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How to change customer experience in healthcare - ReviewTrackers

Eighty-one percent of consumers do not like or are not satisfied with their healthcare experience, according to a study by GE and Prophet.

There’s a gap between the level of quality the provider thinks they deliver and the level to which customers are actually satisfied with their experience. So what can hospitals do to completely change the customer or patient experience?

We spoke with Paul Szablowski, senior vice president of brand experience for Texas Health Resources, about the transformation Texas Health Resources is making in healthcare. Szablowski spoke at HCIC in October about Texas Health’s journey toward becoming a consumer-focused organization.

How Texas Health Resources is Becoming a Consumer-Focused Organization

If you asked consumers to name hospitals in their area based on the hospital mission or vision statements, they probably couldn’t.

That’s because the statements are probably all the same, according to Szablowski.

When Szablowski started at Texas Health four years ago, he began to build a future-facing brand experience division. He learned that a classic top-down organizational structure would not be able to compete against consumer demands in the future, including digital, virtual, and access demands.

“We started to say, ‘What do we want to be known for as a division? Do we want to be the ad people, do we want to be the brochure trifold people, you know, what do we really want to be known for? What can we learn from best-in-class structures?’”

The health system is closing communication gaps and creating ways to meet and exceed consumer demands.  

There are three important reasons why healthcare has shifted to be a consumer-driven industry.  One reason is the rise of online review sites, where consumers can instantly find information about healthcare providers. Second, consumers have taken on more financial responsibility as out-of-pocket healthcare costs rise. Third, and maybe most important of all, retail-based companies like CVS are now seen as competition against healthcare systems.

Why Healthcare Organizations are Behind Other Industries in Restructuring Business Models

Szablowski says, “If you look at other service businesses, if you experience a great restaurant, you experience things in that space that you don’t experience in other restaurants. What you’ll discover is, if you really think about it, it’s not the service, it’s not even the food, it’s not even the ambiance, but it’s the space where those things exist. It’s the experience that those things create, and it’s the opportunity that those things expose.

“You go into a good restaurant whose management really understands the role that everybody plays in crafting your experience, and the waiter will walk up, greet himself or herself, offer you some water and say, ‘Before you look on the menu, I want to tell you what the chef has tonight, and it’s not on the menu.’ So he immediately engages you in information that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”

“He’ll come back and say, ‘We haven’t tried this yet, but the wine guy said this paired with what you’re having is extraordinary. I’d like to offer you a glass, taste it, tell me what you think.’ He understands the concept of co-production – that your experience, the success of that experience is co-produced by him and co-produced by you. At the end of the meal he comes over with five dessert samples and says, ‘These are new, we just started them last month, I’d love for you to try them on me, tell me what you think.’”

Szablowski says the traditional business model of the healthcare industry is one of constraint. The model has historically been based on how many beds are filled; so, the more beds filled, the more money for the healthcare organization. Today, the circumstances in which healthcare companies operate are different. Demand is constructed as a system of output, not input.

“Can we build, design, and craft products and services that consumers on exchanges, that municipalities, that companies would be willing to buy that are differentiated in the marketing, that reach consumers where they are, when they are there, and how they want it? That’s a very different turn,” Szablowski says. 

He says Texas Health changed their corporate vision statement to better align with market demands: “Partnering with you for a lifetime of health and well being.”

Shifting Your Focus to the Consumer

Szablowski says the first step to shifting the focus to the consumer is to ask, “What do we really know about those we serve?”

Only about 7 percent of the U.S. population will have an overnight hospital stay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 40 percent will have an outpatient visit.

So what happens to the other 50 percent? Where are they are going?

According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the average consumer will go to a retail environment, like a CVS or a Walmart or a Walgreens, 26 times in a year. They’ll visit their doctor three times on average in a year.

Szablowski and his team ask themselves where the real marketing opportunities are for Texas Health and how to prioritize those opportunities. 

He says, “How do we develop a true differentiated value proposition?” 

“When I spoke at HCIC, I asked for a show of hands, ‘How many people in this room have a truly differentiated value proposition?’ 65 people and nobody raised their hands. Think about that: can you imagine 65 restaurateurs not raising their hands? Obviously not.”

He says healthcare companies must go through the process of asking themselves if their system’s capabilities and access meet consumer needs and whether or not the healthcare company must develop new products and services and new ways of meeting those consumer demands. He says it is when these questions have been answered that the brand strategy becomes extremely important.  

“You need to go through that process and then start saying, where are we connecting and where are we not connecting. Is it new products and services? Is it existing products and services delivered in different ways? How are we defining convenience and how are our consumer segments defining convenience? That’s not news to an Amazon or a Zappos; that’s just common sense to them.”

For the team at Texas Health, it was asking themselves how the organization becomes a partner in a consumer’s life, or health and well-being.

For example, Szablowski says, “How do we become the place you search for skincare – what’s really the difference between a SPF 70 sunscreen and a SPF 50? How do we become relevant in people’s lives, and it’s not necessarily even creating products and services, but how do we connect people?”

Patient Engagement At All Levels

Some of the ways in which Texas Health is answering these questions is by being more connected and engaged with customers.

“We’re looking at our call center, we’re looking at being more connected to consumers: understanding who is clicking on what, reading what, and seeing what and we are developing custom content to go out to become relevant in people’s lives. Orthopedics is an enormously successful expertise that we have. We’re looking at how do we get ahead of that and start talking to men and women a year before they are even considering this and helping inform them about nutrition, exercise, and joint care. It’s the difference between focusing on the totality of their experience vs. an incident procedure, and I think that’s the real pivot.”

He says customer feedback is critical at all levels – not just after a service has been performed. The company has a place where customer can go to leave feedback called Forum.

“Forum is an online insight community composed of customers and partners that are able to give us rapid, ongoing feedback: proactive actionable intelligence that we can use to make confident business decisions. Engaging customers in an ongoing, two-way dialogue to complement other data sources including CRM and other social media analytics.”

Texas Health Resources and Aetna will be launching Texas Health Aetna in January to provide cost-effective healthcare solutions. In this collaboration, the two companies plan to make the shift from acute, episodic care to population health management. One way they plan to make this shift is to “conduct proactive outreach to connect with patients before a crisis occurs.”  

The 29-hospital organization also has a relationship with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to develop a broader, more integrated network (one that has the most sophisticated and advanced care) from clinical to primary.

Megan Wenzl

Megan is the Associate Editor for ReviewTrackers. She's a writer who is committed to finding useful information to help your business succeed. Megan holds an M.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago.


  1. Amanda Eicher

    Customer experience is so important when it comes to health care. The person needs to feel like they are getting the best treatment and care because a person’s health is the most important thing for them. That is why it is important for health care providers to be up to date in the customer experience sector and understand patient’s needs.