Meaningful dialogue and a streamlined service for patients
As a key part of the patient journey in international travel insurance and private medical insurance, medical providers have an enormous influence on the customer experience. But how can hospitals and private clinics enhance this process?
Patients are looking for hospitals and clinics they can trust, before, during and after treatment. Peace of mind around quality is clearly vital, but there’s also an expectation of a seamless service that offers value for money and is optimised for individual needs.
Grace Chi, Head of the Patient Service Centre at Matilda Hospital in Hong Kong, pointed out: “Effective communication with the patient is essential. Every case in a hospital is a unique situation, so by providing a personalised service, we can best meet their needs.” Having a team of experts ready to open effective communication channels is one way of reassuring people in an often difficult situation. “To take some of the stress out of being admitted to hospital, we have a designated Patient Service Team which assists patients coming in for both elective or emergency treatment. It offers personalised and instant support to patients 24/7 in liaising with insurers,” she added.
Such an individualised service is becoming essential, as patients increasingly look for their healthcare interactions to be personal. It is important to have access to ‘human channels’ when necessary, but communication may largely take place digitally.
To ensure patients are having as good an experience as possible, hospitals should combine clinical effectiveness, safety, and the patient experience into their daily practice to improve the whole journey, believes Antika Klein, MD, UM and TPPS Director at Bangkok Hospital Headquarters in Thailand. She told ITIJ: “Hospitals should explore the customer’s perspective to understand their frustrations. The experience they have involves everything and everyone, not just doctors and nurses.
“The patient journey and their frustrations can start before arriving at the hospital. The ease of being able to contact and access the hospital services is the initial touchpoint. First impressions are important. When the patient arrives at the hospital, they are going through several touchpoints and processes even before they see the doctor.”
First impressions are important. When the patient arrives at the hospital, they are going through several touchpoints and processes even before they see the doctor
Klein suggests streamlining these processes where possible, as reduced waiting times and receiving the most suitable healthcare improves the experience tremendously. Furthermore, she added: “During their clinical journey, having culturally sensitive assistance can ease the mind and soul for patients receiving healthcare out of their usual environment. And finally, when they are out of hospital, having ways to stay connected and transferring the continuum of care results in improved clinical outcomes and patient experiences.”
Overall, the hospital should be able to define what they do for the patient and family members in the following aspects: certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth and contribution, Klein stated: “The hospital needs a safe environment to promote certainty and, at the same time, provide variety for the diverse needs of the patients.”
She concluded: “The hospital can provide care that the patients recognise as being significant and connected to the hospital. And last, but not least, the hospital also needs to nurture their staff to grow and contribute to improving the delivery of healthcare, ensuring the best possible patient experience.”
Meeting patients' expectations
There are high expectations of consumer-facing organisations. Websites must remain up-to-date, clear and accessible; direct mail timely and concise; emails to the point; and call centre staff thoroughly trained and well supported.
Customer experience also tends to be vastly different for elective and emergency treatment. “For elective patients, there is more opportunity to prepare them before they arrive at the hospital, and we provide a courtesy call to booked individuals,” Chi explained. “The calls are important to help them prepare and avoid any unexpected situations at admission. We provide information on costs, transportation, documents required and what to bring to the hospital. For those with insurance that allows direct billing with the hospital, we obtain the information and assist in the pre-authorisation process. Secure online check-in through our website is encouraged, providing us with details in advance, reducing the admission time upon arrival.”
On the other hand, emergency admissions are quite different. “Patients are unprepared, both emotionally and practically, and may not have anyone accompanying them for support. Our medical and nursing teams are experienced and have the patient’s interest always at the forefront of care. There are many uncertainties in terms of treatment, and cost estimations are often a challenge, as a thorough clinical assessment is required first.”
Overall, she concluded: “The key is to have open conversations, being transparent and supportive.”
Providers increasingly know they must understand the customer base and have an in-depth knowledge of their wants and needs. By identifying potential difficulties in advance, providers are better placed to ease them.
Above all, explained Bianca Radney, MBA, Vice President of Patient and Family Experience at Texas Health Resources, they must be compassionate and understanding. “Keep in mind that patients are typically coming to receive care for things that are causing them concern, discomfort and/or pain,” she said. “The ability of healthcare providers, in any capacity – from direct care clinicians to registration staff – to recognise the individual first, allows for delivery of the most comprehensive and exceptional care possible.”
Consumers today expect services to be instantly available, seamless, and personalised with the right choice of communication method at the optimal time. Both advanced technology and effective training are needed to meet that goal, alongside an awareness of when human versus digital interaction is most appropriate.
Radney added: “Hospitals and clinics should appreciate the impact of timely communication and then seek to understand what is valued most. We must emphasise to patients and their loved ones our commitment to listening to, and understanding, their concerns as we collaborate with them in their care.“Patients need to know that we’re proactive and compassionate. If the goal is to mitigate a patient and their family’s concerns, all of this is paramount.”
Direct and unique communication channels between hospitals and patients
Dr Jorge Pascual, Mayo Clinic’s Executive Medical Director in the Americas, agrees with the importance of a personalised communication approach. He explained: “Mayo Clinic strives to ensure patients have an unparalleled experience by putting patients at the centre of everything we do. We create a personalised approach.”
Consistency of information between insurers and medical providers is a large element of the service. “This starts with close communication and coordination with patients and their care teams at home before, during and after their episodes of care at Mayo Clinic,” Pascual continued. Patients are provided with a medical itinerary according to their needs and offered help with hospital-to-hospital transfer for acute/emergent cases. “We facilitate this communication and coordination by supporting patients and healthcare providers in any language without charge,” added Pascual.
Consistency of information between insurers and medical providers is a large element of the service
Jim Miller, Senior Director of Finance and Revenue Cycle, Johns Hopkins Medicine International, acknowledged that travelling to another country for healthcare can add additional stress to an already difficult situation, and that hospitals can play a vital role in making their lives easier. “At Johns Hopkins, we believe patients benefit from a model that goes beyond care. Our team aims to make travelling to the US as smooth as possible by taking care of their needs before, during and after the visit. This includes providing upfront price transparency to ensure no financial surprises, so patients and families can focus on health and recovery,” he explained.
Furthermore, multilingual staff play a vital role at international facilities. For example, Mayo Clinic provides assistance with appointments via offices in several countries, including Canada, Mexico, Panama, Peru, El Salvador, Colombia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras.
These on-the-ground resources, with culturally knowledgeable staff, ‘provide tremendous value to patients and their local healthcare teams’, said Pascual. They assist with the needs of patients and family members before arrival, during appointments, and after they return to their home country. Through these services, patients can receive help arranging transportation, lodging and local services throughout their clinic visit.
Transparent pricing models aid customer satisfaction
In terms of finances, services must be willing to cater for all patient groups, whether self-pay or insured, and those undergoing elective or emergency treatment. Providers should be clear about all charges and what communication is taking place with the insurer.
“We try wherever possible to remove financial considerations and uncertainty,” said Pascual, explaining that Mayo Clinic does so by having direct payment contracts with several international insurers. Cost estimates and updates are provided by Mayo Clinic International Services and the international representative offices.
Additional financial services on offer include:
- Providing deposit and payment information
- Price updates for medical services
- Communication with medical insurance companies or third parties on behalf of a patient.
A similarly thorough approach is taken by Quality HealthCare Medical Services (QHMS), the healthcare provision arm of Bupa Hong Kong, which represents one of the largest private clinic networks in Hong Kong. General Manager of QHMS, Elaine Chu, told ITIJ: “Convenient access to information and price transparency allows our customers and patients to get advice from providers like us, to make informed decisions on investigations or treatment plans.”
Information freely available to patients that is easy to access
At QHMS, a wide-ranging digital transformation initiative is improving the patient experience at every step, responding to the demand for greater flexibility and easier accessibility amid the new normal. Chu said: “We believe leading primary healthcare providers should evolve agilely, with time to place customers at the heart of their services, while empowering them to actively participate in and make decisions for their unique healthcare journey through digital transformation.”
QHMS operates over 100 self-owned medical centres, with more than 1,400 provider service points. Their services cover Western medicine (GP and specialities), vaccinations and health checks, traditional Chinese medicine, dental, psychological wellbeing services, corporate wellness and more.
Patients of all ages, self-pay and insured, are offered holistic healthcare support, from offline to online, ‘providing end-to-end support throughout their healthcare journey, from information and advice seeking, consultation, treatment to follow-up’, said Chu. This integrated accessibility ensures support in times of need, through a range of convenient, comprehensive and relevant solutions, she said.
“Putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes, we have enhanced the QHMS mobile app to include functions like e-ticketing, e-booking, e-shop and in-app virtual consultation service, followed by door-to-door medication delivery. We also have a round-the-clock customer service hotline to answer customer enquiries.”
With wellness management becoming an area of focus, we are transitioning from the traditional, episodic, treatment-based approach and aspire to construct a holistic ecosystem of ‘Prediction, Prevention and Treatment’
Taking a deeper dive into wellbeing, QHMS is supporting client wellbeing with the use of health management tools ‘to empower the holistic healthcare experience’. Chu explained: “With wellness management becoming an area of focus, we are transitioning from the traditional, episodic, treatment-based approach and aspire to construct a holistic ecosystem of ‘Prediction, Prevention and Treatment’.”
To support customers across this cycle from clinic to off-clinic setting, three initiatives have been launched, using innovative technology while keeping people-centric considerations: a Smart Clinic, the QHMS mobile app and DigiHealth Point.
Chu was clear about the options available: “Smart Clinic allows healthcare professionals more time to connect with patients by reducing manual work; our QHMS mobile app offers a one-stop, online-to-offline experience encompassing health education ‒ offering video consultations, access to personal health records, while synchronising with a few health-monitoring devices, empowering users to self-health management and disease prevention. Lastly, DigiHealth Point promotes remote chronic disease management through regular data monitoring and analysis, thus carrying out anticipatory healthcare service. We believe healthcare is no longer limited to treating people who are sick, with prediction and prevention better than cure.”
With QHMS becoming part of Bupa in 2013, it operates the first insurer-owned medical facilities in the city – Bupa Medical and Dental Centres – providing end-to-end support, including treatment, consultation and protection. This delivers a hassle-free process for eligible members in the healthcare and medical claims process.
Customer centricity and understanding
All providers can improve the customer experience significantly by listening and making changes based on patient feedback.
In the case of QHMS, there is a clinical governance structure with robust standards, measured against customer feedback and incident management, clinical safety and effectiveness, training and audit. “We see customer centricity as an ongoing journey, with consistent reviews and improvements,” said Chu. “We regularly look into micro moments in the patient healthcare journey and embed the voice of our customers to understand and address their problems, living up to our purpose of helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.”
Receiving and reviewing customer responses is also imperative at Mayo Clinic, says Pascual. “We seek feedback from patients about their experiences throughout and after their visits. We use this to constantly improve and refine our approach to providing an outstanding and seamless experience,” he said.
At Matilda Hospital, Hong Kong, the team put a lot of focus on communication. “We ensure our patients are well informed, engaged and actively involved in their care throughout the patient journey,” said Chi. “Measuring how well we do is formed around these principles and reflected in our patient survey. For instance, 97 per cent felt they were well cared for and treated with respect; and 95 per cent were well involved in their care.”
Evidently, many healthcare providers are fully embracing the idea of customer-driven service, improving their ability to attract patients with a close patient-provider relationship. As expectations rise, they want to engage with organisations that look after their health, while offering a reassuring experience. This raised expectation for the provider-patient relationship is becoming the new benchmark for an optimised healthcare experience.