Lessons in Doing Better for Patients
Dr Clare Quigley reviews the ESCRS Leadership Development and Business Innovation Masterclass held during the annual ESCRS Congress in Milan.
What if loving your patients was the key?” Mr Shareef Mahdavi asked. “Think about your current ophthalmology practice. What if it could be better than you imagined?”
Mr Mahdavi’s questions invited the audience—which was, for the most part, ophthalmologists—to reconsider their core motivations and fine-tune their thinking on what they do for patients, with the aim of doing better.
“Distance yourself from the general mediocrity of healthcare,” Mr Mahdavi advised the full room of attentive listeners at the day-long course in Milan.
“Make one change, then focus on value drivers,” Mr Mahdavi said. “The first step is to love your patients.” Mr Mahdavi’s LinkedIn profile identifies him as an “Expert on Perfecting the Patient Experience”. He heads the consulting firm SM2 Strategic, which advises medical and technology firms, as well as physicians, on adopting new procedures among physicians and consumers.
Mr Mahdavi outlined how some doctors go astray of this first step as they build their practice and attempt to grow, using the “Three Little Pigs” fable to illustrate. The first little pig, or little ophthalmologist, built his clinic out of technology; this fragile straw structure swiftly blew down. The second little pig, who built his clinic out of reputation, also found his service floundered, and the sticks fell down. But the third little pig built his clinic on the patient experience, and this solid brick structure stood firm, weathering any wolf’s attempt to bring it down.
“How do we stand out?” Mr Mahdavi asked. Ophthalmologists compete for patients’ time, attention, and money. But within healthcare, the patient experience is not on par with other industries, like hospitality, that have moved forward. “Customer experience in healthcare is about ten years behind other industries,” Mr Mahdavi said. Ophthalmologists should look at what they do—and their job responsibilities—through the lens of patient experience to see where they need to make changes.
What about marketing? “The truth is, the experience is the marketing,” Mr Mahdavi said. Advertising restrictions apply to healthcare services and vary in different jurisdictions. But providing an excellent patient experience is the best marketing strategy.
More questions led to the core of Mr Mahdavi’s message about practice management. What do ophthalmologists do? They provide a service. How do ophthalmologists do their job? They give a patient experience. Why do ophthalmologists do their job? To transform their patients’ lives. The patient is at the centre.
“Your role is to be the guide,” he told the ophthalmologists in the room. “The patient is to be the hero.” For patients, their experience is much easier to differentiate than outcomes. At a baseline, patients already expect expertise.
Mr Mahdavi ran his masterclass with panel discussions, where panellists discussed and debated different facets of practice management—including the range of patients. And while cataract patients differ from refractive patients, the panel stressed the importance of treating them with the same care. “We give them more than they expect,” Sheraz Daya said of his cataract patients. “We give them all that we give to a refractive surgery patient.”
Acknowledging it is not easy for ophthalmologists to make some changes they desire in their workplace, Mr Mahdavi said a good place to find opportunities is looking at how the patient ventures through the service they provide. “Rekindle the human connection that is so important to healthcare,” he advised. “A patient doesn’t come to you caring about your solution, they come to you caring deeply about their problem.”
One key problem that repeatedly comes up is waiting time. It is among the hardest to improve. “The process of healthcare is not the process of car manufacturing,” Sheraz Daya commented. And while ophthalmologists shouldn’t place patients on a timer, waiting should nevertheless be minimised.
Changes, Mr Mahdavi said, can start right away. Take the term waiting room, for example, which he dislikes. Better to rename it “reception,” where the patient can relax. Pay attention to what goes on in this area. Don’t play the news on the TV. “Have the nature channel playing or a nice nature documentary,” he advised. News too often features disasters and negative commentary about the world, which can increase anxiety for those watching.
Every interaction with the clinic is an opportunity for the patient to weigh judgement towards or against the physician. Each touchpoint can go either way. Doctors need to keep in mind that their interaction with the patient is one of a series for that patient, Mahdavi said. Pitfalls include asking the patient information the doctor already has and having excess waiting time designed to fit the doctor’s schedule.
The masterclass was entertaining as well as enlightening, as the informal panel discussion sparked questions from the audience. Topics ranged from ideal lighting in the clinic to smell to where is the best place to recruit staff. The panel discussed different approaches for pricing and whether to publish surgical fees online. One audience member asked about buying online reviews.
“You can buy reviews,” panellist Julien Buratto said. “Most of them will have strange names—you’ll know it’s fake instantly.” The take-home: hold off for genuine reviews.
Shareef Mahdavi has published Beyond Bedside Manner, a book all about perfecting the patient experience. It is available on amazon.com for anyone interested in finding out more.
Wednesday, November 9, 2022