Working in the health industry, I often hear the term “consumer engagement” bandied about, quoted in meetings or cited as the key to success. That’s fair enough because, as a service industry, “consumer engagement” is at the very heart of why we exist.
Of course, this is all underpinned by a set of standards that we are measured against as part of our industry accreditation and one might suggest that we’re approaching a time when we audit audits for, well, audits’ sake. It seems to me this could be a case of measuring the mark but missing the goal!
Don’t get me wrong, I am a staunch advocate for genuine consumer engagement but I sometimes question whether we are truly engaging. I find myself returning to the term “patient” or “resident” as opposed to “consumer” when I consider the true definition of a consumer and that it’s such a loaded word.
I also question recent initiatives such as the emergence of online platforms and apps as they seem to imply that engagement is something tangible that can be purchased off the shelf. It is this new wave of digital engagement that got me reflecting on a quote from Bill Gates, who once famously said that “technology applied to an inefficient system will simply magnify the inefficiency.”
And then, just the other day, I read an article on the US healthcare system centred on the philosophy of managed care its impact on the patient/doctor relationship, which I believe is still highly relevant to the Australian healthcare system.
It presented a thought-provoking position, arguing that it’s not engagement that’s lacking but trust and I remember thinking “this is the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realise you have achieved everything off a list – and then while celebrating your accomplishment, you realise it’s the wrong list.”
I think we should all be asking ourselves whether poor consumer engagement is merely a symptom. And if it is, what is the cause?
Which beg the questions: do patients really trust us, do they trust us to care for them in the best possible way when they find themselves in critical situations, do they trust the doctors and nurses caring for them…and most importantly, do they trust that we genuinely care?
I often have friends seeking my advice ahead of their surgery as they understandably wish to be in the best hands available. And while I’d long thought they came to me as they saw me as an expert in this field – one bit of advice I freely give is that higher fees do not always correlate with better care – I’m starting to think it’s because of the inherent trust that exists in friendships.
As a CEO, I respond personally to all consumer feedback as I believe it is not only a great way to understand the patient’s perspective but often provides a ready-made patient story to share with staff.
Someone’s personal journey in hospital, positive or otherwise, when read aloud or shared with staff is so much more profound – in terms of impact and understanding – than any number of colourful slides of graphically represented statistics.
Another element I have become aware of within the positive feedback received is that patients have felt that staff were genuinely interested in them, that in their view, they went that extra mile.
This tells us that if we get the fundamentals right, the patient’s experience becomes memorable for all the right reasons. I am certainly not suggesting simply taking an interest in patients or making them feel special equates to great care; rather, if you are genuinely interested in your patients and see them as individuals, you will, by default, already be providing the best quality care.
I would love to say we get it right 100 per cent of the time but we don’t. The difference is we really want to. We want every patient and resident to feel that way,
What I can say with 100 per cent certainty is that we aspire to ensure that every patient or resident that comes through our doors trust us – and only by ensuring this can we truly say that we are engaged with our ‘consumers’!