How design thinking can elevate the patient experience

Finding purpose in the mundane

What could be more boring than the traditional patient pamphlet?

Many times patient pamphlets are created without the most important ingredient, the patient. The traditional pamphlet is generally a collection of information that the health care marketer wants to impart to the patient. Little thought is put into what the patient wants to know. And even less thought is put into how the patient wants to physically interact with the pamphlet.

A little design thinking could change all that. One of the key principles of design thinking is purpose. Every element should have a customer-focused reason for existing. This requires a deeply rooted understanding of customers and how they interact with a particular object. It is this understanding that can transform the mundane into the marvelous.

One of the best examples I have ever seen is the in-room collateral for the Wanderlust Hotel in Singapore that I stumbled upon at an American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) exhibit. The design team from Foreign Policy Design had a profound understanding of the prototypical Wanderlust guest. The type of guest who checks into the Wanderlust hotel is “curious and interested in discovering, engaging and immersing in new experiences.” They have a desire for personal growth through exploration.

Based on this understanding, the designers reinvented the “almost-useless conventional in-room directory” into a more useful travel tool. The in-room directory was morphed into an itinerary, full of useful local information including “area maps, train and bus maps, local shops and restaurants as well as thoughtful blank pages for notes and sketches.”

The reimagined in-room directory led to a redesigned check-in procedure. As the AIGA exhibit notes detailed, the itinerary “improved the check-in workflow, converting a laborious and dreaded check-in process into something fun, a talking point.”

This proves that one small design element can trigger a cascade of changes that lead to an improved overall brand experience. And the business results? The hotel has been featured in core travel publications including Travel & Leisure, has appeared on almost 500 blogs, and its room occupancy rates have risen.

And no wonder, “Creating a unique customer experience is one of the best ways to achieve sustainable growth, particularly in industries that are stagnating,” according to the consulting firm ATKearny. In industry after industry, higher customer satisfaction has been shown to drive sales and profits.

So back to the patient pamphlet. What is its core purpose? What is the problem that the pamphlet (or for that matter, the website, app or DTC ad) is trying to solve? What other problems does the patient have? Is there a role it can play there? How should it be redesigned?

What happens if the patient pamphlet is reimagined as an itinerary for better health, rather than merely a way to convey basic product information? Could infusing a higher-order purpose into a pamphlet set off a cascade of changes in all marketing activities?

The most overlooked marketing investment

Investing in your customers. That’s what companies, like YouTube, who have their pulse on the consumer do according to a recent article in Digiday. YouTube is helping their customers develop the content that will help them realize their dream of becoming digital stars. But the concept of customer investment goes beyond the digital world. Investing in customers is a business strategy well described in “Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?” an e-book by Michael Schrage being offered by the Harvard Business Review.

Schrage says businesses can keep growing by asking, “Who do our customers want to become?” and helping them get there by strategically investing in customer capabilities. Invest in customers, because, as Schrage puts it, “your future depends on their future.”

Health care is no exception.

Think of the demands placed on physicians by the Accountable Care Act. To be successful in the future, physicians will need to become:

• Customer service experts since patient experience will drive reimbursement
• Data analysts as the practice collects patient satisfaction data
• Healthcare systems thinkers as practice ratings are dependent on the entire office visit experience, not just the physician interaction

The demands on patients have also increased. Take the experience of Peter Drier who practically become a forensic accountant to track down an unexpected $117,000 in charges associated with his neck surgery as recently reported in the New York Times. Or Matt Might who, according to an article in the New Yorker, had to supersize his social media skills to assemble a group of patients across the globe to give his son’s illness a name.
With the advent of the health care exchanges, Payers who once operated in the B-to-B mode have now found themselves having to develop the type of direct-to-consumer marketing skills pharmaceutical marketers acquired in the 1990’s.

There is no shortage of investment needs when it comes to pharmaceutical customers. Of course there is all sorts of regulation against practice building and incentivizing use. However, by applying a little creativity and keeping the end game in mind—improved outcomes and a better patient experience—the smart pharmaceutical “investor” will be able to eke out a competitive advantage with some well placed customer bets!

Bad Mom, Wonderful Woman: A Tale of One Health Plan

Improved patient experience. As a health care marketing professional, I see the topic everywhere. As a patient, though, it is often nowhere to be found. Here’s my Tale of One Health Plan. One day, one health system, two appointments, two dramatically different patient experiences. In one visit I was a “A Bad Mom,” in the other, “A Wonderful Woman.”

Bad Mom, Wonderful Woman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First the “Bad Mom.” At a Children’s Center” in an affluent hospital, my 15-year old daughter and I entered what looked like beige food court in a mall, little booths for each pediatric specialty ringing the room. Threatening signs dotted the walls cautioning against letting your children bounce on the furniture.

I approached a booth with a simple question. “What time was my appointment?” I had made the appointment for 3 pm but had received a confirmation call for 2:45. Asking one of the Booth Ladies, I was told, “I don’t know when your appointment is for, just sit and wait for the doctor.” This patient experience told me that the hospital’s time was more important than my own and that I could not be trusted to come to an appointment on time.

At 2:43, after eventually learning my appointment was for 3 pm, I decided to dash to the hospital coffee shop on the floor below. When I came back at 2:55, my teenage daughter was nowhere to be seen. Going back to the Booth to ask about my daugther’s whereabouts, the original Booth Lady didn’t even look at me, but told her companion Booth Lady, “I told the mother to wait for the doctor. This patient experience told me I wasn’t a person, but an individual filling a role, and doing it badly at that. Bad Mom, Bad!

Contrast this to my mammography later that day. Not only was I greeted by a friendly woman, I was given thorough instructions reinforced on a patient handout. I was then whisked away into a spa-like changing room, complete with honey colored wood lockers, thick terry robes and ethereal Spa music playing in the background. To top it all off, I got a bracelet commemorating breast health awareness month when I left. I was a “Wonderful Woman.”

Yes, this was the same health system. But no one had bothered to think through how an individual person might experience it’s different parts in her different roles: parent, patient and parental caregiver. I know a unified patient experience is possible.I increasingly use another health system in my area, the Summit Medical Group. The receptionists are uniformly friendly, even when you as the patient screw up. For example, one of the receptionists noticed I missed an appointment in another department and made a call to have them squeeze me in so I wouldn’t have to come back again. That patient experience told me I was an important individual whose time was valuable.

Now the medical care I receive in both systems is excellent. But if I needed a new doctor, I would go to Summit Medical Group. And I am not alone in judging a system by it’s support personnel. According to PwC Health Research Institute, 60% of consumers said staff attitudes are a key factor in evaluating their provider experience. The lesson here is to make sure the patient experience is understood and designed from the patient’s perspective. And that starts from the moment the patient picks up the phone to schedule an appointment.

Quantitative Proof: Better Clients Get Better Work

The Good Client

When I was a client I subscribed to the better clients get better work theory. Then while working at Saatchi Healthcare I saw first hand how the best clients got the best people. Well-regarded agency personnel could actually refuse to work on accounts with difficult clients. Talent is that important to an agency. But it was not until I worked with 99Designs that I got quantitative proof of how being a good client results in better work.

99Designs is an online graphic design marketplace of over 300k designers who participate in customer design contests to create basic design such as logos, websites and collateral.  Customers purchase design packages offering different levels of designers, quantities of design and support. The design package I purchased for logo development promised I would receive 60 designs.

I received an astounding 273 designs from 62 designers. And at least 90% were on brief and attractive. When I called the 99Designs customer service department I was told that the amount of designs I received was unusual, but explainable—I was a good client.

Being a good client is not rocket science. It the same whether working virtually or in person. I provided good direction and feedback. But what was different was 99Design’s ability to quantify how good a client you are. The automated briefing feature allowed 99Designs to see whether I took the trouble to attach samples of logos I liked. They could also see that I uploaded additional creative instructions.

Most importantly, 99Designs tracked the extent to which I took the trouble to provide feedback using their automated rating system. I rated 99% of the designs I received, often adding a sentence or two in addition to using the 5 star scale.

As free agents, potential designers often watch a contest for a while to see if it is worth entering. If no one is bothering to rate existing designs, then the designers don’t feel the client is serious. In addition, ratings provide designers with additional direction about what might result in the winning design. Remember, designers are in it to win it.

Certainly there are 99Design “haters” in the design community who feel that asking designers to submit spec work on the hopes they will get picked is abusive. But I also think there is something liberating for designers getting to decide if a client is worthy of their efforts.

What my 99Design experience showed me was it is worth the effort to put time into providing clear direction and feedback. It is also worth the effort to train marketers on how to provide useful input, something that is rarely done, at least in the pharmaceutical industry where I have spent the bulk of my career. And finally, it is worth the effort to try these new crowd-sourced businesses. You just might get more for less, something every marketer is looking to do, no matter what industry vertical you work in.

Will agencies become obsolete?

A potential new model

Don’t get me wrong. I love creative agencies. I have hired them, been employed by them and even owned one. But I wonder if creative agencies will survive in their current incarnation.

Consider the following trends:

  1. Disintermediation by vendors with creative capabilities-A recent New York Times article on Facebook entitled, “How Facebook Sold You Krill Oil,” says it all for me. The article describes the “Publishing Garage” sessions Facebook holds with marketers. The purpose of these sessions is to develop “a big sweeping campaign,” as well as specific Facebook ads. Whoa! I thought that is what the creative agency did. Closer to home in the Pharma space, there is a multichannel marketing company, Metanexgen, that will shoot as well as distribute your physician videos, for a fraction of what an agency would normally charge.
  2. Evisceration of the agency strategic function-With client Sourcing departments manically fixated on achieving the lowest blended rate, the creative agency’s ability to bring their strategic staff to the table has declined dramatically.  And agency personnel, who are not at the client table billing, don’t’ last more than one or two cycles of budget cuts. Not with razor thin agency profit margins. A vicious cycle ensues. No longer staffed to provide the strategic firepower, the agency is rarely consulted on strategic issues. As one veteran pharmaceutical marketer told me, “What am I going to learn from a 28 year old account director with 5 years of experience?”
  3. Availability of open-sourced creative solutions-A Pharma friend of mine needed a logo for his pivotal Phase III study. Did he call an agency? No, he went straight to 99Designs and got a great logo for $400. He received submissions from around the world in a matter of 48 hours. Multiple rounds of revisions occurred at lightening speed and he was done. I had a similarly positive experience designing a new logo for a start-up financial company using 99Designs.

Working directly with an open-sourced creative source does however, take time and experience. At this point in my career, I felt totally comfortable. But at an earlier phase with fewer campaigns under my belt, probably not. And brand stewardship, a role generally assigned to the lead creative agency, becomes an issue when dealing directly with vendors like Facebook and Metanexgen.

That’s why I predict that a new “Marketing Integrator/Curator” agency (or creative consultant) will emerge in the future. The current agency business model can’t support a full creative staff by sending a few creatives to a two-day Facebook meeting. This new “agency” will work with clients to select the vendors that make business sense and curate the creative process.

In the pharmaceutical industry, where extrovertic does most of its work, there will always be a place for big agencies launching the big blockbuster brands. Big agencies have the process and scale and creative firepower to get things done effectively and efficiently.

However there will be fewer and fewer of these blockbuster budget opportunities. The emergence of smaller specialty and orphan brands, with their correspondingly smaller budgets, is forcing marketers to reconsider how they get things done. With client-side staffing unlikely to grow dramatically, there will be a critical gap.  Just as nature abhors a void, so do clients. That’s why the Marketing Integrator/Curator role holds a lot of promise for the future.