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January 10, 2022 Readers Write 1 Comment

If It’s Not Easy, It’s Wrong: Why Easy Is the Answer for Healthcare
By Arun Mohan, MD, MBA

Arun Mohan, MD, MBA  is president of Relatient of Franklin, TN.

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Years ago, as a medical resident, I spent a lot of time in the cardiac stepdown unit. I was caring for patients who had suffered heart attacks or exacerbations of heart failure or had had various cardiac procedures. One of the patients was a 60-year-old woman I’ll call Mary who had hard-to-control heart failure. Due to a rare disease, Mary’s heart didn’t pump like it should.

After a recent hospitalization—her third in as many months—I was determined to break the cycle. I spent time reviewing everything about her case. We prescribed a diet that we thought would keep Mary healthy. We adjusted her medications, adding multiple doses of short-acting drugs to titrate for maximum effectiveness. She was eager to follow the new plan, and I thought this would be the last time I saw her in the hospital.

About a week later, Mary was readmitted, again with swollen legs, trouble breathing, and chest pain. In our desire to maximize benefit, we had created a treatment regimen so complicated that it was almost impossible to adhere to.

Optimizing personal behavior is the holy grail of healthcare. It represents the single greatest opportunity to improve health outcomes since unhealthy behaviors account for nearly 40% of all deaths in the United States. But as anyone who has tried to change behavior knows, it is hard.

In one popular model, behavior is a function of one’s motivation, ability, and a prompt. In many industries, including healthcare, we pay a lot of attention to motivation (just consider the billions that go into advertising), but don’t think enough about ability. Put another way, it’s incredibly difficult to change someone’s motivation, but it’s often possible to make something easier to do.

You don’t have to look far to see how simplicity can drive positive action. Whether it’s retail, entertainment, finance, or travel, consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences and are more likely to recommend a brand because it is simple. So how does this look in healthcare?

24/7 Access Boosts Consumer Response

Given changes in how we work and live, consumers are increasingly looking for 24/7 access. Just think about the last time you made a purchase decision. Was it between the hours of 9 and 5? To what extent did lack of availability make you look elsewhere?

Consumer behavior applies just as much to medical appointments. Historically, appointments have been made over the phone when the doctor’s office is open, typically 9 to 5. But when practices offer 24/7 access, consumers follow. In our own data, nearly one-third of patients go online outside normal business hours to schedule appointments.

Consumers Prefer Mobile-First Communication

Each day, the average American spends 5.4 hours on a mobile phone. Mobile-first communication is the easiest way to get a patient’s attention and will elicit the fastest response or action time. Further, patients strongly prefer their mobile devices for communication; 67% of consumers say they prefer to text with organizations about appointments and scheduling and 75% say they are frustrated when they can’t respond to a text message from a business.

You can make things easy for patients by tying an action directly into a mobile workflow. For example, we recently worked with a large dermatology group that was struggling to get patients scheduled for their annual skin checks. With numerous patients missing appointments due to COVID in 2020, many hadn’t been scheduled for their visits in 2021. Calling, emailing, and even writing letters to patients had limited effect, with response rates under 10%. But simply sending patients a text message and offering them a personalized link to click and start the scheduling process boosted conversion to more than 60%.

To Simplify the Consumer Experience, Minimize Decision-Making

We know that business can increase conversion by minimizing choices. If a person is presented with too many choices, they are actually less likely to buy. In a clever experiment, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper studied the impact of the number of jams on a display table on conversion. On a regular day at a local food market, customers would find a display table with 24 kinds of jams. On another day, at the same food market, people were given only six jam choices. Guess which display table yielded more sales? While the big table generated greater interest, people were much more likely to actually buy a jar of jam at the smaller table – about 10 times more likely.

We have seen similar results in healthcare, where patients like to be given concrete choices. For example, rather than asking people to schedule a vaccination, simply giving people a choice of one or two days for appointments improves conversion. In a recent COVID vaccination campaign, some patients were asked to schedule an appointment by clicking on a link that came through a text, while others were asked to choose between three appointments, also via text. The results? Patients asked to choose one of three appointments were twice as likely to schedule.

Start Simplifying by Eliminating Duplication

These actions may sound easy, but in healthcare, we make them hard. The good news is that consumers are eager for change that simplifies. If, as healthcare leaders, we reexamine how we’re engaging patients and delivering care, we can create quick wins.

“Easy” is one of the most powerful forces at play in human behavior. Making things easy for people doesn’t have to be a monumental undertaking. Healthcare leaders can start small by identifying where patients and staff are duplicating efforts for no benefit and eliminating those redundancies. Delivering ease and simplicity will improve health outcomes and the bottom line.



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