Friday, July 30, 2010

Increasing patient empathy: what manufacturers can do

As discussed in a previous post, the key to getting manufacturers to have a vested interest in building empathy with them is to insert patients into the customer experience supply chain. Here is one thing hatmanufacturers can do to support this.

Manufacturers can open up their data to third parties: For devices that record and track data, the status quo works great for manufacturers and doctors. Doctors have access to the data and use it, and in so doing have feedback for the manufacturer. The manufacturer considers that feedback and may even ensure that the data provided to the doctor is usable and useful. It's a very closed loop system where there's a solid link between the inputs and the outputs. For many devices, this is the customer experience supply chain.

The problem, however, is that the patient is left out of the loop. Doctors may want to keep data from patients for a variety of reasons (e.g. they assume patients won't understand it, they assume patients don't want it, etc.) and manufacturers may have their own reasons. In the end, neither the doctor nor the manufacturer feels that much pushback from patients because--as non-decision makers--patients have little leverage. So patients stay on the fringes of the customer experience supply chain.

The problem with this arrangement is that for a lot of devices there is information that patients would find useful, if for no other reason than (as elicited in a previous post) than to gain a better appreciation for the capabilities of the device. Moreover, the very fact that patients want data but can't get access to it is itself emblematic of a lack of empathy for patients. But given the entrenched nature of the customer experience supply chain discussed above and the manufacturer's desire to preserve the status quo ("if it ain't broke, don't fix it"), how can patients get access to the data?

One way would be for the manufacturer to let other systems access the data in its devices, essentially paving the way for some other company to establish an entirely different system with its own customer experience supply chain. Except for in this new customer experience supply chain, the patient would be the focus. While this solution is far from ideal, it gives both the patient and the doctor a prominent role in each of their respective customer experience supply chains. Once this is the case, the incentives are aligned to foster an increase in patient empathy.

Image from here.

Increasing patient empathy: what patients can do

In a previous post, I explained how the unique economic structure of the healthcare market presents an inherent challenge for the cultivation of empathy between medical device manufacturers and patients. The gist of the problem is that manufacturers often sell their devices to doctors or hospital administrators, who then [usually] decide for patients which brand of device the patient is going to get. Since patients are not the decision-making consumer, there is little financial incentive for manufacturers to concern themselves with the patient experience and understand (at an empathic level) what it's like to be a patient. Contrast this with an industry like consumer electronics, in which end users are decision-making consumers, and you can see why the consumer electronics world ends up with products like the iPhone and the medical device world ends up with products like the Monicard Home System pictured above.

Right now patients are sort of an ancillary component to what Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery refer to as the "customer experience supply chain" in their book Do You Matter?. In other words, patients do not have a significant impact on what manufacturers perceive to be the important parts of the customer experience. The key to building empathy with patients, then, is to get patients to become a legitimate component of the customer experience supply chain.

It will likely be a long time before the healthcare system is truly consumer-driven and patients are eagerly pre-ordering the latest stent from So in the meantime, here are some practical ideas for how medical device patients can become part of the customer experience supply chain right away.

Patients can become effective communicators with their doctor(s):
Effective communication means asking good questions (do research online before going to the doctor!) and being honest about any feedback or concerns one might have with their device, as well as being assertive and demanding that the doctor not shrug off what she considers to be a trivial issue. Doctors don't remember everything a patient tells them (they're human, after all), but the more feedback they hear from patients the more likely they are to pass that feedback onto the manufacturers.

Patients can communicate with each other:
In a lot of industries, word-of-mouth is considered the best form of advertising. Indeed, there's likely a lot of word-of-mouth "advertising" that goes on between doctors. Encouragingly, patients have begun using the Internet to swap stories and share their device experiences with each other. As long as patients maintain effective communication with their doctor (see above), information shared between patients will eventually make its way to doctors.

Again, the key is for patients to influence the decision-makers, and by talking with doctors about what they've read on the Internet (even if patients bring up a bunch of rumors), doctors are more likely to pass that feedback on to a manufacturer. In the case of errant rumors, for example, a manufacturer might use such feedback to improve whatever aspect of their system was causing the rumors to be propagated in the first place. And voila, empathy for the patient.

Patients can demand their device's data:
Just as one might expect a diagnostics report or explanation from a mechanic prior to having work done on a car, patients should expect the same level of transparency (at least!) from their doctor. I suppose the mantra would be, "Trust, but verify." If a patient has a device that spits out data, then that patient should feel entitled to not only getting a copy of the data but also to getting an explanation of the data that they can understand. By familiarizing herself with the data, a patient is more likely to learn about how their respective device works. Patients can be lectured all day about how device X measures parameter Y and delivers therapy Z, but until they can actually connect the dots between their health and the data tracked by the device, they're less likely to fully appreciate the capabilities of the device.

When patients appreciate the capabilities of the device, they can become more involved patients. Not only does this translate to more effective communication with their doctor (see above), it also positions the patient to take on a more consumer-type role when they need their device replaced or need to add an accessory to the device. As such, the next time their doctor prescribes a device, the patient will be able to offer an informed opinion to their doctor, something which would have a significant influence on the doctor as purchasing decisions are being made.

Next up: what manufacturers can do to increase patient empathy.

Image from here.