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Managing the transformation: Patient-first is the path forward for healthcare providers

By Partner Guest Blog , Wednesday, April 24, 2019

By Kate Dalbey, Senior Vice President of Client Services at Hero Digital

Partner Perspectives


Kate is a trusted strategic adviser at Hero leading complex digital initiatives for healthcare clients. In this first post of a two-part series, she discusses how to get buy-in to undertake the digital transformation essential to meet climbing patient expectations – starting with putting the patient first.

We are living in an exciting age of digital transformation. All around us, industries are adapting (hello, grocery delivery service Instacart!) or dying (see you later, Sharper Image) to increased customer expectations. People expect seamless digital experiences. Everything should be fast and easy. The customer is in control online in a big way.

Today’s brands recognize this change, and are digitally transforming by putting their customers first. But healthcare providers (HCPs) face an added layer of complexity – the “customer” isn’t just one type of person.

The rock-star surgeon who wants his profile on your homepage is a customer. The donor who made a new hospital wing possible is a customer. The research team that just made an incredible breakthrough is a customer. And historically, healthcare websites tend to showcase and cater to those internal customers more than the most important customers of all: the patients.

Let’s reverse that trend and put the online patient experience first. When patients are dealing with health challenges, they are at their most vulnerable and their expectations for a seamless, empathetic digital experience only increase. The last thing they want to see is a corporate-first website where they can’t easily make an appointment, pay their bill, or find the doctor who they were referred to.

Where do you start?

Digital transformation to “patient-first” may seem daunting, but it doesn’t start with in-room voice assistants, cloud-based health tracking, or AI-powered triage chatbots (although those things are awesome!). It starts with change management—managing the change in mindset required to put the patient first.

Gather evidence to make the case for transformation

So how do you begin the journey of getting all of those internal “customers” on board? When tackling buy-in for digital transformation feels insurmountable, try starting with something simple: patient surveys, conducted online.

The surveys should ask patients what they need from an HCP website and how easily they can find those features. (Online appointment scheduling, for instance, is table stakes in a world with on-demand Uber rides and seamless Google integrations.) Surveys might also want to ask about the patient’s emotional experience on the site: did the pictures make them trust their HCP? Do they feel like they’ll receive healing care or just medical treatment?

It sounds simple, but gathering patient responses can spur excitement where the results are relatively debate-free and can help align data-driven leadership and other internal “customers” to approach a different mindset eagerly, not begrudgingly.

Test the transformation and share the results

Digital transformation is difficult, and can sometimes be risky. But the great thing about digital is that all that transformation can be tracked. Those risks can be identified as rewards…or as things to improve. It’s up to you to tell that story.

Work with your data and insights team to formulate a measurement plan for the things that have changed on your website. Determine a cadence on which to report that data. Keep the reports simple, answering one question: what three things is digital doing for [insert internal stakeholder] today? Send those stakeholders the reports. When you pass them in the halls, ask them what they think. Take them out for coffee. Chat them up at the holiday party! Keeping the conversation going whenever and wherever you can will make the change process feel more friendly, open, and comfortable.

Tap into your evangelists

There will always be people who love digital and the things it can do to help the business become customer-first. On the flip side, some people will always be scared of digital transformation. Identify the people who are excited by the change and can influence a person or a whole room. Share the data, share the story, and share your goals with them. Let them help you effect change. Resistant stakeholders are likely to better adapt to patient-first digital transformation after hearing its praises sung throughout the organization.

Be the “Voice of Change”

Everyone may get very excited about “patient-first,” but when push comes to shove, old habits die hard. Your internal stakeholders may revert to an “us-first” mentality when you ask for copy or images, or when they demand their profile on your shiny new website’s homepage. It’s in that moment that you need to speak up for the strategy, and ask them, out loud, “Is this patient-first?” Sometimes just saying it reorients the team back to the new goal. Sometimes that’s not enough, and you have to walk them through the “why” again. Do whatever it takes, as many times as it’s needed.

Moving from an “us-first” organization to a “patient-first” organization requires careful change management, but embracing these methods can yield positive outcomes for hospitals and other HCPs.

There is too much at stake for HCPs to not get on board. Because who do you need over anyone else in order to exist? The patient.

Look for next week’s post, when Kate discusses how to get started using customer experience technology in order to treat patients like customers.

Kate Dalbey, Senior Vice President of Client Services at Hero Digital, has been at the helm of the toughest and most complex digital initiatives for healthcare leaders for over 16 years. Follow her on LinkedIn, and learn more about patient-first customer experience management and healthcare service offerings.