The subject of patient experience and consumerism in health care has been a frequent topic of discussion over the past few years. While the many reasons behind this change can be debated, one fundamental driver is the rise of Berwick’s “triple aim” concept, one which advocates for excellent clinical care, at low cost, and an exceptional patient experience.
The need to improve patient experience has gained increased importance because of newly developed payment mechanisms and concepts, such as value-based care, which advocates inclusion of patient-reported outcome measures to more traditional clinical outcomes.
The connection between a physician and patient is far more than merely a transactional money-based relationship. It is important to adopt an approach toward patients, customers and consumers as individual people with an innate desire to be treated uniquely and have their personal needs addressed.
The importance is really around personalization and the uniqueness of each individual and his or her experience within the health care system. We should recognize that a consumer of health services for the good of their body will likely have a different decision-making approach than a consumer purchasing other kinds of services (e.g., banking).
After all, it is the anesthesia specialist’s primary responsibility to ensure patients’ comfort and safety when they are exposed to the trespass of surgery and other invasive procedures.
Often, anesthesia and surgical decisions are based on fear, anxiety and depression, and the stress levels of the individuals and their families are high. Overall, consuming perioperative health care services is not a positive, leisurely experience.
A Few Evolving Trends
A number of current trends affect the evolving relationship between anesthesiologists and their patients. While anesthesiologists are highly influential in how people make decisions about their care, there is no question that the influence of physicians is diminishing for many patients. It’s frequently the case that patients come to their physicians with ample information they have collected from online sources and they are much more involved in their care. About 50% of these people are going to read online reviews and make decisions that are based on the individual experiences of other consumers.
An important trend is that of instant gratification, which is being proffered by companies such as Amazon and Lyft. A growing segment of our (younger) population now has the attitude: “I want what I want when I want it and at the price I want.”
Another noteworthy trend is obviously the increased financial responsibility that consumers have around how they access health care. With that increasing financial responsibility, people are now shopping before making decisions associated with their health care,
Patients generally come more educated and with higher level concerns about their future experiences of health care and the services to which they will have access in the next decade.
Recent survey responses among current and future physicians reveal significant gaps in readiness to implement emerging technologies. There are large gaps in readiness for some of the most critical new health care developments such as telemedicine, personalized medicine, and genetic screening.
Physicians need to think about how to continue to provide care to patients in innovative ways and need to invest in new technologies.
- Telemedicine is becoming a norm
- More and more care continues to move to the home
- Increased remote patient monitoring and wearables
- Technology for patient education and virtual care
Satisfaction May Not Mean What You Think
A study by Louis Ehwerhemuepha, Feaster and me2 found that parental recommendation of a surgical facility to friends and family depends on a number of variables, with the quality of perioperative communication with the anesthesiologist being “the most predictive item.” The investigative team was surprised to find that the most significant predictor for the decision of a parent to recommend a hospital to another parent was this item: “Did the anesthesiologist explain things in a way you could understand?” The team was also surprised to find that variables such as pain and nausea and vomiting management for the child did not achieve statistical significance.
The concept of “personas” should be introduced into the care we provide our patients. Personas are a traditional way of thinking about consumers, the retail experience and a consumer market. In this widely used marketing technique, a persona is defined as an individual representation of a group of patients (consumers) and their feelings, behaviors and wishes within the context of health care. This approach is very helpful for understanding how to activate patients/consumers in your market based on a real understanding of who they are as individuals and what is relevant and timely and important for them.
So what is the role of anesthesia specialists within this universe of consumerism and patient experience? If we are to look at the patient journey as a holistic experience, then anesthesia specialists should focus on the perioperative experience and its impact on the overall experience. As a first step, anesthesia specialists must understand the reasons behind this concept. Simply saying this is the right thing to do may or may not be persuasive for many providers. Once an anesthesia specialist understands why this is necessary, then we need to ask how can we optimize the experience.
Overall, anesthesia specialists should be good citizens and help with the hospitals’ bottom line by helping to achieve better patient experience scores and thus success in a value-based purchasing plan. There is a need to focus on variables that can be changed and develop interventions to improve items such as communication skills.
We all know the past couple of years has brought many unexpected challenges to physicians and other healthcare providers. While healthcare will likely never go back to pre-pandemic status, the next few years offer opportunities for medicine to evolve and change for the better.
Patient Experience and Consumerism in Anesthesiology: The Next Frontier. anesthesiologynews.com
Top 10 Physician Trends in 2021. merritthawkins.com