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November 15, 2021

5 rules for improving the patient experience, according to Harvard Business Review

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on May 3, 2022.

    Spurred by increased competition and rising consumer expectations, health care providers now more than ever must prioritize the patient experience—especially online, John Glaser, executive in residence at Harvard Medical School and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, writes for the Harvard Business Review.

    According to Glaser, health care providers have not historically prioritized patient experience or leveraged digital technologies to help improve customer satisfaction—but today, providers have shifted their priorities to meet increasing customer demands and competition from new entrants with "well-developed digital capabilities." In fact, according to a recent survey of health systems' digital transformation initiatives by Deloitte-Scottsdale Institute, 92% of health systems said they consider "consumer satisfaction and engagement" a top goal.

    To help, Glaser shares five key priorities health care providers should keep in mind as they aim to improve the patient experience.

    Toolkit: The patient experience

    1. Patients are consumers

    Health care providers typically have not considered patients to be consumers, in large part because many providers believe the phrases "consumer" and "customer" undermine their skills and importance, Glaser writes. As a result, the consumer elements of health care, such as convenience and cost, have taken a backseat to technical elements, such as diagnosis and treatment.

    However, with the rise in value-based care, providers are finally "recognizing the need to provide great medical care and a terrific consumer experience," Glaser writes, since "performing poorly in one role will impact performance in the other." Ultimately, even if patients have received high-quality care and treatments, a bad experience or a lack of adequate technology services could deter them from returning or getting the care they need, he writes.

    2. The consumer experience is not solely based on technology

    Digital capabilities are a "necessary" part of consumer satisfaction—but technology alone can't address the needs and expectations of consumers/patients, who also demand excellent medical care, attention, and convenience, Glaser writes.

    "A consumer/patient judges a provider based on the accessibility of care, the technical and human components of care delivery, and the management of payment for care," he explains. "A superb consumer experience requires the thoughtful analyses of these core processes and the skilled application of technology, process change, culture change and the strengthening of accountability," Glaser writes.

    3. There is a broad range of consumer/patient-centric processes

    Providers have generally focused on leveraging digital tools to help patents find a physician or schedule office visits, Glaser writes—but there is a broad range of interactions in the consumer/patient experience that occur across all areas of the health care industry, including everything from home-based care to medication management to family visitation.

    According to Glaser, "These new venues of care bring new opportunities and challenges for the patient/consumer experience, including processes such as providing technical support for wearable devices, supporting the logistics of specimen collection from a home colon-cancer test, and ensuring high-quality remote physician coverage of a patient being cared for pneumonia at home."

    4. Advances in technology could bring exceptional health care experiences

    Many industries have implemented artificial intelligence (AI) to help improve consumer experience—and consumers expect to see this same adaptation in the health care industry, Glaser writes.

    For instance, according to Glaser, providers will use data and AI-based process automation to streamline clinical and administrative processes, provide personalized recommendations and treatment options, and even leverage "potent wearable technologies to help create a digitally based experience."

    5. Be mindful of the meaning of terms during strategy discussions

    A major challenge for experience discussions is the idea that someone is either a "patient" or a "consumer," but not both, Glaser writes—but these terms not only comprise the foundation for every experience discussion, they are also synonymous.

    Relatedly, Glaser suggests discarding the common phrase "digital front door," which has derailed strategy discussions with the implication that care must take place in a health care facility, and instead use the phrase "journey to health," because it clearly highlights the goal for consumers/patients—and "does not blend the mechanics with the goal."

    Similarly, Glaser advises against using terms that suggest merely digitizing a formerly paper-based, physical process, such as an "electronic health record," as doing so can "hinder an organization's ability to see the possibilities of digital technologies and the magnitude and complexity of the patient/consumer experience." (Glaser, Harvard Business Review, 11/11)

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