To What Degree are Patients Customers? | David Couper Consulting


To What Degree are Patients Customers?

Posted by Josh Espinosa on June 13, 2018 9:27 AM
To What Degree are Patients Customers?

Inherently the healthcare industry faces a sticky conundrum; doctor’s offices, hospitals and other types of facilities are not only charged with keeping people healthy and healing the sick, but also with being profitable.

While there may be a wide range of ethical opinions surrounding that notion, the fact remains that healthcare administrators have to strike a balance between the business and public service side, and there has been widespread debate in the industry about whether to treat patients more like customers. 

While there’s some truth behind the idea that patients are, in effect, customers, it’s not a cut and dried correlation, and creating an accurate picture of an average patient’s experience is critical to improving patient satisfaction scores, which are imperative to a clinic’s financial success.

In fact, research shows it pays to home in on the patient experience; one study reported that organizations with high patient satisfaction scores have net margins approximately 3% higher than those with lower scores, and earn disproportionately more than spend overall.

Patients are Definitely Not Like Shoppers 

It seems a large part of the customer versus patient debate is semantics, so let’s get one thing straight, patients don’t end up in healthcare facilities because they have a hankering for a shot or need a new blood pressure reading for that wedding they’re going to on Saturday.

They typically end up there because that’s where their insurance agency says to go when something is either physically or mentally not right or to check in and make sure that everything is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Inherently, nobody wants to have to go to a healthcare facility; at best, it’s inconvenient. For many, it is the scene of a very trying and often painful episode in their lives.

What it essentially boils down to is that patients (and their families) have to be there; they usually don’t want to be, and that’s a critical point of note when you start to think about how to serve them better.

Sorry, McDreamy’s Off Today... 

Despite what the hospital dramas portray, for patients, healthcare facilities are often boring, lonely and monotonous places.

Even though medical staff works around the clock to stay on top of changing situations, this usually involves monitoring, and monitoring often entails administering some kind of test and waiting for the results, which can take hours, days or even weeks.

And when the results come back? Could lead to more tests, which means more waiting.

If you spend enough time in the hospital, you realize that everything sort of has that lather, rinse, repeat kind of feel to it. As a result, there’s nothing but time to reflect on the current situation, which can spur anxiety and questions that lead to more nervousness.

Worse, no matter how many questions you ask to even the most straightforward, personable doctor with the best bedside manner, the answer usually boils down to the unsatisfying non-answer of “we’ll have to wait and see.”

The hard part from the patient’s perspective is that even if you trust the facility is doing all it can, which it probably is, the outcome is still pretty much out of everyone’s control, which can be very stressful for people.

So, How Can You Really Improve Patient Satisfaction? 

For every business, whether you sell washing machines, serve people food or mow their lawn, good customer service should be a given. Staff should be nice and helpful. Communication can always be better.

But unlike other industries, patient satisfaction starts with having a culture of real compassion. If patients can walk away from your facility with the experience that you on their side, they’ll remember you well, no matter the outcome. At the heart of it, a patient wants to leave feeling like they were treated like a person -- not a statistic.

For more information about how we can help you build a culture of compassion, contact us for a free consultation at

Josh Espinosa is a freelance writer and designer. He also founded The Approachable Music Project, a music education program on a mission to make learning to play easier on people.

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