As the competitive landscape shifts to a world of mega-systems, winners and losers will be determined by their ability to deliver positive, holistic consumer experiences. There’s probably no organization in the healthcare universe that isn’t at least talking about patient experience.

At the World Congress’s 3rd Annual Hospital Marketing and Communications Summit in Boston, Marc Mertz, Vice President at GE Healthcare Camden Group and I shared why healthcare companies must think about how to take their brand experience to the next level, including key insights from our recent study “The State of Consumer Healthcare: A Study of Patient Experience.”

To understand the state of patient experience, Prophet and GE Healthcare Camden Group conducted intensive research among healthcare executives and created a maturity model based on our findings. We learned that most organizations fall into four broad stages of performance, and there are steps to transition from one stage to the next. An honest appraisal of an organization’s current status is the only way to improve the patient experience.

The Four Levels of Patient Experience Evolution in Healthcare Organizations

Level One: Learning

Leaders of healthcare organizations know that patient experience is critical to their success; but because of competing priorities, aren’t focused on diagnosing problems system-wide.

That’s not to say there aren’t efforts underway. There have likely been a few attempts already, usually a series of “one-off” fixes in discrete parts of the system. And there may even be ideas for driving larger changes. But what marks these systems is a disjointed approach; solutions are neither vertical (across all parts of the system) nor horizontal (making fixes throughout the consumer journey).

How to Climb to the Next Level:

  • Build organizational readiness and galvanize the organization to make improved patient experience a critical priority. Start building hypotheses about low-hanging fruit fixes and investments required to make them.
  • Identify the individual(s) and teams responsible for patient experience across the system. Who will drive improvement across the continuum and facilitate the spread of best practices across venues and business units?
  • Establish metrics for success across hospitals, physician groups, post-acute and ambulatory services, defining key performance indicators.

Level Two: Committing

As organizations advance, they move toward a better articulation of goals and are now intent on figuring out a more comprehensive strategy. They’re in the process of developing a comprehensive strategy: their North Star. And this guiding vision includes a roadmap to key investments, building the right team and defining the metrics of success.

How to Climb to the Next Level:

  • Conduct a thorough review of the organization from the patient’s perspective. Where are the biggest breakdowns and where does the experience hinder care outcomes or create the most consumer frustration?
  • Make sure the team is working with a comprehensive set of key performance indicators, including specific compensation incentives tied to improvements.
  • Celebrate wins by shining a spotlight on them; find ways to “double down” on investments and early bets that are starting to pay off; assure winning practices are shared across the organization.

Level Three: Accelerating

Leaders of companies in this phase are making progress, and can prove it. They have clear internal alignment on the problem and investment needed. And they are following this North Star throughout their system, with clear goals and accountability.

They are starting to see quick wins, and the experiments conducted in the previous stage are creating momentum. When efforts fail, they protect their employees from feeling discouraged by providing quick analysis that allows them to improve upon past failures in future efforts.

How to Climb to the Next Level:

  • Complete the synchronization across points of care and moments of the consumer journey, like handoffs between discharge and outpatient visits, or between primary care doctors and specialists
  • Establish standards across the system, optimizing technology for virtual visits, responsive communication and outreach.
  • Start augmenting the “fix what’s broken” mindset by looking for new ways to surprise and delight consumers.

Level Four: Embedding

These organizations have the greatest momentum, the people, processes and technologies are all pulling forward together. They are continually updating their roadmap and correcting their course.

They have a strong understanding of their customers—not just the ones they have now, but the ones they hope to acquire. And they are using those insights to build new, seamless experiences. They are realizing cost savings from earlier changes and can reinvest in even more improvements.

Continuous reinvention becomes a natural part of the organization as it moves from thinking about patient experience to consumer experience.

Final Thoughts

That’s the highest level of evolution, and what smart organizations are striving for: Constantly improving patient experience, and the understanding that this is a journey, not a destination. The goal is moving beyond basics to the finer points of experience, creating moments of surprise and delight. Taken together, they can build a brand signature, unlike any other competitor.