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Needs, Wants, and the Wow

Thought Leadership: From the CEO’s Desk – Richard Leaver, CEO

Over the course of my clinical career, I have experienced the transformation of healthcare delivery from one that has been primarily transactional in nature to one that strives to embrace the concept of consumerism and delivering not only a satisfactory clinical outcome but an exceptional patient experience.  This change has likely been driven by the consumer and their wish to be able to exert personal influence and control, along with holding others accountable for their actions and behaviors.   In healthcare this is commonly referred to a patient first approach to care delivery. 

Nowadays, healthcare providers preach a ‘patient first philosophy’ and patients expect it. However, I question if either party is truly able to fully verbalize and explain the patient first philosophy into tangible actions or a clearly defined product.  Little surprise given that each consumer of healthcare services is unique, requiring a subtly different set of needs, wants and desires. 

I believe there are three levels of service that healthcare providers operate at. The three levels can be defined as first, meeting patient’s needs, secondly addressing their wants and thirdly delivering a wow factor.  

Traditionally the most common healthcare experience has focused on addressing the direct clinical needs of our patients. The experience is transactional and directive in nature. The practitioner identifies the clinical problem and provides the patient with a prescribed course of treatment.  The approach is founded in the belief by the healthcare provider that they are the expert and either openly or covertly expect the patient to be a relatively passive recipient of their care. An example of this approach can be seen when healthcare providers become visibly irritated when patients challenge the provider and ask questions pertaining to their condition and the management of such. 

Thankfully this approach of primarily focusing on the clinical needs of our patients has adapted over time to consider the wants of the consumer. Reasonably, the patient now expects to be allowed to actively participate in their care and demand that practitioners acknowledge and respect their expectations and wishes. This moves us from meeting basic clinical needs to one where we accommodate the wants of our patients.  

I feel that the majority of healthcare providers have made this transition from addressing basic clinical needs to meeting the wants of our patients. This change has been facilitated by an entire industry that has grown and continues to thrive to help healthcare understand and adopt the concept of addressing the individual needs of our patients. However, I would assert this current situation is not sufficient to truly achieve greatness and a level of service that is required to deliver even better clinical outcomes. Further movement along the continuum of service excellence and patient experience is required to optimize the patient satisfaction. Achieving the next stage will differentiate providers and form the foundation of long-term success. 

To survive the everchanging landscape of healthcare where patients are now controlling decisions related to their health, generally more informed and expect better service levels providers must transition from the transactional relationship to one where we anticipate and meet the needs of patients and deliver a level of service that goes beyond that the patient is able to verbalize or realize they need to optimize clinical outcomes and overall satisfaction.  

The challenge is understanding and anticipating what exactly are these intangible and subconscious needs of our patients and then incorporating them into their care experience. The difficulty is the healthcare provider is not able to simply ask the patient what behaviors and actions are required of the practitioner as they do not know themselves what it exactly is they need. For example, if a patient is newly diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease, they do not have a frame of reference to draw from to help them verbalize to the healthcare provider what they not only need but desire by the practitioner to exceed their expectations and deliver truly exceptional care.    

Moving the needle from where we focus on addressing the needs and wants to one of providing the ‘wow’ factor is a lofty goal. Many practitioners may think it unreasonable for patients to expect this ‘wow’ factor. A sentiment I would imagine is not shared by the Ritz Carlton or any other service industry that obsesses over customer service.   For those healthcare providers who either refuse to obsess over service delivery or choose to ignore its importance will not flourish and unlikely to survive. Good luck with finding the wow factor.