Why is a trip to the doctor’s office more like going to the DMV than to Disney World? Both the DMV and Disney World involve waiting in long lines, but Disney has made the entire experience fun and exciting, while the DMV has made it cold and frustrating.
“But medicine is different,” you may say. After all, seeing the doctor was never meant to be a fun or exciting experience. When you’re sick, you go to the doctor to get well—no more, no less.
This type of thinking separates businesses that thrive during rocky economic times (such as Disney, Starbucks, and Apple) and those that do not. The “user” experience, you say, should not matter in medicine, where the idea of getting well is based upon the medicine and not the connection or interaction between doctor and patient.
The industrial economy of the 20th century could care less about consumer experience — the factory made the product, and the consumer purchased it. In medicine, this idea was paralleled by the doctor prescribing the medicine and the patient taking it. But now, in our digital economy, the user experience has replaced following the rules. We want to connect before we purchase. The same goes for medicine and health care, where patients (and doctors) long for interaction.
Businesses that embrace this concept and provide remarkable experiences for their customers do well, while those that want to believe the “if we build it, they will come” mentality is struggling. Where would you place medicine on this spectrum?
As consumers, we long for interaction and connectivity with products, services, and people in our world—but where is that connectivity in medicine? Where is that transformative experience? In my opinion, the patient experience is, at best, an afterthought forgotten beneath the mantra of the paternalistic model of medicine.
Remember, our economy’s industrial era was based on similar principles as the paternalistic medicine model. The “do as I say” approach seemed to work well when our economy was based upon the factory/ worker paradigm. Medicine also worked well, with the focus being the pill. This made sense at a time when antibiotics led the way for the modern pharmaceutical panacea that now serves as the pillar of modern medicine.
But as a society, much has changed since we embraced this industrial thinking. For one, we are no longer dying of infectious diseases as we did at the turn of the 20th century. Our chronic conditions are now much more multi-faceted and the result of genetic, nutritional, environmental, and hormonal imbalances. Next, as a society, we have embraced the digital internet and no longer seek out the brick-and-mortar businesses that we did even 20 years ago. We now readily shop on Amazon and Netflix and individually purchase songs on iTunes. And lastly, we now embrace mobile technology using our smartphones to help us interact and manage our connections and daily lives in ways we could not have conceived of at the turn of the 21st century.
In short, today’s technology is rapidly changing how we interact with each other and the businesses around us. Unfortunately, though, modern medicine has not advanced along these same paths.
Sure, we can now email our patients and use e-prescribing, but how many of you truly feel that today’s medical “experience” differs from 25 years ago or even 60 years ago? Why is this? Why do we settle for mediocre experiences for our customers (patients)? Why are we okay with advancing pharmaceuticals without using our insight to advance our communication capabilities?
Modern medicine needs an overhaul–we feel this, and our patients tell us. Now is the perfect time to help shape the future of medicine–one defined by remarkable patient experiences. Here are a few ways in which all of us can help in that effort:
- Redefine the physician’s office. Take down the glass partition that separates the patients from the staff. Throw out the customary waiting room chairs and magazines and add pinball machines, WiFi, and espresso machines. Since we make patients wait, why not allow them to wait in a more relaxed and modern environment?
- Make use of social media to broaden our communication capabilities. We are so far behind when it comes to other industries when it comes to social media. Why isn’t every doctor making YouTube videos and leading their patients on Facebook? As consumers, we demand this of other businesses, so why not medicine?
- Modernize the current hospital room. Patients feel scared and nervous entering the hospital, so why not help put their minds at ease by changing the rooms to feel more like hotel rooms? I know many hospitals attempt this, but to truly change the look of the hospital room, the hospital staff needs to be on board to create a different “feel” in the hospital room.
- Create a healing and meaningful experience for our patients. This does not mean we get dressed up in costumes, but it does mean we need to reinvent what our roles are. Patients generally become ill because they have lost meaning in some aspect of their life. We can help them return to that meaning by becoming their health ally and gently guiding them along the healing path. This may mean we make house calls, provide group visits, or even virtual visits via Skype and texting. By consistently showing each patient that we have time to listen to them and validate the context of their suffering, we will create personal and healing experiences for them.
This is a short list, as I am sure you can think of countless other ways to bring about positive patient medical experiences.
The sooner we embrace the notion that the “experience” of medicine truly matters, the more readily we can connect more deeply with our patients. And that is something everyone in medicine longs for. The next time you, as a customer, have a great user experience outside of medicine, start thinking about how you can bring that same experience to medicine. Because modern medicine needs some Disney more than ever.
The author is an anonymous physician.