access to near-real time information about patient experience. That includes everything from having more blankets available, to having cleaner waiting rooms and less noise in the hallways."

Actionable information is crucial to investing in patient experience solutions that actually make an impact. Using AI and Natural Language Processing, entrepreneurs like Guney are able to provide context that was not previously available.

Aaron Carroll put it this way in the New York Times, "When allowed to choose, patients seem able to discern quality -- as they define it -- and gravitate toward it." Now hospitals can discern how patients really define quality.

Published on: Aug 3, 2017