Early in my career, I worked in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) marketing. A “classically trained marketer” was the term to describe these brand or product managers. Though times have changed considerably since those days, this business structure put the customer at the center of all decisions. As a product’s general manager, we viewed all engineering, packaging, research, advertising, PR, sales training and new product decisions through the lens of the customer.

After undergoing a shoulder replacement surgery this winter, I reflected on what the healthcare industry could learn from their CPG counterparts to engage consumers. While physician reputation and patient safety are still top patient preferences, other factors will win loyalty and trust in the near future.

1. Create the Healthcare Experience with the Customer in Mind.

In the CPG world, we did lots both primary and secondary research. We facilitated focus groups, conducted quantitative studies, and combed through Nielsen data. When we introduced a line extension, named a product or launched an ad campaign, we got input from consumers first. We made well-informed decisions to help ensure the strongest ROI for the biz.

Health care providers tend to surveys patients after an appointment or procedure. In fact, my mom received 10 different surveys to assess her experience after knee replacement surgery last summer (I only received one from my provider). I appreciate that providers are trying to better understand the “patient journey.” Yet such questionnaires are focused on patient satisfaction after an appointment or procedure — with a clinical focus — rather than than a comprehensive view of a patient’s experience from beginning to end. Thus the value of such data is limited.

Surveying patients after-the-fact is a missed opportunity to understand true patient engagement. To truly shape an experience, you need to get feedback from consumers before, during and after diagnosis and treatment, evaluating all touch points along the journey.

2. Make it Easier to Schedule Appointments and Access Healthcare Services.

There are myriad ways to book a hotel, flight or monthly wax appointment online or via a smartphone. Amazon has re-defined the way consumers shop for products and services, making a purchase as easy as one simple click.

Some health systems, but not all, have patient portals to schedule appointments. Without these, the process typically entails a phone call, lengthy message and callback. For those seeking second or third opinions, like I did, the process is further exacerbated. Not only did I have to haul around x-rays and MRI records to physicians whose electronic systems didn’t integrate, there but there was extensive wait time to see doctors.

To engage patients more effectively, make it easier to schedule appointments. Surveys suggest that patients prefer making appointments online via a mobile device and there are many companies offering this technology to healthcare providers.

3. Over-inform the Patient to Improve Outcomes.

From appliances to automobiles, manufacturers provide a wealth of information on how to use their product, set it up, fix it and enjoy it. If I have a problem or question, I can make a call, ask a bot, or send an email. And I usually hear back from customer service pretty quickly. There is information overload before and after I try and buy.

For a $44,000 medical procedure, however, all I received from my doctor was a short stack of faded paper copies on how to take care of my shoulder post-operatively. Don’t get me wrong. I adored my doctor and was very happy with the care he provided, my number one concern. I simply would have preferred texts and email reminders about laying off Advil, abstaining from food, weaning of meds and other important considerations in expediting my recovery.

If doctors really want to improve outcomes, they should err on the side of information overload. To ensure patients are informed, providers may need to utilize paper, emails and text messages (after all, we’re a bit groggy after a surgery). Companies like Xealth are making it easier for doctors to prescribe information and streamline this process right from an EHR.

4. Make Price Comparison of Healthcare Costs a Given, not a Hidden.

CPG companies can recite competitive prices and promotions in their sleep. They know if I like to buy Sara Lee or Killer Dave’s bread, and will sneak me a coupon so I’ll switch to the competition. Amazon.com knows more about my shopping history than I do, recommending products I didn’t even know I wanted.

Healthcare providers have made it virtually impossible to determine how much a service or procedure will cost. When I was selecting a provider for my shoulder, I narrowed the list down through my insurance company. Then I attempted to price compare different surgeons by painstakingly calling and talking to PA’s and nurses. Most admitted, however, the quotes did not include anesthesiology and hospital fees (the latter alone was $34K).

It wasn’t until afterthe procedure that I really knew how much it all cost – and what portion I would be required to pay. In healthcare, we rarely know costs until after-the-fact.

There is significant confusion over the cost of healthcare services. Though pricing healthcare is much more complex than putting a bar code on Coke and Pepsi, there needs to be greater fee transparency before we make an investment in the healthcare we receive. Prices vary significantly, and it’s our right to know how much.

5. Offer Payment Plans to Ease the Pain of Healthcare Costs.

You typically get a mortgage loan when you buy a new house. To purchase a new pair of Prada boots or a sweater at Banana Republic, you might resort to a credit or store card. The makers of consumer products make it too easy to purchase their goods.

Healthcare providers typically send paper statements to collect on services rendered (and sadly, you receive separate invoices from different players in the process). My hospital bill was too high to pay in its entirety, so I’m paying what I can each month — even though no one suggested a designated installment plan. This practice is costly and cumbersome for hospitals, especially if patients get overwhelmed and decide not to pay at all.

With the high cost of healthcare, patients need options to pay their bills over time. Hospitals should offer a service like VisitPay, where patients pay bills online much like credit cards. Flexible payment plans should be as part of a system’s operating procedure.

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.